Doug Viar : Remembering My Friend & News Mentor 9 Years Later

Mid-South News legend, mentor & friend the late Doug Viar (L) in this photo with me back in 2007. We were catching up at Neil’s restaurant in Dyersburg, TN about three years after I’d moved to Virginia permanently. Little did I know four years later, Doug would be gone.

Doug Viar left us on this very day 9 years ago in April of 2011. Just short of a decade. As many of you know Doug was my TV news mentor. He taught me just about everything I know today about reporting, videography, editing and more. He was a true newsman. We conquered more than a few major news stories. But Doug is the legend, he was the pro.

Doug Viar (far left) speaks to then TN Emergency Management Assistant Director, Charlie Bryant during flooding we were covering in NW-TN. Ironically Charlie Bryant just died this past week. In the background are, then WREG Reporters, Doug Johnson and Pam Crittenden. Today they are married and out of the TV news business.

Anyone back in the Mid-South will remember the voice of Doug Viar. He seldom was seen on camera, but was a constant voice on TV and radio across region for decades.

I often think what Doug would have to say about what’s taking place right now in TV news. I probably shouldn’t use the words here, to keep it family rated, but I can tell you he wouldn’t think much of it. He knows it’s theater and show biz now, not truly news. Doug was well respected from the networks, state and federal lawmen, judges, and viewers for getting it right and not pulling any punches. But he was always fair. We were the severe weather go to team in those days. Big snows, tornadoes, floods, we were on it, either by air or ground. Both of us were pilots and often flew to the scene, shot the story, got back and edited and had it on the air before other teams even made the scene. Those were some frontier days by today’s comparisons.

Above one of the dozens of tornadoes Doug and I covered. By the time I covered this tornado in the early 2000s for The Weather Channel, Doug owned his own satellite uplink company. He was manning the truck out of view while I was on air back to Atlanta.

Doug back in 2002 – Cookville, TN with his first sat truck he purchased. I was covering a snowstorm for The Weather Channel. Doug was my sat truck I’d meet and send our reports back to Atlanta from.

I find it hard to believe Doug has been gone almost 10 years. When the chaos of Coronavirus 2020 started hitting here in the U.S. I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to reach for the phone and say, “Doug what do you make of all of this?” But realize, I can’t.

Doug Viar on the old news set at CNN in Atlanta a few years before his death. CNN was one of Doug’s major satellite uplink clients back in the day.

I still stay in touch with Doug’s wife Margaret. She’s essentially a second mom to me. I also stay in touch with his daughter Lori. She’s the one that broke the news to me back in 2011 that Doug was gone. A message first, then a phone call that I will never forget. Doug’s other daughter Michelle lives in the UK these days, but I keep up with her from her sister and mom. Ironically Doug’s brother George, who I speak with a few times a year, was my pilot instructor in 1980 when I was licensed to fly.

I made a promise that I’d always remember Doug in writing on this day. 2020 is no different in that respect. There’s lots more pressing issues going on right now, no doubt. But, I wanted to remember a man that shaped and molded my perspective of TV news and how it should be done. He was the best.

Doug we all still miss you, but it’s probably is best you aren’t around right now! 😉

You would know what I mean.

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In The Dark Of The Night : Why NOAA Weather Radio Is Still A Good Bet Against Tornadoes

Photo via THP Cookville District : The aftermath of the tornado that struck Putnam County, TN on March 3, 2020.

A few days ago one of my best friends, Joe Markham,  began a thread on his Facebook page about the tornado deaths in Tennessee. Tennessee is my home state and where I spent most of my time doing TV weather and reporting in the 90s and early 2000’s.

I’ve covered countless major tornadoes and even survived an F5 tornado in May 2003. I was on the on air weathercaster at the time in Jackson, TN as it was bearing down on the downtown district.

After it was over 11 people were dead within a mile or two radius of the station. We were lucky. The station wasn’t damaged miraculously, but several cars on the parking lot were destroyed. In short, I’m very familiar with tornadoes and what they can do.

Via NWS Nashville, TN : A rebroadcast of the tornado warning for the Nashville area on March 3, 2020.

I grew up in a time when warnings for tornadoes were hard to come by, especially overnight if you are sleeping. In the 60s and early 70s watches and warnings were almost exclusively delivered by television and radio. If you weren’t up to hear the warning, you didn’t get the warning. Consequently, many people died in overnight tornadoes. It’s still a problem today but not as much, and it doesn’t have to be. That said you can still get the warning, do all you should (go to basement, interior room, etc) and a tornado can still kill you. But there’s almost no excuse for not getting a severe weather warning in 2020.

