Thursday, January 30, 2003
George Putnam: the Voice That Keeps Booming
By ROGER M. GRACE
In a 1984 “Salute to KTTV’s 35th Anniversary,” former President Richard Nixon, on videotape, said of veteran Los Angeles newscaster George Putnam:
“He won the admiration and respect of millions of people in Southern California due to the fact that everybody could count on him to say exactly what he believed, whether it was popular or not. Some people didn’t like what he said; some people liked what he said. But everybody listened to George Putnam. That is why he has been one of the most influential commentators of our times.”
At the time of that program, Putnam was weekend anchor at KTTV, after having been off television for a spell. The station’s news director publicly stated when he brought Putnam back on board that people told him he was nuts.
Putnam no longer enjoyed the popularity he had in the 1950s and into the early 1960s. Nonetheless, unalterable is the fact of Putnam’s unparalleled attainment when his career was at its zenith. He was a powerhouse. Among those who sought his counsel back then was Nixon.
Putnam is associated in the minds of many with Channel 11. However, in the mid-1960s, he was wooed away by KTLA, Channel 5, located on the block just west of KTTV on Sunset Boulevard. Channel 11 later enticed him back, and Putnam was again turning east from Van Ness into the KTTV lot. KTLA once more lured Putnam away in the early 1970s, and he was again turning west from Van Ness. (He was now doing his twice-nightly news show, as well as “Talk Back,” with viewers phoning in.)
Dec. 1, 1963 ad; Putnam was on Channel 11
When his high-priced contract expired, it was not renewed. Putnam’s style, once viewed as one which evinced enthusiasm, was now perceived as affected and passe. He worked for awhile at KHJ and KCOP, at one point doing a two-man chat show with Mort Sahl.
In 1976, Putnam returned to radio, where he got his start in 1934. During the 1950s, he had been heard on KFI (the NBC affiliate), later on KABC-AM (as was fellow KTTV news personality Paul Coates). His new home, however, was not so prestigious. It was KIEV, a station in Glendale that was little known outside that burgh. The station, licensed by the Federal Radio Commission in 1932, had its dedicatory program on Feb. 11, 1933. It broadcast from the basement of the Glendale Hotel, receiving free rent in exchange for advertising. It began broadcasting at a meager 100 watts, but worked its way up to 250 watts the next year. It was at 5,000 watts when Putnam got there with his “Talk Back” show.
Putnam gave the theretofore obscure station credibility, and enabled it to attract other top personalities, such as Mr. Blackwell. For years, Putnam’s broadcasts emanated each noontime from the bottom level of the Arco Plaza, in downtown Los Angeles. Lunchtime shoppers could bob in to join the studio audience.
The station on Jan. 1, 2001, acquired the abandoned call letters of a better known station, KRLA. That year, Putnam left his broadcasting home after 27 years when the station wanted to air his commentaries during the week, but relegate his call-in show to weekends.
But that did not end Putnam’s career in broadcasting. At age 88, he’s still broadcasting, his new venue being KPLS, a right-wing station in Orange County.
In 1995, at the local Emmy awards ceremony, Putnam was given the Governors’ Award for career achievement. He has a star on the Hollywood Boulevard “Walk of Fame.”
An article in the April 20, 1956 issue of TV Radio Life observed: “Some people say he is hammy. Others say he is the best in the field.”
He was—and is—a ham. Whether he was the “best in the field” may be debated. My own local journalistic “heroes” from that supplemental news medium known as television—supplemental to newspapers, that is—are Clete Roberts, Bill Stout and Paul Coates.
Though there was bravado to his manner, he was far from a Ted Baxter. He was informed.
In offering “One Reporter’s Opinion,” he did not merely read words crafted by another; the opinion was his, the words were his.
I do find fault, however, with the lack of clear demarcation during Putnam’s early days on L.A. television between his role as a reporter and as a commentator. He did, in my view, assume the role of an advocate in contexts where journalistic ethics would have dictated neutrality.
But this cannot be denied:
There has never been a more popular and influential newsman in Los Angeles television than Putnam. He’s a legend.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company
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