Tim Saunders' Blog

February 24, 2012

If you watched the 5:00 news on Thursday, you may have seen me delivering a live report while driving a car.  That was not a trick.  I really was driving and communicating live with Jean Jadhon.  Given all the amazing technology that’s available these days, a live report from a moving automobile might not seem all that special.  But you might think otherwise when you consider what it normally takes for us to do a live broadcast.

There are two primary ways for us at WDBJ7 to transmit live pictures from the field, and both involve the use of large trucks.  Those vehicles are outfitted with large dishes on top, which transmit a live picture back to the television station.  We call these our “live trucks.”  When broadcasting a live picture, these live trucks cannot move.  For one thing it would be incredibly dangerous.  The equipment on top of the truck has to be extended into the air to send out a live picture.  If the truck was moving, the dish might hit a tree, a light pole, or a highway overpass.  If the equipment made contact with a power line, we could be electrocuted.

Transmitting a live picture while moving is a luxury that has not been available to us, until now.  There is new equipment that allows us to transmit a live picture, without the large live truck.  The new equipment uses cell phone technology and fits in a bag that looks a lot like a child’s backpack.  All we have to do is plug our camera into the bag and turn on the equipment.  With the push of one button, we can send a live picture straight to your television from any location that has adequate cell phone service.

My story yesterday was about a speed limit increase on part of Route 29.  During the live portion of my report, I was driving on the 29 bypass near Amherst.  The broadcast did include few barely noticeable problems.  There were “glitches” at the end of my live shot; places where the live picture froze momentarily because I was driving through an area where the cell phone service is marginal.  All in all, I think it was a great trial run on an amazing new piece of technology.

One viewer did send me an e-mail, suggesting that my report was unsafe.  In my defense I was driving well under the speed limit, and I never once took my eyes off the road.  I had a photographer in the passenger seat, taking care of all the technical aspects so that I could focus on driving as normal.

Technology is greatly changing the way we do things in the news business.  Joe Dashiell has been broadcasting from Richmond via Skype during the General Assembly.  Now that we have the ability to do a live broadcast with nothing more than a small backpack, I expect you’ll start seeing live reports from places even more unusual than just a moving car.

December 30, 2011

This weekend marks a milestone of sorts in my television news journey: ten years since my first appearance as a reporter on WDBJ7.  No, I have not been a reporter on News 7 for the last ten years.  I didn't start working at channel 7 until the summer of 2006.  The first time you ever saw me on Your Hometown Station was during my time as a student intern.

In December of 2001, I was 21 years old and a senior at Radford University.  Wanting to earn extra credits during my Christmas break, I applied and was accepted for a six-week internship at WDBJ.  I had the opportunity to work at WDBJ's old building on Colonial Avenue, just a few months before we moved to our current home on Hershberger Road.  I still remember how excited everyone at the station was about the upcoming move.  I even remember seeing an artist's rendering of the News 7 set that we use today, before it had been constructed.  Mostly what I remember about that opportunity was how it changed me personally, and set the course for many events that have taken place in my life over the last decade.

When I started my internship at WDBJ, I was at a point in my life where I wasn't sure television news was something I truly wanted to pursue as a career.  Even at the age of 21, I already had a taste of what the news business was like.  Between the ages of 17 and 20, I worked behind the scenes at another television station and that experience was not entirely positive.  I was far too young and naive for the stressful newsroom environment.  When I left that job, I had a very low opinion of television news in general.  Channel 7 was an opportunity for me to change my outlook, and that's exactly what happened.

As a News 7 intern, I was given the opportunity to work like a full-time reporter.  I was sent out to cover important stories that ranged from court cases, to car accidents and health news.  I wasn't shadowing another reporter, I WAS the reporter, working with photographers to cover stories all by myself.  Most of the work I produced did not include my name and face on television, except for the story I did onNew Year's Eve.

I will never forget my excitement at being assigned to cover the New Year's celebration in Blacksburg, and being told that I would get to report the story myself on the 11:00 news.  Doesn't sound very exciting, right? Try to follow my train of thought here.  Channel 7 was the station I grew up watching.  Keith Humphry, Robin Reed, and Joe Dashiell were (and still are) celebrities to me.  Having the opportunity to appear on the same station as the people I so greatly admired was nothing short of monumental for me at that time.

The story I produced that night was truly awful.  I watched it not long ago and cringed at the whole thing: my voice, my writing, my appearance.  It was all so very, very bad.  I'm surprised they allowed me to show up on the news like that! But I remember going home after that story aired and feeling like I could take on the world.  Having the opportunity to do that story, and learn the many things I did during that six-weeks at WDBJ, helped renew my enthusiasm for the news business.  I walked away from that internship knowing that broadcast journalism was the right career for me.  The people I met, including the late Roy Stanley, former sports director Mike Stevens, and the many other great journalists who worked at News 7 during that time, introduced me to a new level of class and professionalism that I had not yet experienced in a television newsroom.  I spent the next five years with one goal in mind: make it back to WDBJ as a reporter.

I'm so glad I had the opportunity to complete that internship ten years ago, and I'm glad I ended up coming back here to work for the last five and a half years.  It's hard to believe that so much time has passed.  I posted a picture from my first story at the top of this page.  See if you notice a difference between the me of 2001 and the me of today.

December 29, 2010

All week News 7 is taking a look back at the top stories of 2010, but there is one item missing from that countdown that certainly tops the list of what I've covered this year.

The Wesley Earnest case made up more than a month's worth of my reporting in 2010.  Earnest was found guilty in November for the death of his estranged wife, Jocelyn.  The former school teacher and administrator was actually put on trial twice this year: once in March and April and again in November.  Both trials lasted two weeks and both had the same outcome.  For those not familiar with the case, the second trial happened because the jury during the first trial viewed evidence they were never supposed to see.

Not since the Jens Soering trial in 1990 can I remember such a high profile case taking place in Bedford Circuit Court.  I was just a fourth grader at Bedford Elementary School during the Soering trial, but I can remember the intense media coverage.  News 7 aired a 30-minute wrap-up of the trial every night at 11:30.  National publications picked up the story and books were later published on the case.

Earnest hasn't received the same level of attention that Soering did, but his case is getting a special spotlight.  The CBS program"48 Hours" documented every minute of the first trial in March/April.  I'm told the case will be featured on an episode early next year.

In my mind, the Earnest case will always be the top story of 2010.  The selection of our "top 7" stories is a democratic process and I certainly respect the decision our viewers made, but I will never forget the hours I spent sitting through both trials with my fellow journalists.  It was an experience that gave me a whole new perspective of our criminal justice system and allowed me to cover a major event in my hometown.  Every time I walk into the Bedford County Courthouse, I will think of that case and the work that went into reporting it.

You can read and watch my stories from the second trial by clicking here and here.

December 21, 2010

I have an important birthday coming up this weekend and I am not ashamed to talk about it.

Some people I know like to hide their age.  They will stop at nothing to prevent others from learning their actual birthday.  I am not one of those people, perhaps because I am regularly mistaken for someone far younger than I actually am.

