When Richard Bingham first came to KSL-TV, it was his intention to stay with the station for two years, learn what he could and move on.
On Friday Bingham will retire after spending the past 31 years working for KSL's parent company, Bonneville International, including 20 years at KSL. And now, finally, it's time to "move on.""To say that I'm retiring sort of implies that I'm tired and want to rest," said the 64-year-old news reporter. "But the fact is I'm just tired of what I've been doing for so long and I'm ready to try something new."
Of course, it'll probably take Bingham a while to to find "something new" to do, since his broadcasting career has been rich and varied. It actually began during World War II, when he served in the Navy as a radio operator in the South Pacific. Then, after graduating from the U. of U. in speech and drama in 1949, he accepted a job as a copy writer for an Idaho radio station.
"Television was just a curiosity on a four-inch screen then," he recalled. "It was an interesting idea, but radio seemed a more realistic profession."
During the next several years, however, the television industry boomed, and Bingham could see it was the wave of the future. He first caught the wave in 1956 in Idaho, and he rode that wave until 1958, when he signed on with KSL.
"We did a little bit of everything in those days - program announcements, calendar items, commercials," Bingham recalled. "And we did it all live."
And that led to some exciting moments. Like the time he read a toilet tissue commercial and said it was "lavatory tested" instead of "laboratory tested." Or the time a jeweler wanted him to do a commercial in which he chopped through a block of ice to retrieve a watch that, theoretically, would still be ticking despite having been frozen within the ice.
"I told them to let me use an ice pick, but they insisted that I use a hatchet," Bingham said. "So it took me about five minutes to chop through the ice. Do you have any idea how long five minutes seems when you're chopping ice on live TV? By the time I got to the watch it had stopped working and the band was broken. It was a total fiasco."
But enough things went right for Bingham that he was given a variety of assignments during his early days at KSL. He did parades with Jackie Nokes and Tom Bradshaw. He did the Bar-S Weather Report ("It was pretty hokey," Bingham admits now). And he did a five-minute newscast on Sunday evenings.
It was while he was doing the news for KSL that Bingham finally found what he wanted to do with his life - 14 years after graduating from college. Inspired somewhat by TV news coverage of the John F. Kennedy assassination, Bingham channeled his focus into journalism.
"I learned all my journalism on the street," he said. That included learning how to operate a 16-milimeter camera, which all TV reporters had to operate. "You shot your own film then," he said. "If you wanted to ask questions you had to set the camera up and then run to the front to do the interview."
Bingham was part of a five-man KSL news staff in 1964. He even did two brief stints as news anchor, including a few months just before Ch. 5 hired a young reporter named Dick Nourse for the job.
"Sure, I hoped KSL would pick me for the job," Bingham said. "But they wanted someone who hadn't been associated with commercials."
So Bingham went to KSL's sister station, KIRO in Seattle, for 11 years, returning to KSL in 1976 when he and his wife, Mirelda, and their five children decided they preferred living in Salt Lake City. He's been the station's government specialist ever since despite a mild heart attack in 1983.
During a career that has spanned four decades, Bingham has watched television - and TV news in particular - grow up. "The best thing about TV news is how you can take people to where an event is happening and let them see it for themselves," he said. "And with today's technology you can do it instantly. It's made the world a much smaller place."
And the worst thing? "There's so much raunchy, wasteful material put on the air," Bingham said. "When I see a Geraldo Rivera getting so much air time, I don't think we're making the best use of this tool. We're focusing on telling people about life as it is, and not as it should be."
But that isn't Bingham's problem anymore - beginning Saturday. No more deadlines, no more performance stress, no more live television. Instead, he hopes to do some freelance work, some writing - maybe even a little public relations.
"I'm not going to lay around," Bingham said. "This isn't a time to rest. It's just a time to move on."