Darrell Patterson has spent the last three months cataloging and watching 760 3/4-inch video tapes (the old-school, pre-digital kind about the size of a decent Webster's dictionary). That's almost 1,000 hours worth of stories he's presented during his nearly 40-year career at WTVC-TV 9.
He's spending so much time with his past to cull out favorite clips that he wants to put on a CD as a keepsake.
"When I look at the [story list], I don't remember doing them, but when I start watching them, I remember almost every detail, and usually even the script," he says.
Not available to him are his earlier resume clips; most meaningful to him is an old interview he did in the mid-'70s with then heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali because it was shot on film and the station had those melted down for the silver content, which it sold.
Just before his 65th birthday, Patterson is retiring today as the station's sports director, a position he's held since June 5, 1975. At the time that Programming Director Tommy Reynolds (the original Dr. Shock on the station's "Shock Theatre" program) offered Patterson the job, he was working at WDOD-AM calling University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football games, as well as serving as the radio station's news director.
While WTVC was offering him the sports job, WRCB-TV 3 wanted him to audition to anchor its 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts, Patterson says. His entire on-camera experience to that point consisted of him doing the 11 p.m. sportscast at WTVC the prior fall on a part-time basis. Things were a little different at Channel 9 back then, he says.
"In 1975, nobody was watching this station. We were fourth in a three-station town."
It was Bill Nash at WDOD who gave Patterson a piece of advice about choosing which job to take. Nash pointed out that the new general manager at WTVC, Jane Dowden Grams, had a proven track record from her work in Nashville, and that Patterson was more likely to have a longer career working for her.
"He said she was a proven winner and you could stay there a long time," Patterson says.
It's likely that not even Nash could have predicted just how long Patterson would stick around.
"It's one of the unique things about Channel 9," says General Manager Mike Costa. "We've had so much longevity with our front line."
Patterson told Costa three years ago that he would retire before his 65th birthday, which is Friday. Costa says that Dave Staley, who joined WTVC in 1984, will take over as sports director.
Long-time news anchor Bob Johnson was hired around the same time as Patterson, and Don Welch, who did weather and is still at the station hosting "This And That," came on not long after that. Within a year of hiring the new team, WTVC was the top-rated newscast in town, Patterson says.
Patterson says he'd wanted to be in broadcasting since the fifth grade, though he was thinking more radio than television. His first paying gig, at 16, was at WLAR-AM in Athens as the night-time rock'n'roll disc jockey. He also did play-by- play for McMinn County High School football games and Tennessee Wesleyan College basketball games.
His resume also includes stints at WYXI-AM in Athens and at a FM station in Dallas for about three months.
"I didn't last long there. I was homesick and whatever, but I learned more about my career and my voice and how to take care of it and pronunciation there than anywhere else."
After high school, Patterson attended Tennessee Temple University and Cleveland State Community College for about three semesters, studying to be a teacher, but decided during his second semester that school was not his thing. In fact, he's never taken any broadcasting or journalism classes.
"I had no real goals or ambitions," he says.
During his career, he has covered plenty of big-time sporting events, as well as hundreds of high school and college games. He covered the 1992 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Toronto Blue Jays, for example, and people often tell him how lucky he is to have been there for such momentous events.
"I can tell you two things about Toronto: Where the hotel and restaurant are and the fact that you do need a passport to go there. I didn't know that."
After he leaves the station, Patterson says he plans to play golf and, for the first time in his life really, spend time watching sporting events as a fan.
"I've never been able to do that. If I'm at a football game and not working and someone scores, I look at the clock to get the time and then the down and distance and who scored. It's the tools of the job and you don't switch it off."
He says he's thankful to be retiring during the busy holiday season because it will keep him busy. But he's not sure how he will react in January when things are slower.
"I did a rappelling story years ago where I rappelled off of Sunset Rock. It was the scariest thing I've ever done, stepping off of that rock. That is what this feels like."
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com.