On Saturday (yes, Christmas day), I am turning 30.  Believe it or not, I am actually looking forward to this event.  I would much rather be 30 than 25 or even 20.  There was so much uncertainty and insecurity at 20.

30 feels much more comfortable.  Career-wise, I am where I had always hoped to be at this age.  I am grounded by family and friends and the knowledge of what I learned in my 20s.  I am ready for and embrace this milestone, even if my age is slowly robbing me of that youthful appearance everyone keeps telling me about.

August 26, 2010

What a great summer it has been! I've taken one of my favorite domestic vacations of all time, gotten lost on the way to the Grand Canyon (which ended up being a good thing, too), and watched my best friend get married in one of the most beautiful spots in the U.S.

I'll start by addressing the Grand Canyon mishap.  It happened during the first thing I mentioned - my favorite domestic vacation.  We traveled to Las Vegas for eight days back in June.  Originally our plan was to stay on the strip the whole time, but we got a wild hair and decided to rent a car and travel into the desert.

Along the way, we stopped at the Hoover Dam.  Pictures make the dam look like a massive structure, but it turned out to be a lot smaller than I expected.  Lake Mead, which is held up by the dam, is a truly sad sight.  It has almost dried up! One very neat thing going on at the dam is construction of a large bridge nearby.  When finished, it will allow drivers to cross between Arizona and Nevada without driving on the dam.  I'm glad we got to drive across it before that option was taken away.

Back to the Grand Canyon.  We decided to go out there after reading brochures all over Vegas that offered bus tours to the Canyon's West Rim.  The tours cost anywhere from $170 to well over $200 per-person.  "Why spend that?" we thought, when a rental car costs much less and would get us there faster than a tour bus.  My friend brought along his brand new GPS, a device we've nicknamed "Wilma."  Here's where we made a mistake.

We typed "Grand Canyon West" into Wilma to see what would come up.  Sure enough, she had an address for us.  So we followed the GPS to what we thought was the west rim of the Grand Canyon.  After four hours of driving, we arrived at a trailer park - not the Grand Canyon.

Apparently people make this mistake all the time.  Not far from our destination was a hotel, owned by an Indian tribe that also happens to own the land where the Grand Canyon West is located.  The people at the hotel were very friendly and prepared to tell me how to reach my destination, which was more than 100 miles away.  They were almost too prepared to answer my question, if you get what I'm saying.  I'm not into conspiracy theories, but I do believe that tribe has a racket going to make money off of people who get lost using a GPS.  Smart, if you ask me.

Further proof of my GPS theory came when we finally got to the Grand Canyon - an indescribable site, if you've never seen it.  We heard several people complaining of how long it took to reach the site from Vegas.  "Did you use a GPS, too?" we asked.  Their answer was yes.  Another point for the conspiracy theorists.

Like I said before, our detour turned out to be a good thing.  At the hotel, we learned about a discount admission to the canyon that we would not have known about had we driven straight there.  Going out of the way also allowed us to drive on part of Route 66, something I've always wanted to do.

I'll wrap this up with a quick mention of my trip last week to Bar Harbor, Maine - the location of my best friend's wedding.  I can't think of a more beautiful place to get married, or a more beautiful couple to tie the knot.  If you ever have a chance to visit Mt. Desert Island or Acadia National Park in Maine, take the opportunity.  You will not regret it.  And by the way, you can use a GPS to get there.  We did - and it worked out just fine.

July 27, 2010

It's been a while since I've posted anything on this blog.  In the news world, it's been an eternity.  I've covered the Wesley Earnest trial and the aftermath this week that nullified the April verdict.  I've been extremely busy, not just with that story, but trying to keep up with events throughout Lynchburg, Central and Southside Virginia.

For nearly six months, I was covering an eight county area by myself.  I'm thrilled to announce that I now have some great help.  You may have noticed our new reporter, Karen Kiley.  Karen comes to News 7 from West Virginia and has some great experience under her belt.  She's been a bureau reporter for the last three years and brings to Lynchburg a great understanding of how to work in a satellite newsroom like ours.

With Karen's help, we'll now be able to tackle a larger number of stories in the Lynchburg and Danville areas.  Karen's presence will also free me up to concentrate more on an area I care deeply about: my hometown of Bedford.  I've pledged to work harder at enterprising original stories from Bedford and Bedford County.  My goal is to give you the very best coverage of the Bedford area you'll find on any local TV station.

Keep an eye out for Karen and myself.  We'll be on the road a lot, working hard to give you more news from east of the Blue Ridge and beyond!

March 11, 2010

I hate moving! From Radford to Syracuse to Harrisonburg, Bedford, and eventually Lynchburg, I have moved WAY too much in the last decade.  Frequent relocation is something you learn to accept as an inevitability when you work in the news business.

My most recent move was across town to a new pad in the Hill City.  While the distance was short (about 5 miles), the task of moving itself was not easy.

I purchased new furniture for my new home, but I made my purchase in Tennessee.  Yes, I realize the sales tax is much higher there, but I found a great deal! Unfortunately, that meant I had to get my furniture from the Volunteer State to Lynchburg - a roughly 4 hour trip.

I ended up driving a Budget rental truck full of furniture all the way up 81 and across 460.  I NEVER want to be a truck driver! My truck wasn't even that large (15 feet), but it was definitely harder to maneuver than the average car, truck, or SUV, especially on a crowded interstate like 81.

Before and after my Tennessee trip, I was busy packing boxes, moving boxes, and unpacking boxes.  Furniture, clothes, dishes, you name it, all thrown in a trunk and moved across town.  Did I mention that all of this took place in a span of three days?

Moving is exhausting, but I'm glad I did it.  I love my new place, especially now that it's mostly set up with pictures, etc.  It feels like home - one I hope to keep for a while because moving again anytime soon just might kill me.

January 21, 2010

This is the first time in three days that I've had an opportunity to sit down at my own computer, inside my home, and compose my thoughts. As a reporter, it has been an emotionally exhausting week of heartbreaking news and tragedy. I certainly never expected to bring you the news of eight people killed at the hands of one person.

I received a call from someone in our Roanoke newsroom around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. I was on my way back from a morning story assignment - a World War II veteran who was receiving his purple heart and bronze star medals. The voice on the other end of the phone said "we're hearing about a shooting in Appomattox, have you heard anything?" At first, I brushed off the call. I have my story for the day, I thought. We'll just make a few calls and provide a short mention about whatever has happened. My assignment editor must have known this was more than your average shooting. He quickly told me to get on the road - and so I did.

When I arrived on Snaps Mill Road that afternoon, nothing initially seemed out of the ordinary, at least not compared with other shooting or domestic violence stories I have covered. There was a police barricade and a group of concerned neighbors huddled in a front yard. My assumption was that someone had shot his or her loved one and was now holding law enforcement in some type of standoff. Notice I said "someone" - my mind did not venture the thought of more than one casualty.

At that time, there were only five members of the media there - two people from another local TV station, a reporter and photographer from the Lynchburg newspaper, and myself. I started to shoot video, but within minutes I was met by law enforcement who asked us to move to a "staging location" on another road.

