By John Gray
25 years of fun
It's hard to believe, but this year I celebrate 25 years as a broadcast journalist. It seems like only yesterday I was sitting in my college dorm room listening to Rick Springfield sing about "Jesse's Girl" and watching Michael J. Fox go "Back To The Future". Whenever I go back to schools to talk to students they inevitably ask me two questions - did you ever lose it on the air and what's the stupidest thing you've ever done on TV? Turns out they are one in the same.
Early in my TV career I often worked 10 or 20 days straight. The problem with doing that is your body gets tired and your brain gets mushy. Now, when you work in the toll booth and get loopy you hand out the wrong change. When it happens on live TV you make a fool of yourself. Of course in my case, I had a raccoon to help.
One night, after nearly three straight weeks without a break, I was sent to Schenectady where a rabid raccoon was chasing children around the neighborhood. An Encon officer was dispatched to catch the little critter, and I, and my live truck arrived moments later. It was 10:57pm and I was expected to do a live report for the 11pm news. The only way to get this done was to interview the officer and raccoon live. Since the masked troublemaker was foaming at the mouth I restricted my questions to the Encon dude.
Chris Kapostasy and Ed Dague said, "Good evening, we have a dangerous situation in the Electric city where a wild raccoon was attacking kids. John Gray joins us live with the dramatic story." I began cool as James Bond telling the folks at home what happened, showed the raccoon, and then on live TV, asked the officer what would happen to the varmint? He said, "We'll take him back to the lab, chop his head off and test his brain for rabies." Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention to a word he said, so when he finished I looked into the camera and said, "And officer, if those tests are negative will he be okay?" The poor guy swallowed hard and said, "He won't have a head." For some reason I found that hilarious and laughed until I couldn't speak anymore. They told me I could stay home the next day and rest.
Bad as that was, my most embarrassing moment in television didn't come out of my mouth, but was caused by me. One day, I had a young producer tell me that the name John Faso, Assemblyman from Kinderhook, wouldn't fit on the screen so she asked me how to abbreviate it. I was in a snotty mood so I told her to take the five good brain cells she had left and figure it out. An hour later when Mr. Faso came on TV, the bottom of the screen read: "John Faso Ass. From Kinderhook". Hey, I asked for it.
In over two decades on TV, nobody got me in more trouble than the late, great meteorologist Norm Sebastian. The worst offense was, again, my own fault. Norm was always playing practical jokes on me so you can understand that I was always on guard. One morning on live TV he handed me a piece of paper and said, "We just got this school closing, John." Without hesitation I read it aloud, "Donald Sutherland School in East Greenbush is closed." Now, I'd heard of an actor named Donald Sutherland, he's Kiefer's dad, but never a school. Norm was smiling at me so I assumed it was a fake school. Trying to one up him I laughed and said, "Yeah right, Donald Sutherland is closed and Dustin Hoffman High is one hour late." This would have been funny if not for that fact that the school does exist. A few parents called to suggest I go back to school.
To this day, the most popular stories I ever did were something called "Does it Work?" I would buy all this junk you see advertised on TV, like the Flobee haircutting system, and test them out. I'm kind of a klutz, so on more than one occasion I injured myself and the audience seemed to like that. Here's a tip - don't ever grab the Ginsu knife by the wrong end. It can cut through a tin can or shoe with ease and does a real number on your finger.
The stories that meant the most to me are the ones that helped people, especially kids. I had the privilege of doing "Monday's Child" for a few years helping children find a big brother or sister. Once I did a story on a woman who had cancer and no insurance; a doctor, by dumb luck, was flipping by and caught the story. The next morning he treated the woman for free.
I only cried once on the air and that was after a child died from contaminated water at the Washington County Fair. We had a sound bite from her father on the news and I thought I was looking in a mirror. He was a relatively new dad just like me and the child he lost was the exact same age as my daughter. I thought of all the times we'd gone to the fair and bought refreshments. To lose your precious angel because she was thirsty and knowing you're the one who handed her the drink with the lethal ice.... Luckily for me, Paul Caiano was sitting nearby and stepped in to help me out when I couldn't talk.
Of course, not everything embarrassing happens on live TV. Who could ever forget my infamous trip to Gold's gym and my bubble butt. A year or so ago I had to do laundry, but had run out of detergent. I had dishwashing liquid so I just used a cup of that figuring soap is soap. Turns out dishwasher soap is much more concentrated so when I checked my laundry I had suds filling the basement. Being smart, I just kept running it through cycle after cycle until the suds were gone. Problem solved (or so I thought).
Apparently, some of the soap seeped deep into the fibers of my gym shorts just waiting for the right opportunity to pop. I went to the gym, started running on the treadmill and at around mile three realized my "backyard" felt strange. I reached back and grabbed a handful of bubbles which were emerging from my butt. My sweat was the trigger. It's been said that people on TV think their you-know-what doesn't stink. I tell them mine smells like Tide.
So 25 years and I still can't believe I get to do this. It truly is a privilege to be allowed into your homes on the TV or in the pages of this fine magazine. I still love what I do and life still manages to surprise me. Just when you think you've seen it all, an airline pilot loses both engines and lands his plane in the Hudson River saving every life. Or a local guy eats all the meat out of a lobster, reassembles the shell and brings it back to the store for a refund. That's the stuff that keeps me cheering, laughing and going. We've been through some sad and glorious times these past 25 years and I want to thank you for sharing them with me.
The great troubadour Conway Twitty recorded a fabulous song called, "That's My Job". I think this line sums it up better than I ever could: "I make my living with words and rhymes and all these tragedies. Should go into my head and out instead as bits of poetry." That's my job.
John Gray is a Fox23 News anchor and contributing writer at the Troy Record. He can be reached at