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KNBC’S PERKINS HEADING FOR ISLAND LIFE IN MAINE

Times Staff Writer

Jack Perkins’ 23-year-old son recently quit his job to move to a cabin he owns in British Columbia. Perkins, who makes his living sounding off for KNBC Channel 4, started to lecture the young man about responsibility.

It turned out to be one of his shortest commentaries.

“But, Dad,” son Mark shot back, “that’s what you’re doing!”

“He was absolutely right,” Perkins recalled with a chuckle. “So we moved on to another subject.”

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Moving on is exactly what Perkins is doing. After 19 years in Los Angeles--first as a reporter for NBC, then as an anchorman and commentator for KNBC--he is leaving town and daily journalism to take up residence with his wife on an island in Bar Harbor, Me.

His last day on the air will be Friday, delivering commentaries on the 5 and 11 p.m. newscasts as he has for the last two years. He and Mary Jo, his wife of 26 years, begin a monthlong drive across the country one week later--on Independence Day.

When they finally arrive at the 12-acre home they call Moosewood (“because of all the Moosewood trees”), Bar Island will have a population of two.

“I try to avoid the word retirement ,” Perkins said of his decision to leave. “Renaissance is what I feel it more to be, but it’s a pretentious little word, I suppose. I just hate to call it retirement--mainly because if people think I’m retiring, they’ll think I’m old enough to!”

In truth, silver hair and beard notwithstanding, Perkins is 52. And he’s not retiring. He’s just not sure what he’ll be doing next in the way of earning an income. In any case, he certainly won’t be idle.

His new home isn’t heated.

“Can I cut, split and stack enough wood to get us through the winter? That’s going to be a real test,” he said.

As Perkins describes it, Bar Island is part of Acadia National Park, half a mile off the coast and accessible by foot at low tide. He bought a parcel there four years ago and, after battling with environmentalists, won approval to build a home. There are no utilities; electricity is provided by solar power.

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Now, with their younger son, 20-year-old Eric, in his last year of college, the Perkinses are ready to move there full time and undertake an ocean of dramatic changes--not only in terms of climate, geography and pace but also in terms of being freed from parental and career responsibilities to pursue their own interests.

“Everyone ought to make a drastic change in his or her life at least once,” the soft-spoken Perkins reflected. “We’ve been given an opportunity to do something that I think a lot of people would love to have. We’d be crazy not to do it.”

A native of Cleveland, he started working at a radio station there while still in college. He went into TV news after graduating and joined NBC as a correspondent in 1961, moving through a succession of assignments until landing in its Burbank bureau in 1967, where he reported for “NBC Nightly News,” the “Today” show and two prime-time magazine series, “NBC Magazine” and “Prime-Time Saturday.”

Perkins left the network--but not Burbank--to become an anchor at KNBC in July, 1982, then was switched to the commentator’s job in 1984. (Channel 4 executives have not yet named anyone to replace him in that role.)

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“I have a little bit of the sense that I’ve done it (in broadcasting),” he summed up. “I’ve been very well satisfied much of the time, and sometimes I’ve been terribly proud of things I’ve worked on. I’ve also been well compensated.

“I assume I could go on being satisfied and well compensated until it’s time to give me the diamond chip on the peacock (retirement) pin,” he continued. “But there are just too many other things I want to see if I can get the same kind of satisfaction from.”

Among the possibilities he says he’s considering: writing a book about what it’s like moving from Los Angeles to Moosewood, writing children’s books with his wife, writing a novel with KNBC colleague Kelly Lange, helping out at a new public television station in Maine, working as a consultant to improve broadcast news writing.

He also may contribute occasional feature stories to the “NBC Nightly News,” depending on how much traveling he feels like doing.

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Perkins said that while there are some things he will miss about his job--the pleasure of being recognized on the street, and of being paid to spout off on the air every day about whatever’s bugging him--there are a few things he won’t miss.

He’s always hated the emphasis on ratings, he said, especially during the so-called “sweeps” periods of February, May and November, when competition is at its keenest and local stations roll out promotion-minded “mini-docs” and show-biz features tied to entertainment programs.

“It’s embarrassing to be involved with a medium that has such difficulty distinguishing between news and self-promotion,” Perkins complained. “Does anybody tune in for that, and, if so, do you really want that person watching your newscast--for dribble?”

And yet, he added, in May he won a local Emmy Award for a commentary he did last fall criticizing the station’s parent network, NBC, for joking about drug abuse on “Saturday Night Live.” KNBC’s management never suggested he tone down or otherwise alter the piece, he said.

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“For all the atrocious sweeps-period bastardization of news that goes on--on all the stations, this one included--that’s the kind of strong commitment to journalistic integrity and autonomy that is very gratifying,” the newsman said.

Also gratifying, he said, was a letter he received recently from a viewer who’d heard he was leaving and wanted to thank him for being part of her and her husband’s lives. “Once a day you make us think about something,” she wrote.

“I’d be happy,” Perkins said, “to have that as my personal and professional epitaph.”


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