As we headed toward that staging location, we were met again by state police, who instructed us to go to State Police headquarters and wait for a press conference. A State Police Sergeant from Richmond was coming in to make a statement. When I heard that news, I started to realize the scope of what was happening, but I still wasn't prepared for what came next.

The Sergeant from Richmond used the term "multiple fatalities" to describe the situation in an initial press conference that afternoon. Around 7:00, I heard the first mention that 7 people were dead. Then the number rose to eight. What I was hearing was almost incomprehensible. I am still unable to wrap my head around what has happened. Within hours of word getting out about the number of people dead, that small group of 5 media members grew to well over 40 working journalists from the state and national level by the next morning.

I worked at WDBJ during the Virginia Tech tragedy, but I did not cover that story in the field as a reporter. I remember at the time being thankful that I was not among the reporters covering that story. I knew the toll it must have taken on them. What I have experienced this week is nothing in comparison to what my fellow journalists went through in April 2007, but it has been difficult. Say a prayer for the families of those eight people who were lost. They are experiencing the most difficult days of all.

December 30, 2009

Although I work in the media as a reporter, I approach all forms of media with skepticism and curiosity about the truth.  I think the fact that I work in the media makes me more skeptical than I would be otherwise.

My reluctance to take what's reported at face value comes from the fact that what I read and hear from reporters and commentators is very often wrong.  This particularly applies to the cable news industry.

I am not singling out one particular network.  I realize that cable news in 2009 is a very partisan business.  For the record, I find that both the so-called "liberal" and "conservative" talk show hosts get their facts mixed up on a regular basis.

I was listening to the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC one night.  She was doing a piece on Bob McDonnell, who at that time was still running for Governor.  Madow told her viewers that McDonnell graduated from "Pat Robertson's college, Liberty University."  Pat Robertson founded Regent University, which is located in Hampton Roads.  Bob McDonnell did in fact graduate from Regent.  LU is in our area and was founded by the late Jerry Falwell.  I suppose one could say that's a small mistake, but it's one that has caused me to distrust Maddow.

Not everyone takes what is fed to them by cable news and radio hosts with a grain of salt.  Many of the politically oriented broadcast programs command a large legion of loyal, dedicated followers who take what they hear as if it were the gospel truth.  That can be dangerous when you consider how often their facts are either exaggerated or flat out incorrect.

I read a story today about a business in the Richmond area that was flooded with angry calls yesterday, after a guest host on the Rush Limbaugh show accused that business of taking Federal stimulus money.  The business was referred to by the host as a "massage parlor."  The business offers massages, but is not a "massage parlor" (that term often refers to an establishment of prostitution).  The part about the stimulus money was also wrong.  The massage business did not take stimulus funds.  The owner of the business is actually opposed to the federal stimulus and takes part in "Tea Party" rallies.  The guest host on Rush got his information from a list that was circulating the Internet.  That same list was also cited, incorrect information and all, on the Fox News program "Fox and Friends."

Bottom line here - keep watching and reading the news.  Listen to the political commentator of your choice.  It's important to stay informed, but take time to do a little research of your own.  Don't simply trust what's being fed to you.  Reporters and talk show hosts are human and we do get things wrong - some, more often than others.

November 4, 2009

Liberty University is proving it is a force to be reckoned with in Lynchburg politics.

Student votes in the 23rd District House of Delegates race appear to have tipped a close contest in favor of the Republican challenger, Lynchburg City Council Member and retired surgeon Scott Garrett.

Both Garrett and Democratic Incumbent Shannon Valentine worked hard to court the LU vote.  Although neither was permitted to formally address the student body, they targeted the young voters by shaking hands with them as they left weekly convocations.  Students I spoke with also took it upon themselves to learn about the candidates at public forums and other events.

In the end, it seems that LU voters overwhelmingly supported Garrett.  At the Heritage precinct in Lynchburg, where LU students cast their ballots, Garrett won with 85 percent of the vote.  Until votes from the Heritage precinct were announced, Valentine was ahead.  At one point, she led Garrett by 1,400 votes.

As supporters anxiously awaited returns, it seemed that the only numbers anyone cared about were the ones coming from the Heritage precinct.  At one point, shortly before the final numbers were announced, City Councilman Mike Gillette (a Valentine supporter) anxiously announced "This entire election is going to boil down to what happens with the Liberty vote."  That statement alone spoke volumes about how much power Liberty holds, but it didn't take last night's vote to make me aware of the issue.

Someone asked me several weeks ago how I felt the election was going to turn out.  I told them candidly "I'm not an expert, but I know the Liberty vote is going to be a major factor."  LU canceled classes for the entire day and offered every student a free ride to the poll.  In a race where roughly 20-thousand ballots were cast, I knew that at least a thousand or two would be coming from LU and that most of those votes would go to the Republican.

I have heard many argue that LU students don't deserve a voice in Lynchburg's local elections.  They argue that students - most of whom live in dorms or temporary housing - aren't paying property taxes in the city and therefore shouldn't have a say in who represents the area.  LU students counter that they are paying taxes in the city, whether it be through food or other sales taxes.  They also believe that Liberty as an institution is effected by the actions of Lynchburg's elected leaders.  Students say they want someone in office who will serve their interests, particularly on issues of zoning and property rights that LU Chancellor Jerry Falwell claims were taken away in the early 90's.  Falwell has made it very clear to students that he wants them to vote and vote locally.

One of my stories on Monday focused on the LU voting issue.  In case you missed it, you can check it out here.  As always, feel free to share your thoughts with me on this or any other topic.

October 23, 2009

Should a runaway case be reported on Your Hometown Station?

You've seen many stories on our news this week about Morgan Harrington, the Virginia Tech student and Roanoke County native who went missing after a concert in Charlottesville. She does not appear to have taken off on her own accord.

One story you have not seen on our news is about a 16-year-old girl who was missing from the Bedford area. She disappeared for about a week and was later found in California, having reportedly hitchhiked to get there. Unlike Morgan Harrington, this girl left on her own.

At News 7, we have a policy not to report the disappearance of runaways. Other local TV stations also follow this policy. At least one station, however, chose to report on the Bedford girl's disappearance, even though the Bedford County Sheriff's Office believed the girl was a runaway before she was located.

While the girl was still missing, I received several calls and e-mails from people wondering why we did not do a story on the Bedford girl. My own brother even alerted me to the issue, not realizing I was already aware of it. I've read postings on several websites from local residents, wondering why some of us in the media did not report on the case. Not everyone who was asking about the case was from Bedford and it's likely they did not know the girl personally, yet they were concerned for the girl's safety and wanted to know if she had been found. It seems there was interest in the case, which is generally one criteria we use in deciding whether to report on something.

Let me say this - I stand behind my television station, my news department, and our policies. I also recognize the ethical dilemma - on one hand, you have a minor whose parents desperately want to bring them home. At the same time, that minor made a conscious decision to leave. Does it make sense to use our air time to look for a person that doesn't want to be found?

