a tribute by Tom Reed
July 30, 2007
John Herrington, a Cleveland television newsman for 25 years, died July 24 at the age of 76. He came to Cleveland in 1968 to anchor the city’s first 10 p.m. news on WKBF-TV, Channel 61. But most of his career here was spent as a reporter for WKYC-TV Channel 3. Even after his retirement in 1993, he kept busy as a journalist, as reporter for a suburban weekly and as a regular contributor to this web site. Tom Reed, another contributor, has known John for almost 50 years.
John’s death brought back a flood of memories dating back to 1958, when both of us began working at WDAF in Kansas City.
In his ten years at that station, John developed into an outstanding reporter who seemed to have just the right touch for covering any type of story, from the most serious to the frivolous or quirky.
As a reporter and anchor, and later as assistant news director and news director (in those days, it was not unusual for news directors to be anchors) he had a hand in most of the big stories that came our way.
It would be impossible to summarize them all, so let me cite a couple of examples.
In August of 1959, fire broke out at a gasoline storage facility not far from our station. John was at the scene, reporting on radio and TV, when the unthinkable happened. Some of the tanks exploded sending a wall of flame directly at the firefighters. Six were killed, and many others injured. John’s breathless description – he was overcome by emotion at one point – is still remembered by old-timers in KC. Some observers compared his coverage with the dramatic radio description of the Hindenburg dirigible disaster in 1937.
The 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in western Kansas was a huge local story, long before it came to the attention of Truman Capote. John was covering the trial of killers Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, in 1960. Capote was also there, doing research for his book “In Cold Blood”.
Recently (this was after the movie “Capote” came out), John regaled me with a story about a confrontation between the author and a local photographer. I wish I could tell it as well as he – John had quite a knack for story telling. The confrontation came about when Capote’s photographer violated one of the rules set down by the judge. The Kansan, a tough husky guy, reported the violation. As John tells it, Capote faced the much taller man, and with hands on hips, looked up at him and in his high-pitched voice, shouted, “You snitch!”
WDAF was an NBC affiliate and at the time was Kansas City’s leading news station, so John had an opportunity to cover many stories for the network. His track record led to his winning the network’s Earl Godwin Award, which gave him a stint at NBC’s London bureau, working with such respected correspondents as Joseph C. Harsch and Robert MacNeil, who later became co-host of the MacNeil-Lehrer Report on PBS.
When he returned to Kansas City, John was named assistant news director, under Bill Leeds (a previous winner of the Godwin award) who later became news director of WKYC-TV.
John also came to Cleveland and eventually to Channel 3. But his first job here was as anchor of the new 10 p.m. news on Channel 61, the first station in Cleveland to have an early “late news.” I was employed at WKYC-TV when John came to that station in 1971, but left soon afterward for jobs in Atlanta, and then WJW-TV here. Although we didn’t work together much longer, we kept in touch socially. Then, when this web site began reporting on the Y2K scare (remember that?) we collaborated on the series. It was John who suggested that I use the title “Reed’s Read” for my other web stories.
John and his wife Carol celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in 2005 with an Alaskan cruise. They sent me an email picture, reproduced here with permission of the family.
In his frequent email messages to me, John usually signed off with the word “Peace”.
That’s as fitting a way as I know to close this tribute to a friend and colleague for almost half a century.
Copyright 2007 Tom Reed