“There are things in this book you are not going to read anywhere else,” Tom Ryther, the sports anchor KARE 11 fired in 1991, told me Tuesday.
That’s probably true. His memoir, “The Hummelsheim Kid: The Amazing Story of a Broadcast Journalist,” doesn’t read like anything the Twin Cities media world has seen before.
“Jim Bruton has written 20 books, [among them co-authoring] Bud Grant’s ‘I Did It My Way,’ ” said Ryther. “I had lunch with Jim, and I love him. What a writer. But he told me never writes anything negative. But as a news guy, it’s got to be unvarnished. Not sugarcoated. But I didn’t set out to try to hurt anybody.”
As for the “Hummelsheim Kid” title: “I grew up on this tiny, dead-end street in St. Louis that I think formed the kind of person that I am. I’m an honest guy, I’m a competitor.”
This is Part 1 of our discussion; Part 2 will run Tuesday.
Q: What made you decide to write a book?
A: When I won my lawsuit in 1997 [he was awarded about $1.3 million in an age-discrimination suit against KARE], a company in Boston wanted me to write a book, [as did] two people here in the Twin Cities. But I’d been in court for six years and, quite honestly, I got tired of it. I’m 81 years old, and my publisher Jeff Lonto at studioz7.com told me, “You’d better do it now or you’ll never do it.” So I spent the long, cold winter writing the book, and I’m glad I did.
Q: What made your rise from a St. Louis childhood to broadcasting improbable?
A: First of all, I grew up when television was just going into the homes in 1948. Saw my first newscast, I was 11 years old. It really struck me. I told my mom that’s what I wanted to do. I had to spend 11 years in radio, which was great ’cause it really taught me my craft. Then I got a break to get into television doing news. Believe it or not, I was a news reporter, news anchor and news director for a wonderful independent station in St. Louis. Then the offer came from KSTP-TV in the Twin Cities, a legendary news station. I ... was there seven years [before leaving to take a network position].
Q: What is your lingering memory from that court battle with KARE 11?
A: I think that the [then] news director Janet Mason’s dislike for me and trying to make her group on the air look younger. I was 54 years old, and I found out from one of the top people at [corporate station owner] Gannett that she wanted to fire Diana Pierce, which would have been a terrible mistake because Diana was sensational. I think my relationship with Janet Mason was just awful. Other than that, it was a great 13-year ride [with] Paul Magers and Paul Douglas.
[Mason, currently working at a station in Michigan, did not respond to a request for comment.]
Q: Did you ever get to have a conversation with Janet Mason to ask her why she didn’t like you?
A: Well, I know why it happened. When I first came back here after working for NBC in Cleveland and New York, a producer got mad at me. She said I got off the air late, and she dropped the F-bomb on me about five times. I told her I wasn’t going to take that, and she slapped me. Word got up to the general manager, and he suspended her for two weeks. In a newsroom, everybody yells at everybody, but you don’t slap. Janet was in the room. I really think that started it all. When I first got there, it was obvious that she didn’t like me. She made a comment: “That’s the great Tom Ryther. I don’t think he’s so good.” That’s not getting off to a really good start.
Q: Did you confront Janet Mason and tell her you heard this? How do you know she said that?
A: No, I didn’t. It did come out in the trial. It got back to me. There’s no such thing as a secret in the newsroom. She even said to me on the day she fired me — and I had never been fired in 36 years — “How does it feel to be a failure at age 54?” [According to StarTribune coverage of the court case, Ryther testified that Mason’s exact words were, “Don’t feel bad you’re a failure here.”]
I never even thought of filing a suit. But I got in my car, and then I called a lawyer.