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News 8 Throwback: Delivering news to San Diego for 70 years

Once again, we’ve dug deep into the archives to find treasured memories from our 70 years in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO — This year marks 70 years of News 8 in San Diego. Throughout 2019, we’ve taken a look back at KFMB-TV's first day on air, photos from our archives and much more in honor of the milestone.  

Once again, we’ve dug deep into the archives to find some more treasured memories from our 70 years. Here are a few clips that give a behind-the-scenes look at how we’ve been delivering news for all years.  

In the early years, from 1949 to 1953, KFMB operated in the basement of the San Diego Hotel. But the ceilings were too low for theater lighting, so we had to move. The 5th and Ash Journal Building downtown was the second home for KFMB stations from 1953 to 1977. The building was deemed unsafe because it didn't pass earthquake inspections. Sadly, it was demolished and it's now a parking lot. The late News 8 photojournalist Bob Gardner edited this homage to the beautiful building with the fitting 5th Dimension song “Ashes to Ashes.” Since 1977, KFMB's broadcast home has been in Kearny Mesa on Engineer Road where it remains as of 2019.  

RELATED: News 8 Throwback: 70 years ago, on May 16, 1949, San Diego's first TV station premiered

RELATED: News 8 Throwback: Behind the scenes of KFMB stations in San Diego

In 1984, News 8 viewers got a peek behind the scenes of our 5 p.m. newscast. Fans of News 8 caught a glimpse at all the people it took to produce the show from assignment editors assessing stories to the reporters and photographers running out to cover them. The clip gives a glimpse of the mad dash sometimes felt in the newsroom as deadlines approach.  

Of course, turning 70 isn’t the first milestone for News 8 and KFMB. This clip showcases snippets we put together for our 35th and 40th anniversaries celebrated in the 1980s. If you’re a longtime News 8 viewer this one is sure to bring back memories. Highlights include: one-time News 8 reporter Regis Philbin, “Zoorama” at the San Diego Zoo, and some of our most celebrated news personalities: Bob Dale, Harold Keen, and Ray Wilson.  

And speaking of newsman Ray Wilson – a look at our history wouldn’t be complete without some footage of the longtime anchor who was with KFMB from 1952 – 1987. The first clip is from 1981 several years after Ray left the anchor chair, but was called on to cover sports for a night. Ray’s sense of humor shines as he jokes about taking Ted Leitner’s job. The piece goes on to look back at some of Ray’s long career. Next up, an interview with Ray from 1984 looks back at the changes he experienced over his decades in the news business. Ray said people remembered him by his voice, if not his face. The last part of this video is a memorial that ran in 1995 when Ray passed away. He was a greatly beloved figure at KFMB Stations and throughout San Diego. 

In honor of this special Throwback, News 8 reached out to some of Ray’s former co-workers who shared their memories of the legendary newsman below.  

Memories of Ray Wilson:

"When I was a young boy. I used to get my hair cut at the Modern Barbershop in the College Grove Shopping Center. Many times Ray would be in getting his hair cut at the same time (he lived in the neighborhood). He was already a legendary figure in San Diego, so it was quite a thrill to see him in person. 

Fast forward to 1974 and here I was being given an internship at KFMB as a news writer and subsequently being hired by Ray for a job I would keep for 44 years. Needless to say I was more than intimidated by the man who was known as the Walter Cronkite of San Diego. When I started he had just been taken off the air by misguided out-of-town consultants and was the news director only. He was pretty grouchy and bitter, I believe, those early years, but eventually mellowed. I had transitioned to being a photographer in 1975, and he was famous for popping into your edit room when you were close to airtime and imploring you to start using ‘long scenes’. 

He scared the hell out of me at first, but we all soon found him to be a teddy bear inside once you got to know him and earned his trust. He was re-born on air as a character on the Himmel At Large show near the end of his time at 8, which clearly gave him great joy. I loved the man and his insistence on accuracy and quality. I owe him much and miss him a lot."  - Tom Warren former News 8 chief photographer

"January 1979. I had an emotionally trying day covering the Brenda Spencer shootings at Cleveland Elementary in San Carlos.  Back then, school shootings didn't happen. I went to the film processing room to try and process my thoughts. It wasn't working. Ray came in. 'Tough day' he said. 'Yeah', I said. 'tough day.'  I needed someone to understand and I could tell by the look on his face that he certainly did. Ray's humanity is something I will never forget." - Doug McAllister former News 8 reporter

"Ray Wilson was the News Director Emeritus, still coming to work every day and coordinating the editors during the 5PM newscast when San Diego at Large went on the air. Ray was our announcer, and we had to fill a half hour of (mostly) original programming every night.  

Jim Holtzman had the great idea to include old movie serials in five minute segments as a fast and easy way fill time. They came to us as 20-minute or so short films, but we edited each film into five segments to air Monday through Friday. Ray, of course, introduced the segments. It didn’t take long to realize that by having Ray do a voice over intro to each segment, it also meant we had cover the v/o, and that meant extra editing time, which we were trying to avoid. So we came up with the brilliant idea to shoot Ray on camera as he read his intros and outros for the old fashioned serials. It made it easier and faster to complete each segment, and it ended up bringing out a side of Ray few of us had anticipated was there. He was a total ham!  We found an old fat mic from the AM side, sat Ray in front of it and he delivered his lines, usually in costume.  

