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Friday, October 07, 2011

An Election Night To Remember: Skeen Vs. Apodaca And How It Played Out 


We're traveling abroad this week and next so we switch gears and continue with some blogging of La Politica's past...

When it comes to Election Night coverage our first one will never be topped for sheer craziness. It was 1974. I was all of 19 and anchoring coverage on KUNM-FM with the idea that at the end of the night I would sit down and pound out the lead story for the next day's UNM Daily Lobo, a photo of which we posted on the Thursday blog.) What could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot. First and foremost, this historically close election could not be called at the usual time of 10:30 or 11 p.m. or even Midnight. It was so close we had to wait for the Northern New Mexico returns to trickle in to determine who would become the next Governor. And back in those days they were notoriously slow.

But wait we did. Republican Joe Skeen was ahead because the Bernalillo County and Southeast NM results were all in and showed him with a slim lead. But we knew he was in jeopardy as Democrat Jerry Apodoca was sure to beat Joe in the Spanish North. That he did, but we could not call the race and leave the airwaves until the wee morning hours as the excruciatingly slow results dribbled in over the wire service.

Skeen decided to give a late-night speech, firing up his supporters and refusing to concede. That made the stakes even higher for an accurate call on the victor. Meanwhile, the Daily Lobo deadline was fast approaching. Finally, the AP must have called it at something like 1:00 A.M. I was relieved it was over so I could get going on my newspaper story, but was dog-tired, not having had much sleep because of the excitement of the previous 24 hours. Unfortunately, there was plenty of excitement to come.

Leaving the microphone behind and sitting down behind an old behemoth gray typewriter in the basement of the Student Union Building where the radio station was then housed, I jammed in some copy paper and began nervously typing while anxiously eyeing the big newsroom clock. I pounded out my lead:

"Democrat Jerry Apodaca edged out Republican Joe Skeen in Tuesday's election...."

I was about half way through when something happened that still brings a painful smile to my face--I fell asleep! A decrepit gray IBM typewriter serving as my harsh pillow.

DAYS OF DEADLINES

How long I was out, I can't remember. But I do remember that Lobo editor Mike Minturn appeared out of nowhere, awakening me by literally shaking me and yelling at the same time about the now nearly missed deadline for the paper. We were pretty freaked out. How could you have a newspaper without the results of the election? Was this a nightmare? Where was I? I looked down at the incomplete copy and reality resurfaced in the form of impending doom. The spelling was a mess. Not that it was badly written but typos were everywhere and I still had at least several hundred words to go to wrap Election Night. Minturn wasn't about to leave without his story. It was as if he was perched on my shoulder like a berating parrot, literally grabbing the sheets of paper as they came off the typewriter. Talk about drama.

Somehow I finished, but when I read the story in the paper hours later, it was riddled with typos. There was no time to edit so they must have just thrown it on the presses or however they did it back in that dinosaur age. Still, that it had gotten done at all seemed like magic and it marked the start of my long and sometimes messy love affair with news and politics.

After that groggy night of simultaneous agony and joy, defined by heart-in-the-mouth deadline pressure, I never again feared a deadline. I sometimes worried, but knew deep down it couldn't get any worse. But from then on I developed another life long affection--for coffee. Especially on Election Nights.

The year was 1974. I was there. And that's the way I remember it.

I'm Joe Monahan, reporting to you this week from Venice and Florence, Italy.

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2011
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