GRAYSON—When Kentucky broadcasters announced Wednesday night that radio station WGOH-WUGO had been honored by the Associated Press for having the best newscast in towns of fewer than 15,000 during the spring 1984 competition period, Carter Countians consider it a personal triumph for Jim Phillips, news director for the stations.
But Phillips wasn’t in Lexington last night for the honor. As usual, he was at a prayer meeting at Grayson’s First Christian Church, and afterward he prowled awhile, seeking news for his morning broadcast.
Phillips, who has gathered news for 37 years, long ago became the county’s number one information source in this half-century. He began in 1947, with the Journal-Enquirer. “They didn’t intend to hire me. I just went in and went to work.”
Under the eye of Lowell Lusby, Phillips learned news gathering and newspaper production. He even bought a miniature press for job work, making cards while in high school. During two years of journalism study at the University of Kentucky, he continued with the paper, and afterward worked by himself as editor there.
In all this time, he stayed close to Grayson, seldom leaving to go as far as Ashland. If something went on, Phillips wanted to know.
There was a two-year hitch in the Army, at Fort Knox. He wanted to get on the base paper, but when the assigner threatened him with a tank-driving job, he accepted company clerk.
Afterward, he came back to edit the J-E for W.E. Crutcher of Morehead, until 1965, when he launched his own publication—a news magazine, the Press Advertiser. “I believe it was, at the time, the only one in Kentucky,” he said.
That lasted a year and folded, and when Dr. Harold Shufflebarger bought into the newspaper Phillips went back to edit. In July 1969, he switched jobs, still working for “Shuff” at the radio station.
He has applied similar newsgathering philosophies and techniques. While giving up his camera for a tape recorder, he still concentrates on the at-the-scene action. He considers his approach to news as ultraconservative, “blue-belly.”
“I just don’t think that everything that happens is everybody’s business,” he explains.
That has gone over well in a community where word-of-mouth carries some of the stories the media doesn’t tell.
“Accuracy and fairness,” he says “are the name of the game.”
He has had to adjust, not just because of change of media, but because of changing times. “Grayson used to be the meetingest place, but I’ve just geared myself a different way to keep up with what’s happening. You can only be so many places at one time.”
Phillips has risen up at some of those sessions to protest apparent attempts to circumvent Kentucky open meetings laws or to defend the media’s position in the community.
Phillips has enjoyed the change from print to radio.
“There are rewards. Radio is instant. You get the news on quickly. It’s a big switch from weekly journalism, where I had 15 seconds each week to scoop the rest of the world.”
Phillips said selection of the station was based on one-day competition. Whatever each station aired on that previously unannounced day was its entry. His newscast opened with Grayson council’s move to buy revenue bonds to build a nursing home, a session that came the night before the broadcast. It also dealt with seat-belt use and included other local material.
In addition to radio news casting, he aids station manager Francis Nash in producing a weekly feature magazine for Grayson’s television cable channel. Tonight’s version, for example, includes an interview with the president of Kentucky Christian College, tape of damage done by Friday’s storm, and an East Carter High production on what’s going on at the school.
His focus remains completely local, and that may have something to do with his habit of staying around Grayson. He said his only trips to Lexington since 1954 have been to take someone to the airport, and while his family has gone to Cincinnati for several ball games, a 1977 trip to Myrtle Beach remains his only extended period out of town.
It’s almost as if he were afraid something was about to happen and Jim Phillips wouldn’t be there to tell everyone about it.