While there are many good smartphone warning apps, auto dialers to alert you by telephone (all very good methods) by far the easiest and reliable method is an inexpensive NOAA weather radio. You are getting the alerts the second the National Weather Service puts it out. Smartphone apps, while good, are all reliant on good cell signals, wifi or such to get a signal to you. In storms that’s often one of the first things to go. Especially west and south of your location where a tornado is hitting. I have many phone apps personally and use them often but I have the redundancy of a weather radio as well.

It’s not like the old days when weather radio first came out. You don’t have to hear every single alert for a wide area that might not affect you. Today it can be targeted.

Make sure you get a weather radio with SAME capability: (Specific Area Message Encoding) https://www.weather.gov/iln/nwr_same – this can specify which counties (or single county) you want alerts for vs a wide area.

Here’s one for about 30 bucks on amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Midlan…/dp/B00176T9OY/ref=sr_1_3…

Here’s the SAME code listings for each respective state / county in the U.S.
https://www.weather.gov/nwr/counties

Locally here in the Virginia Blue Ridge I use the CBS19 Weather Authority App. It can be tailored to give you as much or as little as you want . I used to do fill in weather for these guys until the end of 2019, so I’m admittedly biased, but it really is a good solid app with good notification abilities.

As for other apps, any of the popular ones will give you localized county specific alerts. I have also long used Wunderground.com app (now owned by IBM and weather channel) but you can tailor it to exactly what you want. I’m a weather nerd, so I obviously have more apps that are in depth, but that’s all the average user needs for notifications.

Wunderground weather app for iphone here : https://apps.apple.com/…/weather…/id486154808

Wunderground weather app for droid here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details…

The bottom line, it’s simply inexcusable to not be able to get a notification of an approaching tornado in this day and age. In most cases. Severe Weather season is just a few weeks away here in Virginia and it’s already in play in other parts of the country . So take some time to invest in a weather radio and download a few useful apps to keep you informed long before the storms arrive!

Be safe!

Tommy

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The Blue Ridge Mountains : A Place To Rest & Why It Should Stay That Way

Looking west from a ridge top of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia – December 2019

Central Virginia Blue Ridge
Roseland, Virginia
By Tommy Stafford

Millions of people have come to the Blue Ridge Mountains over the years to get away. They rest in the beauty and peacefulness of the lush covered peaks in the summer and the stunning snow covered valleys and mountaintops in the winter. Many of us have even been fortunate to make our permanent homes here. I laughingly tell my wife, “A trip to the dump here is beautiful.”

For decades that beauty has been preserved. Even the most unreasonable of politicians knew it was something special. Something worth saving. A do not touch zone reserved for quite, nature and reflection. Then came the idea for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. A highly questionable very controversial natural gas pipeline that would cut through the very heart of the Central Virginia Blue Ridge. As a matter of fact the construction would go under the Blue Ridge Parkway near the entrance to Wintergreen Resort and exactly where the treasured Appalachian Trail intersects. On either side of the parkway a huge pipeline would crawl up and down the mountainsides through some of the most steep and rural, yet pristine views on the East Coast. A place where thousands of hikers a year leave the cubical, the concrete, and the noise to be at peace, if only for a few months while they take the historic journey along the trail.

There are few quiet places left in this life where people can go and be with nature. The Blue Ridge Mountains is one of them. Aside from the potential destruction to that beauty, countless family farms and homeowners will be severely impacted. Some of the land has been handed down for hundreds of years from other generations. Today, if the ACP and it’s majority partner, Dominion, get their way, the pipeline will cut right through their properties. They will be forced to live with a massive gas pipeline running through their land. In some cases right by their homes. In exchange their land becomes devalued, they continue to pay taxes on property they will likely never be able to sell. And, they get paid pennies on the dollar to run the pipeline through.

The case has been appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court. Ultimately they decide if the pipeline can cross the AT. There’s a reason it hasn’t happened here before, to allow it would be unprecedented. It would allow a private company to exercise eminent domain to shove the pipeline down the throats of everyone living and visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains and the AT.

Let’s hope the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court let their true conscience be their guide. Preserve the land for their children and generations to come. Rather than a grandchild standing on the AT one day telling stories of their grandparents about a time before the pipeline happened.

