L I V I N G

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2005
THE TIMES-PICAYUNE
.
..
C-2
LIVING
The
voice of New Orleans
“I don’t open the microphone
without being scared.”
WALKER, from C-1
“Garland is the soul of
WWL right now,” said
Diane Newman, WWL
program director. “He
could be a man who’s
semi-retired, painting pictures, just worrying about
his wife and little girl. Instead, he’s at the epicenter
of recovery from Katrina.”
A janitor-turned-broadcasterturned-corporate-PR-guy-turnedsemi-retired-fine-artist, Robinette
took the WWL job a few months ago
as a favor to old friend David Tyree,
who’d been diagnosed with a recurrence of prostate cancer.
But then Katrina — and WWL’s
giant signal, which grows to a national footprint at night — made Robinette a lightning rod above New Orleans’ fractured electronic-media
landscape.
“ When I was in television, you
kind of looked at radio as something
over there,” he said. “Small, not very
powerful and pretty much an entertainment vehicle. That was about it.
“It’s become something where, I’ll
mention something about the Bush
administration and we’ll get a call
from Washington. I’ll mention something about the governor and we’ll
get a call from the governor. I ask the
mayor on the air to please give us a
call and we get a call.
“TV didn’t work that way. On TV,
you can’t say to a city councilman,
‘Come on, that’s bull - - - - politics,
and you and I both know it.”
Thanks to WWL’s Internet stream
of the URBONO signal, listeners
around the world know it, too.
Robinette now gets listener feedback, via e mail, from Australia and
Germany.
“To call it a bizarre situation is an
understatement,” Robinette said.
“It’s like asking somebody my age,
ready for the retirement home and
right on the verge of senility, ‘Incidentally, you can talk to the world.’ “
The weight of the work, its importance to listeners huddled throughout
the parishes of south Louisiana all
the way to, say, New South Wales,
doesn’t escape him.
“I don’t open the microphone
without being scared,” he said.
Robinette wasn’t frightened by Katrina’s
pass through New Orleans, however
much the day resembled a scene from
science-fiction cinema.
“Windows were popping out while
I was on the air,” he said. “The ceiling
was beginning to vibrate and the
simmer.
“They’re lying,” he said. “They’re
lying through their teeth. We knew
about that storm for 35 years.
“It makes me so mad I can’t see
straight. It’s like standing and yelling
‘Fire!’ for 15 minutes and then having
people saying, ‘I didn’t know I was on
fire.’ ’’
Robinette escaped the burning, flooding city,
but kept working, first from Jefferson Parish, later Baton Rouge.
When nothing at home had improved by Sept. 1 and the cable-news
footage resembled a horror show, the
level of suffering in the wasted city
seemed to be worsening.
doors were bulging. It was the
“I hate to admit it, but I got very,
strangest broadcast I’ve ever done in very angry in the aftermath of the
my life, and I’ve done some strange storm, probably much more so than I
ones.
should have been,” he said. “I did sev“Somebody handed me a piece of eral rants, criticizing specific people
paper showing the storm bending to and specific things.
the east. I thought, ‘Wow, we’re lucky
“All of a sudden, my producer said,
again.’ We certainly got some bad ‘The mayor is on the line.’ ’’
wind damage. It certainly did feel like
The next few minutes of airtime,
a close one, but boy were we lucky an exhausted excoriation of relief efand home free.
forts by Nagin that ended with both
“It didn’t ever feel like a moment men struggling to control their emoin history. It did feel dramatic. I don’t tions, have been replayed and downthink I’ve ever been in a building that loaded and transcribed and transmitwas literally exploding before.”
ted around the world.
And yet . . .