Some would argue that minors in particular aren't mature enough to decide whether they should be found or not. Those same people would say that our airwaves could be a crucial resource in bringing a runaway home before someone has a chance to harm them.

I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this topic.  Send me an e-mail or leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

September 18, 2009

Friday was a very difficult day for me, for many reasons.

It was personally very sad for me to sit back and watch the Olde Liberty Station burn.  As a Bedford native, I can appreciate what the restored train station meant to my hometown.

Olde Liberty Station is much more than a restaurant for us.  It's a community gathering spot.  You would often find a cross-section of the community dining there.

The dining room is regularly packed.  People drive for many miles and even other states to sample the station's steaks and seafood.  It draws people into Bedford and contributes to the city's economy.

Beyond what it offers now, Liberty Station is woven tightly into the fabric of Bedford's past.  Think of all the people who passed through the building in its days as a passenger train station.  The platform out back is where loved ones said goodbye to the famous "Bedford Boys," who sacrificed so much on the front lines at D-Day.

This day has also been difficult for me from a professional standpoint.  In my efforts to bring you thoughtful and complete coverage of today's fire, I ran into a disaster of my own.  I put together several stories for the 5:00 and 6:00 newscasts, but very little of what I assembled made it on-the-air on those initial broadcasts.

We were confronted with several technical issues in the field that prevented my video from making it to Roanoke.  At 5:00, I was left to narrate our fire coverage for nearly two minutes without any video of the fire itself.  At 6:00, most of my content made it on the air, but a computer meltdown caused the end of my longer story on the fire to get cut off.  I doubt many of you noticed the difference, but it was hurtful for me given how much effort I had put into my work.

My problems, however, pale in comparison to that of the owner of Liberty Station and his employees.  My deepest sympathies go out to them.  I certainly hope the building is able to be salvaged and returned to its former glory, inside and out.

September 4, 2009

After several weeks of covering very emotional stories, today I had a chance to sit down and enjoy a slower pace with some preschoolers.

In the photo, I am cutting out shapes in construction paper with some new friends at Randolph College preschool.  I was doing a story there on a new statewide initiative to rank daycare centers.  Randolph's program received the high mark of four stars.

Sometimes, it takes spending time with a bunch of three year olds to remind you what's important.  When my 3-year-old nephew came for a visit a few weeks ago, I finally had an excuse to go play in the park.  When you're 28, you have no business riding the swings and going down the slide unless you're doing it with a toddler.  Then, it's perfectly ok!

Hope you have a great Labor Day weekend! I have some fun plans in store, but I'm still trying to get over a late summer cold that I've come down with.  It's had me coughing and sneezing for the last three days.  My body just wasn't ready for that cold snap earlier in the week.

August 4, 2009

When I cover a story in Lynchburg, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is "how long did it take you to drive from Roanoke?" Despite the fact that News 7 has continuously maintained a newsroom in Lynchburg for more than 30 years, it seems that many people in the Hill City have no clue that we are here.  Not only do I live here full-time, I also work from a News 7 office that has been located in the Allied Arts building since the late 1970's.

One of my biggest goals as Lynchburg Newsroom Chief has been to increase awareness and visibility of News 7 here in Lynchburg.  Part of that has come through trying to cover as many stories here as I possibly can.  That can be difficult when you have eight counties to cover.

As a station, WDBJ 7 is also trying to put its support behind local events here in Lynchburg and surrounding counties.  We are a media sponsor for The Riverflick Film Series and I will serve as a host at the event this weekend.  We are also serving as media sponsor for the Campbell County Heritage Festival, which will take place in Naruna later this month.

We're doing what we can to get our name out, but we need your help as well.  Spread the word in Lynchburg about our newsroom and encourage your friends and neighbors to watch Your Hometown Station for stories from the Hill City.

July 24, 2009

It's a sad day for us here in the Lynchburg newsroom.  My photographer Andrea and I are saying goodbye to our summer intern, Megan Wood.

Megan has been with us since the beginning of June.  She's a Danville native and a rising junior at Wingate University in North Carolina.  During her short tenure, she has quickly become a vital part of what we do here in Lynchburg.  She has proven herself to be an excellent writer and someone I can trust to help out with stories.

When I went on vacation in June, Megan stepped in to take my place.  She covered stories on her own and earned praise for her work.  You may have also seen her on TV with a story she covered on a Danville eatery.  If you missed it, check it out here.  I can tell you the Hot Dogs at that restaurant are awesome and I will definitely be making a return visit!

Megan surprised us today with a delicious Doughnut Cake!

It's literally a giant doughnut, covered in chocolate icing.  I am now on a sugar high from eating the pastry, but a little down too since Megan is leaving us.  Best of luck Megan! Hopefully one day you can come back and work full-time at Your Hometown Station!

June 29, 2009

A few weeks ago, I took a vacation to Salt Lake City, Utah to visit my sister, Sara, and her family.  While I was out there, I spent some time roaming around the city on public transportation and really liked what I saw.

Salt Lake City has a system of transportation that includes buses, light rail, and commuter rail.  Light rail is fairly common in European cities, but you don't see many American localities using it anymore.


TRAX Light Rail Train, making a stop in downtown Salt Lake City

If you're not familiar with light rail, think of the streetcars of the past.  Light rail runs on a smaller track than your average subway system.  There is a cable overhead that powers the train with electricity.  The train itself often runs parallel to traffic on a city street, but vears off on its own path once it reaches the suburbs.

In Salt Lake City, the light rail system is known as "TRAX."  TRAX connects most points in downtown Salt Lake City and suburbs to the immediate South.  TRAX terminates at a central station, where passengers can board a commuter train called the "Front Runner."

The Front Runner Commuter Train - it has two levels, giving riders a unique view.

The Front Runner travels deep into the suburbs and moves at a faster speed than the light rail train.  It can hold more people than TRAX, but it travels more infrequently.  On a weekend, the train only makes stops once an hour.

The Front Runner allows people who live in the Northern Suburbs to reach Salt Lake City without having to deal with interstate traffic.  It travels a total length of 44 miles outside the city.  To draw a comparison in our area, that would be the equivalent of a train running from Radford to Roanoke.  Another 6 miles, and the train could run all the way from Roanoke to Lynchburg.

Speaking of our area, I wonder if people in our region would ever have an interest in using some form of commuter rail, if it were available here.  I realize Roanoke and Lynchburg are far different than Salt Lake City.  We don't have the urban density of that region, nor do we share their traffic issues.

I do feel there are a lot of people living between Roanoke and Lynchburg that would be interested in riding a train to reach one or both of the cities.  If there were stops along the way, people could hop on and ride to work each day, or use it to take a shopping trip on the weekends.  If gas prices ever went back up, drivers might jump at the chance to leave their car at home and take a train to work.

It's very unlikely we'll see any type of public, short-trip rail service implemented here anytime soon, but I'm interested in what you think about the topic.  Share your thoughts with me in an E-Mail.  I'd love to hear your ideas.

