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These days I know I should not be on the road at 8 a.m. or 3 p.m. Because that’s when parents turn into chauffeurs to drop off or pick up their little darlings and turn the local streets into the departure lane at a major airport.
Driving kids to and from school is accepted these days. But it wasn’t always this way. And when I first heard about it in the mid-1980s, I had to do a story about it.
I was working at the NBC affiliate in Mobile when a viewer called with a story idea. “You’re not going to believe this. But there’s a school in town where parents actually drive their kids to and from school.”
I didn’t believe it, but a call to the school district’s public relations guy confirmed it. Turned out there was no school bus service to Leinkauf Elementary in Mobile, and parents handled the transportation. Which involved a bullhorn. Now I absolutely had to see this. I called the principal and was invited to watch this crazy system work.
We set up in the parking lot shortly before the end of the school day. Parents waited in their cars at one end of the lot. Some reading a book, some taking a nap. No cell phones back then. Each car had a sign on the dashboard with the name of the child being picked up.
The final bell rang, and the principal emerged carrying the bullhorn. Students soon filed out of the school and lined up next to him. He started calling out the names of kids one by one using the bullhorn, and each time the matching parent drove forward to pick up the child. It was an incredibly organized process and made for a unique story at the time.
Which then went national.
Now back in the day networks would actually pay $200 for stories they would put on the daily “feed” which would be sent via satellite to local affiliates around the country. Two dozen stories ranging from crime to politics to features. Local stations could pick and choose whatever they wanted to fill a newscast if they didn’t have enough local stories. For instance, if you’re watching in Alabama and see the local news show's funny video of a moose walking into a department store in Montana, that came from the daily feed. Occasionally the "Today Show" or "NBC Nightly News" would use a story.
Reporters had to call the network to “pitch” stories for the feed, so we were always on the lookout for something to make some extra money. And I knew this story was perfect. The conversation went like this:
“I’ve got a feature about a school with no school bus service, and the parents have to chauffeur their kids back and forth to school.”
“Yeah. Great video. Principal comes out with a bullhorn at the end of the day, calls out the kid’s name and the parent drives up.”
“I’ll take it.”
So we uplinked the story to the network, it landed on the feed because it was so unique at the time, and I split the two hundred bucks with the photographer. The story was available to the 210 affiliates around the country. I heard from people who saw the story and couldn’t believe it. The thought of parents actually driving to pick up their children from school was something they’d never seen, much less heard of.
My, how things change. Now it’s the norm.
Sort of ironic, since young people seem to be very interested in helping the environment. Perhaps they should take action by riding the school bus or walking to save gasoline.
Now that would be a story for the network feed.
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