Also replayed in memory by many
“I spent some time in a place who heard it live.
called Vietnam that would make this
“I think it was the horrors he had
look pretty calm,” said Robinette, seen, where he’d been, what he had
twice awarded the
been
going
Purple Heart. “It
through,” Robi“I spent some time
didn’t seem to me to
nette said. “It
be real spooky.”
in a place called Vietnam might’ve been one
What was spooky
of those moments
that would make this
came the next mornin time, sharing the
ing, when it became
look pretty calm.”
same wavelength.
evident that floodwaOnce he started, I
ter was filling the city.
guess my anger
A respected environmental re- combined with his and kind of escaporter during his days as Angela lated.
Hill’s co-anchor/husband at WWL“I’m just a little old radio guy, but
TV, Robinette immediately recog- when they write the history of Katrinized the implications of knee-high na, I think Mayor Nagin’s angry meswater on LaSalle Street, which the sage was the turning point of us getnight before had been dry.
ting help.”
He’d done so many stories about
Still, Robinette today would rather
the levees being topped by storm the unforgettable exchange had endsurge from The Big One, so many ed differently.
scary reports about impending doom
“I’m at the point now where it
in the sinking city, so many segments don’t matter,” said Nagin then, his
about vanishing wetlands, that as- rage nearly vented. “People are dysignment editors and talk producers ing. They don’t have homes. They
and news directors long ago started don’t have jobs.
mocking his pitches to do more.
“The city of New Orleans will nev“I certainly didn’t realize the mag- er be the same.”
nitude of the tragedy until I saw the
There was dead air, more than a
water,” he said. “When I saw the wa- dozen seconds of it.
ter, I thought, ‘Oh, my God. EveryAnguish bleeding from his voice,
thing that they laughed at me for is Robinette broke the quiet.
coming true.’ ’’
“ We’re both pretty speechless
When anyone official says the here,” Robinette said. “I don’t know
severity of the Katrina aftereffects what to say.”
were a surprise, Robinette starts to
“I’ve got to go,” Nagin said.
By Alan P. Olschwang, Huntington Beach, California
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Part 4 of quote
Slithering hissers
Type of lily
Tender spot
More in Mexico
Pull from a jug
__ the cows come home
Part 5 of quote
__ Martin (007's car)
Hissy fits
Afore
Befuddled
Japanese religion
Sprocket
Seasonal sleigh-rider
Tolkien tree
Part 6 of quote
Mustard, for one
Heflin or Johnson
Oxford or brogue
Travel from place to
place
112 Doe or stag
115 Kind of lizard
119 Stat starter?
120 "Peer Gynt" dancer
122 End of quote
124 Eur. particle accelerator location
125 Type of drum
126 French landlord's due
127 Medic
128 Scottish Gaelic
129 Bacon and Lamb creations
130 Facilitated
131 Fractional ending
DOWN
1 French state
Winds blew out the windows of WWL-AM’s studio and offices the morning
of Aug. 29. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been in a building that was exploding
before,’ talk-show host Garland Robinette said.
“Keep in touch,” Robinette said.
“Keep in touch.”
Robinette wishes he’d held his
composure just a few seconds longer.
“It felt embarrassing, to tell you
the truth,” he said. “To break down
and cry in front of millions of people .
. . didn’t feel real good. It didn’t feel
like a particularly proud moment.
“If I could do it over again, obviously that’s the part I would clip off.”
The clip file for Robinette shows he left
WWL-TV in 1990 to buff the corporate image of the New Orleans mining giant Freeport-McMoRan Inc., a
company he’d dogged as a reporter.
He spun off his department into a
standalone public relations firm,
Planit Communications Inc., in 1993.
Most of the Robinette references
in The Times-Picayune over the past
decade are art-gallery listings.
The avocation, which started with
doodles on his WWL-TV scripts,
eventually became a passion. His specialty became portraits.
Then came the May announcement
about him becoming Tyree’s permanent replacement.
“It was simply a favor to a friend
who had cancer,” Robinette said. “I
thought I’d warm his chair until he
got back.”
Tyree died Sept. 12 in Alva, Okla.,
to where he’d moved to be near
family.
