After spending 40 years in news, Stuart Dyson said he intends to spend his retirement playing music and watching his 401(k) evaporate.
After a 40-Year Career, Dyson Pulls No Punches
BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI
Stuart Dyson knows he’s fortunate to have had a 40-year career in the radio and TV news business in Albuquerque.
It was a wild, crazy, fun and sometimes frustrating 40 years that saw him and his early radio colleagues reach new heights – or lows – in over-the-top sensationalism and insensitivity.
It was a career that saw him celebrated for his blue-collar sensibilities and storytelling abilities.
And it was a career that threw him too many times up against what he politely calls “managerial density.”
And now that he has retired from the TV news business at age 64, and after spending 30 years with KOB-TV Channel 4, Dyson pulls no punches about his career, his antics or his run-ins with, well, just about everybody.
“If there were any ethics or standards in this business, if there were any justice, I would have never been allowed to move on,” Dyson recalled of his early days in radio when he and two other colleagues ran wild at a small Albuquerque station on the AM dial.
It was the late 1970s, and Dyson and co-conspirators Lisa Breeden and Peter Wellish threw everything they had at the news on KRKE-AM 610 as they tried to boost ratings on the end-of-the-dial station and overtake the runaway ratings leader at the time, KOB-AM 770. That included sound effects to go with stories about murders, fires and gruesome deaths, as well as the “Metro Murder Meter,” a running body count that screamed at Duke City residents about how dangerous the city was.
“We were the ringleaders, we were the conspirators, and we were getting what Lisa called highly sensational news, and we were a tabloid,” Dyson said.
“I invented the Metro Murder Meter. We’d come in on Monday mornings, and you’d hear the sound effects on the radio, ‘Bang, bang, bang’ – three gunshots – and then we’d blurt into the microphone, ‘A weekend of homicidal frenzy in Albuquerque.’
“If there was a house fire, it was never ‘There were flames.’ It was always, ‘There were flesh-hungry flames.’ It was in incredibly poor taste. We used sound effects all the time. A lady got struck by lightning on her motorcycle on Tramway, and she was killed, and we used a sound-effects record with a huge explosion and sizzling air. And when I talked about capital punishment, I used sizzling bacon. It was pretty crazy. You would think that it would have destroyed my career right there.”
It didn’t, and in 1981 Dyson went to work at KOB Radio, where he toned down the sensationalism but found odd angles on stories.
“Even back then, he had a very unique way of seeing a story and writing and telling it,” said Frank Haley, a 56-year radio veteran who worked with Dyson at KOB Radio. “I was blown away by his ability to see an angle to a story that no one else could get.”
In 1982, he was hired at KOB-TV Channel 4 by Dick Knipfing. It was there that he became known as a rumpled, regular guy who told great stories and who was the polar opposite of hair-sprayed, happy-talk suits who recited the news and bored people to death.
“He was the last of the television storytellers, someone who cared about language and telling stories in an active voice rather than in a passive voice that put the audience to sleep,” said former TV photographer Bill Diven, now an occasional ABQ Free Press contributor. “He was a throwback to a no-bullshit reporter who had no respect for authority, which at one time was a valued asset in the news business.”
Dyson said he learned to tell stories while growing up in small-town Louisiana.
“I think by birth and ancestry I’m an American southerner, and in the South, blacks and whites enjoy a tradition of storytelling,” Dyson said. “Everything is a story. Even respectable little old lady Baptist tells stories, and it’s with humor, style and usually with some grotesque elements. I’ve usually been a guy who looks at situations upside down and inside out.”
Along with Dyson’s eye for a different side to a story came what some call his refusal to suffer fools and what others call a bad temper. Years ago, TV, radio and newspaper newsrooms were places where people swore and shouted at each other and sometimes fought, as well. And Dyson participated, at least verbally.
“I have never been the shy type, and if I think something is stupid, I will say it’s so. And if I think something is a bad decision, I will criticize it,” Dyson said. He added that his first fight with management came at his first radio job at KUNM-FM 89.9 Radio, which is owned by the University of New Mexico.
It was the mid-1970s, and Dyson was covering sports for the station when a UNM student killed another student. Dyson knew them both and knew that the incident involved a fight over a woman, also a UNM student. He wrote the story up and put in on the air. Then, he got called into the office of the station manager.
“She said, ‘Stuart, it was a nice story, but we don’t cover murders at KUNM; we’re above that,’’’ Dyson recalled. “I said, ‘These are two UNM students. We’re a community radio station.’ She said, ‘We do not cover murders.’ It was one of the first times I was confronted with stupidity in the newsroom, and I was highly critical, and I questioned her judgment, and I questioned their intelligence and their competence.”
In February 2015, Dyson and veteran KOB anchor Tom Joles nearly came to blows in the newsroom. Joles was sent home for a week. And then, this past April 15, the two had another high-profile argument in the newsroom. This time, Dyson was sent home. When he returned the following Monday, he and KOB management realized it was time that he actually start his long-planned retirement.
“I have been sort of at war with management people in a friendly kind of way for 40 years,” Dyson says. “Nothing has changed, really.”
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