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Tommy Stafford Of Roseland, VA Endorses Daniel Jones For Sheriff

This has been a big decision in my life. Many of you in Nelson know this. We’ve spoken in private and in small groups over the past 2 to 3 years. You have become, as I have, concerned about the direction of law enforcement here and the need to become a modern sheriff’s office with genuine transparency. I’m flattered and humbled you came to me and asked that I run. I seriously contemplated running for the past two election cycles and was on the cusp for a serious run this time in November 2019. After careful consideration I’ve decided that time has come and gone from my previous career over two decades ago.
That said, today I wholeheartedly endorse Daniel Jones for Nelson County Sheriff in his run for Sheriff of Nelson County in the November 2019 election. I know a good candidate when I see one. I spent much of my life in the political area and in law enforcement. Daniel is the real deal and a dedicated law enforcement professional. He will be a great Sheriff. With your help he will be the next Sheriff of Nelson County. I talk more about my reasons why in this brief 2 minute video clip. Tommy

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8 Years Ago Today We Said Good-Bye To A Mid-South TV News Legend & Friend

Doug Viar January 2002 uplinking a live sat shot from the truck he owned. I was doing a hit for The Weather Channel during a snowstorm in Nashville, Tennessee.

Every year around April 4th I reflect on what to say about my dear departed friend and TV news mentor, the late Doug Viar. Doug literally dropped dead walking down the steps from his office in Jackson, Tennessee on April 4, 2011. Frankly, knowing Doug as I did, he wouldn’t have wanted to linger in some state of bad health, he’d much rather have gone that way.

You see, Doug also knew something that most news people today have completely forgotten. The story never was about him. You hardly ever saw Doug on the air in front of the camera. Maybe a half dozen times in his entire career spanning more than 3 decades. But folks all across the mid-south knew his voice.


Above, a montage of Doug’s famous sig outs from his news reports from across the mid south.

That’s the voice so many remember, long before Doug was ever on TV they heard it on radio. That’s where my broadcasting career began when Doug was a station manager at a small 1000 watt AM country station back in Northwest Tennessee.

It becomes a tad more difficult with each year that passes to offer up something new that I haven’t said in some post before. The one below summed up a lot of it right after returning from his funeral in Tennessee back in 2011. You can click on the image below to read the full post.

My April 2011 post after funeral services for Doug. Click above on the image to read.

People that I worked with back in TV News, and those that worked with Doug long before me know what a great person he was.

“Back in 1983, I was the Poplar Bluff bureau chief for KFVS TV in Cape Girardeau, Mo. My videographer and I had just returned from covering a weeklong trial in federal court in Little Rock, Arkansas . It was a Friday night. We were exhausted and ready to be home.

We got a call that night that we needed to head toward Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. It seems a federal fugitive who had gunned down two US Marshalls in the Dakotas had surfaced outside of Walnut Ridge. As federal , state and local authorities closed in to arrest him, he shot and killed the local sheriff and a gun battle erupted. The fugitive was killed and news crews from Memphis, Little Rock, Jonesboro, Arkansas and Cape Girardeau, MO were dispatched to get the story.

WREG TV in Memphis sent Doug Viar. KFVS TV sent me. There was a whole lot of waiting around that night at the sheriff’s office waiting for access to the crime scene. While waiting, my videographer and I discussed the fact that neither one of us had a credit card and we had no cash either. We were going to have to sleep in the car and eat after we left the next day, probably around noon. Doug overheard us discussing our plight. He told us he had a room at a local hotel. He said there were two beds. He said he was taking one and we could share the other or sleep on the floor. The next morning he bought us breakfast before we headed out to talk to local folks for the story. Then Doug was gone.

Years later when I was hired by WREG TV I ran into Doug and reminded him of his largesse. He just laughed and said he didn’t remember it. I told I sure did and would never forget it.

Doug was like that. He’d managed to make a lasting impression on someone and didn’t even know or remember what he’d done.”
Joe Larkins – Retired Anchor / Reporter WREG-TV Memphis : April 2019

“As an assignment editor I had the city of Memphis covered. Had contacts with all the law enforcement people in the area but when it came the areas outside of the city I had very few contacts. Oh but when I met Doug Viar the dry spell was over.

I would call Doug …. hey Doug have you heard about this incident in such and such ….. no but I will find out. He knew everybody and their mamma in the outlying areas of Memphis and they knew and respected him. He could find out or knew everything that went on in these areas. The TBI could not find the information he found …. he was just that good.

He schooled me and his good advice help make me one of the most successful assignment editor’s in the area. We were like brother and little sister.