Robinette hadn’t talked to Tyree
since Katrina hit, but was not surprised by the news that, according to
his relatives, Tyree had followed the
Katrina tragedy closely via cable TV.
“During all this catastrophe, I
think you lose sight of somebody battling for their life,” Robinette said.
“Everything else starts to consume
you.”
Robinette, 62, and his wife, Nancy, have an
8-year-old daughter.
Their home survived Katrina with
very little damage.
“Not a shingle out of place,” he
said. “No floodwater, nothing.
“Isn’t that ironic? A house that
wasn’t touched by Katrina that’s not
worth anything.”
You’d think Robinette would be
singing the same tune as the radio
personalities who read the scripted
“We’ll be back!” promos that perpetually air on United Radio broadcasts.
But no. Robinette’s airtime is a nocheerleading zone.
“It doesn’t much matter whether
it’s untouched or not,” he said of his
house. “There’s nothing to go home
to.
“I’m right in the middle of this
thing. It’s bizarre and I don’t know
what to make of it.
“I was very happy being an anonymous artist. I was extremely involved
with my daughter and my wife. I
have the best family in the history of
the world.
“I yearn, like we all do, for what I
had six weeks ago.”
TV columnist Dave Walker can be reached at
[email protected]
THE SUNDAY CROSSWORD
LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
ACROSS
1 Old French silver
five-franc piece
4 Angle
9 Ultimatum phrase
15 University of Utah team
19 Light pat
20 Martinique volcano
21 Supporting pillar
22 Silents actress Negri
23 Start of Herm Albright
quote
25 Moseyed
26 Head locks
27 Mortise mates
28 Extremities
30 Hints at
32 5th-century pope
34 Very wide shoe width
36 Paid for
37 Part 2 of quote
44 Affirmative vote
45 Stun gun
46 Stray from the straight
and narrow
47 Stiffening agent
50 Vicuna relative
53 Kind of trick
54 Small singing groups
56 Pearl Harbor farewell
57 Part 3 of quote
61 Kilmer of "Batman
Forever"
62 Billy __ Williams
63 Andes tuber
64 Rick's love in
"Casablanca"
65 Fender flaw
66 "Rocky Horror..." dance
WWL RADIO PHOTO
Edited by Wayne Robert Williams
2 May or Ann
3 "Once __ a midnight
dreary..."
4 Small upright piano
5 Frees from captivity
6 Mr. Baba
7 Actress Campbell
8 Ager of parents?
9 Irish dramatist
10 CD-__
11 Italian isle
12 Break in the action
13 Small silvery fishes
14 Long, long races
15 Sudden disruption
16 Kitchen appliance
17 Upper crust
18 Indian lute
24 Arias, often
29 Letter opener?
31 River ends, often
33 Potato State
35 January in Juarez
37 "Clan of the Cave Bear"
protagonist
38 Spill the beans
39 Manila volcano
40 Jacob's twin
41 Part of MGM
42 Small antelope
43 Fairy-tale baddies
48 Plainsong
49 Heeds the sentry
51 PC accessory
52 Not many at all
54 Serious shocks
55 Mobutu __ Seko
58 Leavening agent
59 Dangerous insulation mtl.
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Seine tributary
Railroad hub
Informal farewells
Cork populace
Enhancing devices
Propels with oars
Kissed frog
Light brown
__ colada
T.S. __
Furtive fellow
Chant
State's number-2 job
Birthplace of
Camembert
Abominable snowmen
Friendly lead-in
Lady's guy
"Music __ charms..."
Tete-a-tete
Manage
Rational
Sports figure
Gaucho grasslands
Female addresses
Talked to Lassie?
Orleans egg
Homer's enchantress
Additional
Curry and Conway
Sundance's girl
To be in Toulon
Mother of Zeus
Protuberance
Small manmade cave
Impress clearly
Judge __ Bean
USNA grad
Answers
Monday
in Living