Saturday, July 01, 2017

R.I.P. Van Amburg

I never met him. Know very little about him. He was not even part of my life for very long. But I was very sad to learn of Van Amburg’s passing. He was 86.

For seventeen years in the ‘70s and ‘80s Van Amburg was a local news anchor in San Francisco on KGO-TV, Channel 7. In the spring/summer of ’74 I was a disc jockey at KYA San Francisco and it was then I discovered Van Amburg.

His style was unlike any I had ever heard. He was completely conversational. Unlike all the Ted Baxters we were used to, he was calm, almost relaxed, and spoke directly one-on-one to me. He wasn’t reporting so much as sharing.

And in a strange way, he was comforting – even when he delivered bad news. 1974 was a tumultuous time, especially in San Francisco. The Patty Hearst kidnapping was taking place. Protests continued over the Vietnam War. Watergate was building to a conclusion. And Van Amburg reported it all objectively, thoroughly, and… fatherly. There was no hysteria, no sense of self-importance, no voice of God proclaiming impending BART delays from on high.

He made a big impression on me. I took from Van Amburg the notion that I shouldn’t gear my presentation to a large audience, I should tailor it to one person only – YOU. That’s how you make a personal connection. I’ve tried to emulate that throughout my broadcast career. It’s what I try to do on my podcast and the primary reason I don’t have a co-host. You’re not eavesdropping on two people having a conversation; you’re listening to someone talking directly to you.

Nobody did it better. And as hard as it is to sound conversational when you’re just chatting; imagine having to pull that off while reading.

R.I.P. (Fred) Van Amburg.  He was the best news anchor I ever heard. Boy, do I miss him. Especially now.

12 comments :

Mike Barer said...

I noticed that quality in Seahawk coach Pete Carroll. I met him a few weeks ago and noticed he had a unique quality. I had met other coaches and pro athletes who would talk at you. He connected. Eye contact, voice, handshake.

Mr. Hollywood said...

The same quality that made Vin Scully the best baseball broadcaster ever ...

Pat Reeder said...

Sorry to hear this, although I never saw Mr. Amburg. We definitely could use more people like that. We now have 24/7 news channels and very few people worth watching for 5 minutes.

The newscaster who had the biggest influence on me was a guy here in Dallas/Ft. Worth named Alex Burton. In addition to local newspaper and radio work, he used to do a five-minute midnight recap of the day's headlines on Channel 5. He would sit on a stool next to his avocado plant named "Arthur" and look through the days' stories on pages of typing paper, commenting freely on what he thought about them and occasionally muttering, "Nah, I don't care about that," and tossing one onto the floor without reading it. Thanks to him, I was probably the only 8-year-old kid in history who begged his parents to let him stay up until midnight to watch the news. Is it any wonder I grew up to write a topical comedy service and make fun of the news for a living?

Linda Teverbaugh said...

How weird--I grew up watching Van Amburg. Strange but nice to see your tribute.--m.teverbaugh

Mike Doran said...

In Robert Redford's movie The Candidate, Van Amburg plays himself, moderating the debate between Senatorial candidates Redford and Don Porter.
Seeing this movie in its first run, I knew who Van Amburg was, because the ABC network would fly in anchormen from its owned-and-operated stations (such as KGO in San Francisco) to do their late Saturday and Sunday newscasts. Amburg was a frequent guest anchor here.

So, if you've got The Candidate recorded anywhere, you might want to give it a look ...

Mister Charlie said...

Thanks for the post, I was unaware he'd passed, since he'd been retired for so many decades now. He was a pioneer for sure, avuncular and easy to watch. I wish he'd stayed on longer.

John Hammes said...

Throughout his career, Dick Clark said he would always cringe whenever an announcer, newscaster, DJ, etc. would begin with "good evening everyone" or "hello everyone" or "hi everyone".

Clark would make the point to colleagues that, as a listener, he was one person. "...I'm not 'everyone': I'm 'me'!".

Andy Rose said...

@John Hammes: Mike Rowe has said that, early in his career, he auditoned to host a show that was being produced by Dick Clark. I can't remember whether Mike got the job or not, but he said that Dick made a point of coming up to him afterward and saying how much he appreciated that Mike talked to the camera like he was speaking to just one person. Surprisingly few of the auditioners did that, and Dick was impressed that it came so naturally to Mike.

Mark said...

Arthur Godfrey credited his success to the observation that, while most early broadcasters spoke as though they were addressing and auditorium filled with people, most of their audience consisted of individuals sitting alone in a room. By talking in a one-on-one conversational style, he was able to become arguably the most popular personality in both radio and television.

VP81955 said...

Looks as if we may avert, or at least delay, a SAG-AFTRA strike, though it appears TV producers and networks will exert more influence in this than will film studios.

Doug said...

Too put him in a context I know, was his style similar to Ralph Story in LA or Bob Dale in San Diego?

Brother Herbert said...

I grew up watching Van Amburg and was very sad to hear of his passing. His urgent, unflappable, no-nonsense reporting style was evident even to me as a kid. He quit KGO-TV rather abruptly in 1986 reportedly under circumstances that are unclear to this day, retiring and being quite reclusive and refusing requests for interviews to the end of his life.

One interesting aspect of his reporting style was that he didn't use a TelePrompTer even when it was common throughout the industry, preferring to read from the notes on the desk in front of him.

There are plenty of clips on YouTube of Van (including his final broadcast), but this is a good example of his style. Here he's reporting on the then-unfolding aftermath of the Jonestown mass suicide, opening with his signature "Good evening, here's what's happening...."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OapPeL-69Ns