June 1, 2009

I seem to remember a push several years ago to bring new retailers and restaurants to the Roanoke area.  There was a website where you could go and vote for chains that don't exist in the star city.  Some wanted to see a Trader Joe's grocery store here.  Others wanted access to the cheap, but popular furniture of IKEA.  For me, the most wanted chain that doesn't call Roanoke home is The Cheescake Factory.

I stopped off at one of their locations on my way out of Richmond this weekend.  I was hoping to take home a slice of their Adam's Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple for a friend and myself.  Alas, I was told that their cakes only have a shelf life of three days and lose their delicious taste once they're re-frozen (Cheesecake Factory ships cakes to all of its locations frozen - each store has to thaw it out to sell).  Since I wasn't going to see the friend I was buying the cake for until Wednesday, I figured it would be a waste to purchase a piece that would go bad before it could be eaten.  At 8 dollars per-slice, it's just not worth throwing away.

I am a total glutton for Cheesecake Factory.  I make a point to stop anytime I'm within 20 miles of one.  Two weeks ago, I veered off course to a mall in Norfolk for a slice of flourless Godiva Chocolate.  My passion for the pricey delicacy reminds me of Bleeding Gums Murphy's obsession with eating Fabergé eggs on The Simpsons.  It's an expensive habit! It's probably a good thing the restaurant is out of my reach, for I fear I would go into debt eating there all the time.

I looked up that website I was thinking of.  It's called MyRetailRoanoke.com.  Jean Jadhon did a story on it several years ago.  The site is still up and guess what retailer is number two on the list: Cheesecake Factory! Seems I'm not the only one who wants to see the restaurant here.

May 27, 2009

I hope all the rain we've been getting didn't prevent you from having a fun and productive Memorial Day weekend.  I slipped out of town for a few days to visit Virginia's Eastern Shore.  I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast in Accomack County and toured several towns along the Delmarva peninsula.  My friend and I climbed to the top of a lighthouse in Chincoteague, sampled some fantastic homemade ice cream at a place called Island Creamery, and ate some of the best crab cakes I've ever tasted at a restaurant called The Blarney Stone in Onancock.

We finished off the weekend with a trip to Busch Gardens.  I must have screamed too loudly on the roller coasters, because my voice has been hoarse for the last three days! I purchased season tickets to the park, so I will be making return trips this summer.  Next time, i'll remember to exercise a little vocal restraint.

I will be off the air tomorrow and Friday while I volunteer with a seminar for high school leaders.  Don't worry about missing news from Lynchburg, Bedford, and Danville while I'm away.  My photographer and cohort, Andrea Craig, will be covering a few stories of interest for you in my absence.  Enjoy the rest of the week and try to stay dry!

May 4, 2009

Most everyone has a story to tell about brushes with celebrities or notable individuals. My tales don't include famous actors or musicians, but instead Presidents of the United States.

I have been lucky enough to see four living U.S. Presidents in person. Some of those encounters happened during the course of my job. Others happened thanks to occurrences in my private life.

I first saw President George W. Bushwhen he was still Governor Bush. He made a campaign stop in Roanoke in August of 1999. I was working for Roanoke's NBC affiliate at the time as a video editor. The reporter covering the story let me hold her microphone as Bush stepped off his plane to deliver a brief statement. I later saw Bush in person again while working as a reporter in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I was assigned to cover the Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House in 2005, which then President Bush was presiding over.

My stories involving President Bill Clinton begin with my graduation from Syracuse University. Clinton was the commencement speaker when I received my Master's degree from S.U. in 2003. I saw him again five years later in Blacksburg when I covered the stump speech he made for his wife Hillary, who was then running for President herself.

Last fall, I was assigned to cover President Barack Obama's campaign stop in Lynchburg. I reported on his speech before a crowd of several thousand at E.C. Glass High School.

I bring all of this up because just last weekend, I was able to see and hear President Jimmy Carter in person.

I listened to Carter speak on religion during a conference at Wake Forest University.

I feel very lucky to have seen these world leaders up close. There are many people who never get to see their President in the flesh. Hopefully, I will get to see many more Commanders in Chief in my lifetime. If I can track down George H.W. Bush, I will be able to say I've seen all of the living presidents in person. He did visit our region for barbecue in Botetourt County a few years ago.  Perhaps he'll make a return visit.

April 10, 2009

We can't always get what we want.  Whether it's getting an extra hour of sleep in the morning or having your winning lottery numbers drawn, we sometimes have to accept that things are not going to play out the way we'd like.  Such is life when you're the lone reporter in a news bureau.

There is never a quiet moment in Lynchburg, Danville, or the points in-between and adjacent that I cover.  I can plan out my day to the finest detail, but it never fails that something will come along and force me to rearrange my entire schedule.  I spend so much of my day scrambling, trying with every ounce of energy I have, to cover every newsworthy event or happening in my beat.  It's exhausting, and some days I worry that I'm doing 5,000 things marginally instead of accomplishing one thing masterfully.

My quandary is not one exclusive to journalists.  No matter your profession, you can likely relate to what I'm saying.  There are times when you just have to tell yourself that you can't do everything.  There will be tasks that can't be done because of time constraints, issues of resources/manpower, or simply because it's not possible.  It's not about giving up, because you always want to accomplish that which you can do.  It's about recognizing your limits and allowing yourself to be successful at the goals you can attain.

I'm resolving to start identifying tasks that may be outside of my reach so that I can focus on the realistic things I can do well.  I may have to come back and read this again Monday, because I'm sure I'll be back in at 1,000 miles-per-hour by then.  Here's hoping you have a restful weekend.  I'll certainly be trying to have one myself.

February 14, 2008

I'm finally ready for the digital transition.

For months, I have been fielding calls from viewers who have been asking me what they need to do to get their TV ready for the switch to digital.  I generally end every phone call with "take care of this sooner than later - don't wait until the analog signals go away to make the transition."  Until now, I've had trouble taking my own advice.

Today, I finally went out and bought a converter box for the TV in my living room.  I only own one TV set and I've never had cable or satellite hooked up here.  Even though I make my living on television, I rarely watch television, so I don't have a need for more stations than what I can pick up for free.

I'm actually glad that I've had to go through the process of converting my own television.  It has given me first hand knowledge of what our viewers on the eastern side of the region are dealing with.  I live in the Lynchburg area, roughly 60 miles from WDBJ's broadcast tower on Poor Mountain in Roanoke County.  From my home, it would be nearly impossible to pick up WDBJ's digital signal using a set of "rabbit ears" on my TV.

I ended up spending 30 extra dollars to get a special antenna that hangs on my wall and connects to an amplifier.  By positioning the antenna next to the ceiling and near a window, I am able to pick up WDBJ's digital signal, along with all of the other Roanoke TV stations, without digital "break-up."  It's a crude and somewhat unattractive set up, but it's allowing me to continue getting free television.

Now that I've made the switch, I'll have another option to recommend to my fellow Lynchburg residents.  I have spent a lot of time researching the best antenna options so that I can offer recommendations to people who call me.  At least now I know it can be done, so my advice won't just be an educated guess.

December 23, 2008

While many of you are exchanging gifts on Thursday, I'll be getting gifts of a different kind. 