Love and miss you Doug Viar.”
Ethel Sengstacke – Retired Assignment’s Manager – WREG-TV Memphis : April 2019

“One of my best memories of Doug was on a tragic day in Memphis in 1987 … as he and I were covering the triple murders at the Jade East Restaurant. While police weren’t sure about a motive, Doug and I found out that the family also sold jewelry at the restaurant. We played detectives to flush out our “robbery for jewelry by an insider” theory … which police confirmed days later. The suspects … one was a former employee … were eventually caught and all convicted. I believe some remain on Death Row Still. Doug knew his stuff and I was lucky to learn from him!”
Steve Hayslip – Former WREG-TV Anchor & Retired Anchor from WTVF-5 Nashville, TN : April 2019

The years tick by so quickly. Then you turn around and it’s almost been 10 years that someone passed away. Memories are great, but they don’t adequately describe the times we all had with Doug back in those days. He truly was one of a kind.

We all still miss you Doug, and we all pause a bit today to remember you and those great times when you were still here with us.

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Two Years Later : A Fitness Journey : Fat To Fitter

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At my peak I was 190 lbs. Flirting with high blood pressure and markers for pre-diabetes. Today all of it gone. Without any medications. 148 lbs with a BP of 110/68.

Two years ago I made one of the top five most important decisions of my life. I decided to get off my ass and get fit. Not like the dozens of times I’d done and promised before, only to not succeed. But, this time for good.

Here’s my two year anniversary story I shared to my Facebook page a few days ago. Click on it to read the full story!

If I can do it. You can do it!

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Click on the image above to read about my two year anniversary.

 

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Fall Begins – Well For Some – Looking Back So Far

Anyone that knows me knows I love summer. Yes, even when it’s been butt hot and humid like 2018, I love summer. The first of September signals the end of summer mentally to me. Though we have tons of hot weather left, in the meteorological world it’s the technical end of summer. Meteorological fall begins on September 1 each year, though it doesn’t start on the calendar until September 22 of this year.

When I was much younger my friend Burnie and I would travel to his folks family cabin at Kentucky Lake every Labor Day weekend. (That’s a shot of the lake in the header photo up top) Labor Day weekend always signaled the end of the fun season on the water. A time to get things put up and ready for winter. One last time around the lake in the boat or one last lazy afternoon lying on the floating deck in the sun, knowing winter wasn’t too far behind.

One of my best friends in life Burnie on the pier at Kentucky Lake in 1977 as we were getting ready to say so long to summer and shut down there for the winter. That old pier is long gone now replaced with a floating dock. To this day Burnie and I still meet back at the cabin at least once a year for a week, just to reconnect and relax for a few days in the summer.

Labor Day weekend always is a time I reflect on the a big part of the year behind and what little bit is left ahead. This year is no different. I’ve been thinking lots about this past year. The changes, both physical and mental I have made. How I’m tiring of the constant negative drumbeat of Facebook. The constant tit for tat fighting of people in business and political circles. There’s a line in the movie On Golden Pond with the late Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn. Norman, the 80 year old character played by Fonda, (no parallel here to my friend with that last name, to be clear!) has been at odds with his daughter for years. He always seems angry and mad. Inviting death and more or less giving up. His daughter (and real life daughter Jane in the movie) are trying to reestablish a connection. Neither are being very easy about it. Eventually Hepburn asks her daughter, “When do you think you’re going to get around to it? Your dad is 80 with a heart condition.” She’s was right. We often put off telling people how important they are until it’s too late. or conversely, we let others occupy time and space in our brains that shouldn’t. We let them be the things we check off of our lists daily versus our own things we should be checking off the list.

Myself and my great friend Burnie at Kentucky Lake in Tennessee this past May 2018. This was the last picture we had taken before the cabin behind us started undergoing a major renovation that’s completed in late 2018. We always have great visits here. We’ve been coming to this spot since we were teenagers.

Yvette’s got me into listening to podcasts a lot lately. It’s been a good thing. I recently listened to one on The Tim Ferris Show where the founder and CEO of Dropbox, Drew Houston, was interviewed. He’s an engineering type that struck it big. He discussed lots of how he got there and how he manages it all. He’s maybe in his early 30s now. One of the things he did long ago was creating an email box on his computer caller OPP. Other People’s Problems. That’s what happens to us in life often. You realize you’re spending more time on other people’s problems and not your own. Not that we shouldn’t help others and be good to others, but far too often we don’t even do it for ourselves. Our own families. It’s one of the reasons I got very serious about fitness in the past two years. Just exactly how much longer was I going to wait to start?

Like any other Labor Day Weekend of the past, I have been reflecting this year. But I must say many of the changes I am making are positive. I am letting go of lots of baggage, and people, and things that simply are holding me back. That’s been good. It’s been refreshing.

I still am not looking forward to winter. Cold weather and I don’t dance very well, but I also realize spring awaits just on the other side!

Have a great Labor Day holiday everyone!
Tommy

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