“Channel five.” (pause) “The news station with Eyewitness News.” (pause) “With Chris Condon.”
Condon (Close-up) “And here’s a précis of the Bi-State dilemma.”
Auble (Close-up) “A one-liner about Cervantes.”
Condon (Close-up) “Another on President Nixon.”
More news. And weather, and sports. More commercials.
Thirty minutes later, with Ed McMahon and the Tonight Show looming larger than life on a screen behind him, Chris Condon wraps up the 10 o’clock news show and ends his working day.
Usually it is a working day that begins at 10:15 in the morning with a call at home from the station’s news director who outlines the day’s news events.
If he does not drive directly to an assignment, Condon arrives downtown from his Webster Groves home at 11:15 a.m.
After covering up to five different stories, he goes back to the station in time to be anchorman at 6:30, helps create a new news package to present at 10 p.m., and is on the air again.
Wears Many Hats
During a typical day he probably wears more hats than any one person in the St. Louis media – especially those in the television field.
Not only is Condon the only local anchorman who handles daily reporting assignments on a regular basis, he said that he also writes about “55 percent” of the 10 o’clock show, makes judgments about what is to be covered, has a say in how stories are received and can, if necessary, make “last minute judgments” as to the length of a story.
Which would be comparable to a newspaper reporter who, after assigning and covering a story by himself, becomes a news editor deciding which page it runs on and then sits on the copy desk and edits it – an unheard of job.
Condon said in an interview with the Journalism Review that his multi-faceted role developed gradually over the years since newscasts (including the weather) were 10 minutes long, there was one camera team, one reporter and everyone was expected to do everything.
Joined KSD in 1961
Originally from the East Coast, Condon came to St. Louis and the 10-minute newscast in 1961. After majoring in philosophy and minoring in radio communications at Fordham University, he gained his first experience as a newscaster while serving with the Army Signal Corps in the Philippines during World War II. Condon returned to Fordham after the war to get his degree and began working for a series of stations in the East and Midwest, including two years as anchorman at WDAF-TV in Kansas City, immediately before he arrived at KSD.
Despite the variety of his responsibilities, Condon perceives himself as a newsman. “I see myself as a reporter,” he said, “but for the money and promotions purposes I’m an anchorman.
“I put together the newscast I would want to see,” Condon admitted. “How do I know what all the people out there want? I use my own news judgment most of the time.”
In a manner not unlike his television posture, Condon, a short, white-haired man talks off the air in a slow, modified voice. Gestures are noticeable by their absolute absence.
But Condon, relaxed interviewee, and Condon, tense interviewer, are totally different people.
During a Board of Education press conference the first day of the school strike, for example:
“Mrs. Smiley. What about the so-called $3 million cash reserve the teachers claim the board has?”
“There is no cash reserve, Mr. Condon.”
“Mrs. Smiley, what is the money that will be left over in this school year to be used for?”
“To avoid deficit spending…”
“Mrs. Smiley, is the board going to refuse teachers’ demands for a mid-year wage hike?”
“I already told you, Mr. Condon…”
“How long will the St. Louis school children be out of school, Mrs. Smiley?”
One question, after another, after another – a series that is sometimes resented by the subject, the other members of the press who are impatient to get their turn and the television viewers.
“I’ve been criticized for pressing people to hard more than anything else,” Condon admits.
“What you have to learn to do – and I still haven’t learned it – is to keep your voice neutral.”
Often, he explained, he asks the same question three, four, maybe eight times while the person he is interviewing avoids a direct answer. It is the last question which is edited and shown on the air. The guy watching at home doesn’t know anything about a whole series of hems and haws. He only knows what he sees, and he sees – and hears.
“Good night for Eyewitness News.”
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 5/1973).