Christmas Day is my birthday.  When I tell people that, the first question I generally get asked is "do you get double gifts?" - meaning, do you get fewer presents because people combine your Christmas and Birthday gifts?  The answer is actually no.  My parents have always made sure to give me a separate birthday present.  I generally receive it on Christmas Eve, so that it feels more like a birthday gift than a Christmas gift.  It also gives me a chance to open my gifts at a time when everyone else isn't opening their gifts too.

My siblings always make sure to give me a separate birthday gift as well.  Their birthday (they're twins) is less than a month after Christmas, so if they ever try to pull the "double-gift" trick on me, I'll just tell them their Christmas gift is for both occasions too.

I've grown to like having a birthday on the biggest holiday of the year.  No one ever forgets my birthday, and I feel like people generally make a bigger deal about it than they would otherwise.  The only drawback: I can't really celebrate the occasion on the actual day with anyone other than my family.  Friends are off with their own families.

The only time I ever really felt like I missed out on a right of passing was my 21st birthday.  You can guarantee I didn't spend that Christmas with family doing what most people do on their 21st.  This year I turn 28, so I feel like I'm past the days of wild birthday celebrations anyway.

Happy Birthday to all the Christmas babies out there (including News 7's Brent Watts, who also celebrates on the 25th) - and here's hoping you don't get double gifted this year!

November 11, 2008


Target practice at the Lynchburg Police Department Firing Range

Leaving your comfort zone can be fun and rewarding.  How else can you grow as a person if you don't attempt to try new things or experience unfamiliar aspects of life? Over the last few months, I've been slowly pushing myself to do things I wouldn't otherwise do and I'm happy with the results I've seen so far.

First, I've made an effort to eat better and get in shape.  If you've seen me on the news, you must wonder what I'm talking about.  I'm not overweight, but until recently I haven't been living a healthy lifestyle.  My job often forces me to eat junk food and rarely exercise.  Last month, I decided to start working out with a personal trainer to get in better shape and develop a nutritional diet plan.  I'm happy to report that, so far, I've managed to start eating much better and the additional exercise has actually given me more energy.  I've also started a routine of challenging hikes every weekend to supplement my workouts.

I also just finished up the Lynchburg Citizens Police Academy, which is put on by the Lynchburg Police Department.  I signed up for the program to learn more about what our local police do on a daily basis.  I hoped to learn new information that would help me with my job, but I also had a chance to try something new.  We spent one Saturday last month at the police firing range, doing target practice with several types of firearms. 

For the first time, I was able to shoot a pistol and an automatic weapon.  The experience gave me a new appreciation for firearms and the responsibility that comes with owning them.  I realize that firing a gun isn't a big deal to most people, but for someone like me who wasn't raised around guns, learning to shoot one is a big step outside the comfort zone.

I'll keep you updated as I continue this new lifestyle of working out and trying new things.  Happy Veterans Day to everyone and thanks to all who have served our country.

November 3, 2008

I love getting news tips from viewers. If you know about something I should cover, please call or e-mail me! Getting a personal message with details about an event, concern, or observation is something I respond well to. What I DON'T respond well to is spam.

This morning, I arrived at work to find literally hundreds of e-mails from a group that will remain unnamed, asking me to cover a particular story. These e-mails were not from News 7 viewers. Had I taken the time to e-mail any of these people back, they wouldn't have known who I was, nor would they know what WDBJ is or where we're located.

So how did they get my e-mail address if they don't know me? What likely happened is this particular group scoured the internet and located e-mail addresses for as many reporters as they could get their hands on. The group then e-mailed that list of addresses to its supporters and asked them to e-mail everyone on the list, asking them to cover the story they're trying to get out. Somehow, I landed on that mailing list. I get e-mails this way all the time, but this is the first time I've ever received the volume of e-mails from one group that I received last night.

Word to the wise - if you're involved with an organization (any kind of organization) and they ask you to send out a mass e-mail to reporters you don't know, don't waste your time. Don't waste my time.  Send me one e-mail, not hundreds.  There are plenty of ways to get a message out to the press. Spam should not be one of those ways.

October 12, 2008

How would you like to get your hands on money you didn't even know you owned? It happened to me this weekend.

About six months ago, my co-worker Jennifer Wishon sent me a link to Virginia's unclaimed property database. She was doing research for a story on the site and happened to find my name as someone with unclaimed property. I went to the website and typed in my name. Sure enough, there I was, apparently having some sort of mysterious unclaimed property. That's one quirk about the website. They will tell you that you have unclaimed property, but in order to find out what that property is, you have to jump through a few hoops.

When I saw my name on the site, I filled out an online form to begin the process of claiming my property. Four months passed. I had forgotten about even visiting the site until I checked my mailbox one day and found a letter from Virginia's Department of Treasury. It said my unclaimed property was a paycheck from a part-time job I worked a few years ago. It then occurred to me - I forgot to pick up my final paycheck after I quit that job. There were more forms to fill out and send back. I totally expected the unclaimed paycheck to be worth maybe 40 dollars.  My thought was I couldn't have worked more than one or two days on that last pay period.

More weeks pass. Finally, I opened my mailbox Saturday and found a check from the state. It was for $173.00. It's not like winning the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes, but I'm happy to get any amount.  And to think, I never would have known I had that money if it hadn't been for Jennifer. According to the Department of Treasury website, one in seven Virginians have unclaimed property they don't know about. I encourage you to visit the website and see if your name pops up. It's free - all you have to do is fill out some paperwork and be very patient.

September 17, 2008

Forgive me if I seem a little thrown off this week. I just got back from an eight-day vacation to Barcelona, Spain. My journey abroad marks the first real vacation I've taken in several years and the first time I've ever been to Europe. I traveled with my parents, Ronnie and Barbara, and two friends, Justin and Jimmy.

Barcelona is the perfect place if you're looking for a unique taste of Europe. The food is wonderful, there's plenty to see and do, and the weather is almost consistently perfect. There's virtually always a blue sky above you and the climate stays warm, but not humid. You may want to brush up on your Catalan before visiting since that's most of what they speak there.

This is the second time I've been "overseas" as they say. I did a six-week study abroad in Venezuela while I was a student at Radford University. I always enjoy taking in other cultures and seeing how the rest of the world lives. Hopefully I can get a few more stamps in my passport before it expires in a few years!

My father and I on "La Rambla," one of Barcelona's busiest and most interesting streets.

Me inside the stadium that hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics.

August 11, 2008

When it comes to communicating, I'm woefully behind the times.  While many people carry around a blackberry, iphone, or some type of PDA these days, I'm content with my regular old cell phone.  I use it to take pictures and video, but I mostly just use it for its intended purpose: talking on the phone.  Imagine that, a phone used for talking to other people! It seems that most people don't like doing that anymore, because virtually everyone I know would rather send me a text message than pick up the phone and have a normal conversation.

I have to admit, I'm not a fan of texting.  While I've gotten faster at it, it still takes way too much time to try and type out a simple sentence on a tiny phone pad.  Being the impatient person that I am, when I want to tell a friend or relative something, I would rather hit two buttons and talk to them instantly than waste 60 seconds typing out a sentence, sending it, and waiting for a reply.  I realize texting serves a different purpose than the average phone call.  Most people I know find it useful when they want to communicate a quick message without getting into a drawn out conversation.