The first serial was 'Tom, King of the Texas Rangers,' and Ray wore a cowboy hat and bandana as he introduced the segments.  For 'Nyoka and the Tigerman' he wore a burnoose, and claimed, on camera that in it, he was 'as hot as Rudolph Valentino every was in this outfit, baby!' That filler segment eventually morphed into Ray’s Place, a 50’s diner where Ray talked about his life with Mrs. Wilson as he introduced Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. I wrote every single segment and Ray never changed a word. 

I think he genuinely enjoyed being on SDAL, especially because he was recognized by a whole new generation of San Diegans. When kids would come through on tours, they’d see Ray and the Ray’s Place set and get really excited. Ray was a big star to them. And it might sound really corny, but he was always a big star to me, too. If you have any of the old SDAL tapes, see if you can find 'The Wizard at Large.' Ray is bigger than life on the Jumbo Tron at the Stadium." - Lori Stoddard former News 8 writer-producer

"When I started at News 8 in 1980 Ray Wilson had already been relieved of his anchor duties. He reigned supreme as the Tape Coordinator whose duties included assigning edit rooms and making sure the stories were done on time. He would post up in the hallway outside the edit rooms and I would stand beside him as often as possible. Totally lovable, gruff when needed and full of knowledge, he would count you down to deadlines with his famous, 'It's not art if it doesn't make the air.'" - Charlie Landon News 8 photographer

"I remember Ray popping his head into the edit room and asking in that ominous, deep voice, 'How much longer?' I would answer, jokingly, 'Ray, this is art. It can’t be rushed.' Without missing a beat, he would intone, 'It isn’t art if it doesn’t get on the air.'" - Hal Clement former News 8 reporter

"When I first started working at channel 8, as a camera assistant, everyone thought I was Ray's son. One of the reasons being my dad's first name was Ray. Later as I became a photographer I remember Ray outside the editing rooms watching the time click down to showtime. He would start barking in that deep, godlike voice of his...'Long scenes...any shot will do.'" - Tim Wilson

"As a grad student in 1975, I had just taken Gene Gleeson's night class in TV News Writing at SDSU. Gene said to see Ray Wilson about an internship. I met with Ray and he seemed reluctant as I didn't need the college credit and just wanted a foot in the door. He relented and shortly thereafter the station acquired its first minicam. ElectroNews! The cumbersome gear included a recorder and power pack that required an assistant. Ray said 'we need a mule to carry this gear for the camera people...you're a big guy, so...' I think Ray may have actually managed half a smile, and that began my first career related paying job. ---Between field assignments I'd bug Ray to let me write some copy. He handed me off to Don Ross who was happy for the help. Ray used to eat horehound drops (a mild cough drop type lozenge--look it up!) to keep his voice nimble. I asked him for one once and he said 'are you on the air?' Well, no, just curious, but he gave me one as if was a ten dollar bill. --Years later, I was behind him in the long hallways of the 'new building' and he must've thought no one was around as he sang a little ditty '...the anchormen are in the halls, girding up their balls!' Back in those days some of us would grab a sports credential and take in an evening Padres game. Ray liked to drop in the press box, have a free hot dog, watch a few innings and go home. He once commented, 'some guys like to drink, I don't drink, I like to eat!' I was always impressed at how someone so buttoned up could be so endearing." - Vic Heman

"1970 and Ray hired me as a photog while in grad school at SDSU. I wrecked a news car, overflowed the chemical vats multiple times, dropped a camera off the back 2nd story newsroom entry and had other misadventures that Ray somehow tolerated. But his highest compliment came as I was leaving the station for Air Force duty in 1971. Standing by him at the mens restroom urinal, I thanked him for hiring me. In his classic low, slow voice, without looking up, his parting words were: 'Well, you turned out better than I thought you would.' I laugh every time I think of that farewell as I start my 41st year as a TV News Director." Jon Janes

"Ray Wilson was the foundation for television news at KFMB. Perhaps his finest moment came in April 1965 when he coordinated coverage of the Hub Loan Shootout at 5th and F, a four-hour gun battle and stand-off between a loan gunman and the San Diego Police Department. In a time before instant live shots and cell phones, the coverage was on film, shuttled back to the downtown station.

I wrote about this in a book titled 'The Hub Shootout: San Diego's Unbelievable Four-hour Firefight.'

Ray was a no-nonsense journalist who was short on compliments and long on expectations of his news department. I first came to San Diego in 1975 at Channel 10 and from 1977-1980 worked at WLS-TV in Chicago. When I returned to San Diego in 1980, I had a chance to work with Ray but by that time he was no longer in an on-air position. Jim Holtzman was the news director and graciously allowed Ray to supervise the inner workings of the newsroom. He became a fatherly presence and while he never said much, I am sure he looked with a mixture of amusement and sadness at what was passed off as news and how it was reported.

Ray was a private person who didn't show much emotion. I am sure most people at the station did not know what was going on in his head. But everyone knew the legend of Ray Wilson, a true news anchor man; a person who was 'old school.' The current generation could learn much from him. John Culea former News 8 reporter

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