I suppose I should start embracing text messaging.  After all, it's 2008 and everyone else has been doing it for what, 10 years now? I should probably sign up for texting sooner than later.  Under my current plan, I'm paying for every individual text message.  Needless to say, it's not cheap.  It's so bad, my cell phone carrier has actually started texting me to say "you'd save money if you purchased a texting plan!" I'm not even joking.

July 29, 2008

It's weeks like this I wish there was a such thing as human cloning. I say that in jest, because what I really mean is I need some way to be in more places at one time. I'll give you an example.

My Monday started with a 4:30 AM phonecall from our morning show producer about an accident in Appomattox County. I quickly changed clothes and started driving the 45 minutes from my apartment to the accident scene. After getting some video and talking with state police, I headed back to Lynchburg to write and edit my story. I was back by 6:30 and managed to get the story on News 7 Mornin' shortly thereafter. After that, I had just enough time to get home and change into my reporter clothes so that I could begin my "real" work day. And what a day it was. I still managed to cover four other stories Monday before calling it a day at 6:30. And even after all that, there was still one story left that I wanted to cover.  But after a 14 hour work day and abbreviated rest the night before, I just didn't have the energy to continue.

I don't say any of this to brag. I know for a fact that my colleagues both at News 7 and our competing organizations work similar hours with the same eagerness to get out and cover stories in their beats.

I'm writing to give you an idea of what it takes to get even the simplest stories on the air. Factor in the time it takes to drive to a story, conduct interviews, get video, drive back, write, and then edit it all together, and you've probably burned two or three hours. Then consider that some of the stories I cover are in Halifax or Pittsylvania County. It's a 90 minute drive one way just to reach parts of the southside from Lynchburg. Put all of that together and you'll understand why I feel like I need more than one version of myself to get it all done. Of course, if you ask some of my friends or family, they'll probably tell you one Tim Saunders is already more than enough!

All kidding aside, I can say that having so many places to be is teaching me a lot about time management. I'm learning how to get the most out of the resources I already have available. And that's really all you can ask for in any job. A chance to challenge yourself and learn something new about your limits and yourself. I can honestly say this job is teaching me a lot about both.

July 17, 2008

As talk about our state's transportation issues continues, I've noticed more and more discussion of trains.  Many on the state and local level have started looking to the rails for a solution to rising gas prices, crowded highways, and road construction.  Some believe trains are the answer to getting trucks off the road.  Others say passenger rail will offer a cheaper way to travel or commute between cities near and far.  However you feel about trains - their purpose or their future use - you can bet it's a topic we'll be hearing more about in the coming months.

This week alone, I spent two days covering train issues.  My assignment Wednesday gave me the unique opportunity to ride the Norfolk Southern tracks between Roanoke and Lynchburg.  My photographer Andrea Craig and I were invited to ride on the Operation Lifesaver train to observe safety issues on our local railroad.  It was a fun trip that allowed me to see a new side of a familiar route.  I've traveled the highways between Roanoke and Lynchburg more times than I could ever count, but I've never gone between the two cities by rail.  I have traveled the tracks between Bedford and Lynchburg once before, but it was a short excursion and I was only 2 years old.  That made Wednesday's journey a whole new experience for me.  If you have a chance, look up my story on the trip and check out the video we captured.

In completely unrelated news, I wanted to say how excited I am that Travis Wells is our new sports director.  He's a tremendous advocate for our local athletes and I know he'll do a great job continuing News 7's strong coverage of our local teams.  I learned about Travis long before I ever knew anyone at News 7 first hand.  I was a student at Liberty High School and a manager for the school's basketball team in the mid-90's.  During that time, our team won back-to-back state championships.  Both years, Travis took News 7 footage he'd shot and put together a tribute video to honor the team.  We played those videos over and over on Liberty's closed-circuit TV station in the days after each championship.  It was an unselfish act by Travis that helped build pride at my school and it's one of many examples of his dedication to high school athletics.  I'm proud to see him carry on the legacy of outstanding sports coverage at my hometown station!

July 9, 2008

Growing up in this area, I have always heard a lot about Hurricane Camille.  Every time I ride through Nelson County with my family, my father points out the mountainside near Lovingston where evidence of the storm is still clearly visible.  My Mom often shares memories of the storm.  Although she was not directly affected by the tragedy, it was a major event in her adolescence - much like recent disasters have been for my generation.  She has shown me newspaper clippings she saved from the days following the storm.

When I was informed about a new play at Sweet Briar College chronicling the storm, I found the idea very interesting.  The play is called "The Bluest Water: A Hurricane Camille Story," and it's part of the Blue Ridge Summer Theater Festival at Sweet Briar.  I had a chance to cover the play this afternoon and I can tell you, from what little I saw today, it's a very emotional performance.  The two playwrights who crafted the script interviewed storm survivors and rescue personnel who took part in recovery efforts.  They studied the event closely and even collected household pieces from 1969 and before to create a "debris pile," similar to what many in Nelson County saw in the days following the storm.

It's hard to fathom in today's time just how devastating Camille was to Central Virginia.  Nearly 30 inches of rain fell in just 6 hours.  Most were asleep when the storm came through and had no warning that a flood was coming.  153 people died in one night - a horrific blow to a small, tight knit area like Nelson County.

I think the play will help many, like myself, who weren't around in 1969 when the storm hit, understand the gravity of the Camille tragedy.  If you're interested in seeing the play, it will be performed at 7 p.m. July 9, 11, 16, 18, 23 and 25, and 2 p.m. July 13, 20 and 27 in the Murchison Lane Auditorium at Sweet Briar.

June 12, 2008

Did you see or smell the smoke today? Chances are you did, especially if you live on the southside.  When my assignment editor told me to head to Pittsylvania County for a story about smoke this morning, I wasn't expecting to find a whole lot.  We received an advisory telling us that the southern-most counties in our viewing area would be seeing smoke from a wildfire in Eastern North Carolina.  All I could think was "How could a fire more than 200 miles away cause problems in our region?" As my photographer and I traveled down Route 29, I quickly saw what the fuss was about.  As soon as we hit Gretna, I started smelling smoke.  Soon, the sun disappeared and the sky in front of us was lost in a haze.  The clear day we left in Lynchburg was nowhere to be found in Danville.  As we encountered people around the city, some knew where the smoke was coming from, but most had no clue.  Many were shocked when I explained what was happening.  One person told me he thought the Dan River Long Mills were on fire again (referring to the large fire several weeks ago).  Western winds are to blame for the problem, and since there is no rain in the immediate forecast, folks in Danville and surrounding areas may have to put up with the smoke for at least a few more days.

June 3, 2008

Welcome to June! I can honestly say I kicked off the first month of summer in the best possible fashion.  I spent this past weekend in Richmond, working as a volunteer with theHugh O'BrianYouth Leadership Seminar, also known as "HOBY."  What is HOBY you ask? It's named for the actor, Hugh O'Brian, who started the organization in 1958 as a way to train and motivate young people on leadership and critical thinking.  Every public and private high school in Virginia has the opportunity to nominate one outstanding student leader to attend the 3-day event.  These students are given a chance to hear from professional speakers and hone their leadership skills through workshops, group interaction, and team-building activities.  I attended the conference as the student representative from Liberty High School back in 1996.  The program made a big difference in my life, which is why I'm happy to give back as an adult volunteer.  Some of this year's attendees included students from the News 7 viewing area.  Many of them are returning to their schools this week, ready to take on new leadership roles.  I wish them great success in their endeavors.  I spend far too much of my time covering bad things in my job, so it's nice to spend at least one weekend around bright, motivated young people.  I hope those of you I met this weekend will stay in touch and remember to practice what you've learned - and don't forget to volunteer your time when you become a "grown-up" like me!

Tim and his group at the Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Seminar in Richmond, VA

May 19, 2008   

Tim and Logan shoot a "standup" for Tim's story on ATT Search Dogs.









You may have seen a story I did a few weeks ago on a group of Pittsylvania County volunteers that are working to train search and rescue dogs for our area. We're still getting feedback and inquiries on this report, so I thought I would post the group's contact information for anyone interested in contacting them. The group is called ATT Search Dogs. They are hoping to train a group of four dogs that can complete state certification and become a search and rescue team for this region. Right now, the closest search teams are in Charlottesville and Richmond, which is not convenient for searches in the mountains of Western Virginia. When I last spoke with group members, they were still looking for two more dogs to join their group. If you have a dog you'd like to train, or if you'd just like to volunteer your time, contact:

Joanne KuchinskiATT Search Dogs of VA434-724-2527sarmalleymom@aol.com

May 5, 2008

Those of us working in the news business have to grow a thick skin when it comes to tragedy.  We encounter sad events on such a regular basis, that we have to numb ourselves to it all as a means of survival.  I've been in and around the news business since I was 15 years old.  In the last 12 years, I've been to countless fatal accident scenes and attended far too many funerals.  I normally don't let it get to me.  Still, I couldn't help but be effected by a tragedy here in Lynchburg over the weekend.  Jamie Holmes, a 16-year-old sophomore at Liberty Christian Academy, was killed in a car crash on his way back from a school banquet.  This morning, we covered a memorial service for Jamie.  His brother, who was driving the vehicle that crashed, spoke to students.  You could literally feel his pain as he struggled to take the stage inside Thomas Road Baptist Church.  He wanted to tell everyone there how he was doing and help them make sense of what has happened.  But it's hard to make sense of this.  As his principal told everyone, Drew and Jamie were doing everything right.  They were wearing their seatbelts.  This isn't another story about teenagers out joyriding or abusing their right to drive.  We say it so often, but this really is a senseless tragedy.  There will be a long road of healing for everyone affected.  I know I'm supposed to be an objective observer here, but I can't help but take off my reporter hat for a moment and feel some of their hurt.  If nothing else, it's hurt for a community of students that have lost a good friend, a talented musician, and a gifted actor.  A fund has been set up in Jamie's honor.  Money raised will benefit the LCA Marching Band and Fine Arts department.  Contributions can be made to the Jamie Holmes Memorial Fund c/o Liberty Christian Academy, 1 Mountain View Road, Lynchburg, VA 24502.

April 22, 2008

Welcome to the age of High Definition at News 7! We've been looking forward to this day for a very long time and we're proud to bring you a high-quality broadcast with a sharper picture and stunning detail. WDBJ is only the third television station in the state to broadcast local programming in high definition. There are stations in larger cities like Richmond, Norfolk and Washington D.C. that haven't even made the leap yet.

In order to really see the difference in our newscasts, you'll need to go out and buy a new TV with a digital tuner or converter box that's capable of picking up our digital signal. My parents recently purchased a converter box and they tell me the picture today was amazing, even on their analog TV set. Don't forget, if you don't have cable or satellite, you will have to buy a new TV or converter box by next February if you want to continue watching Your Hometown Station. We have a special section on our website that's dedicated to answering your questions about the changeover. I encourage you to check it out.

One last thing about our new high definition broadcasts - you will start seeing reports from the field in 16:9 widescreen.  My very first story in 16:9 will air tonight at 11.  I caught up with a group of French tourists who made a special trip to the D-Day memorial this afternoon.  They have some interesting reactions to the memorial and I hope you'll tune in and check out the story.

April 7, 2008

I had the great pleasure of meeting NASA astronaut and Lynchburg native Leland Melvin this morning.  Melvin was on board the space shuttle Atlantis during its February trip to the International Space Station.  How exciting to meet someone who has been to space and seen the earth from above! Melvin talked with me about what it was like to see our planet from a great distance.  He says it has given him a new appreciation of the environment and what we need to do to take care of it for future generations.  I can't imagine what his journey must have been like.  Melvin took time this morning to speak with students at his alma mater, Heritage High School.  He later paid a visit to Liberty University and Liberty Christian Academy.  Melvin is a great example for our local students - someone who has achieved greatness in many arenas.  Before becoming an astronaut, Melvin had a distinguished athletic career, playing football for Heritage, the University of Richmond, and briefly with the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys.  How many other people can say they both played professional football and soared above the earth in a space shuttle.  Quite an impressive person and a great ambassador for the city of Lynchburg!

April 1, 2008

Hello! I've decided to join the world of blogging here at News 7.  First, an introduction.  I'm the new Lynchburg Bureau Chief, but I've actually been with WDBJ since the summer of 2006.  I came here as a video editor and photographer, working my way up to what you see me doing today.  I'm doing the job I've always wanted to do, covering my hometown on my hometown station.  I grew up in Bedford where News 7 was the only news we were ever allowed to watch.  Every day at 6:00, my Dad still commands us to "put it on the Real News," a nod to one of WDBJ's catch phra, ses of the past.  I started my TV news career 10 years ago at one of WDBJ's friendly competitors, but even then my family's television dial was rusted on channel 7. Today, I'm grateful for their loyalty!

My path to this job has been an interesting ride.  Before coming to WDBJ, I worked at a TV station in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  It's the same station Skytracker 7 Meteorologist Jay Webb came from, so we've been co-workers for nearly 5 years now.  We used to sit around the studio in Harrisonburg, wondering when we'd get to come back home and work at Channel 7.  It's nice to sit here and write this, realizing we both got our wish.

I encourage you to stay in touch and keep me updated on stories you think I should be covering from the Lynchburg Newsroom. We cover a vast area from this office.  My beat includes the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford, Campbell, Charlotte, Nelson, Pittsylvania, Halifax and the cities of Bedford, Danville, and Lynchburg.  It's hard to be everywhere at once, so please e-mail me often and tell me what's going on in your neck of the woods.  Actually, feel free to e-mail me for any reason.  I'd love to hear from and reconnect with everyone here locally that I've lost touch with over the years.

Thanks for reading my blog and keep watching Your Hometown Station for more stories from Lynchburg and Central Virginia!

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