John Lomax, last of 'the '80s kids,' retires from WKRC-TV Friday
Here are 12 things you didn't know about the longtime morning news anchor hired in 1983 as Nick Clooney's Channel 12 newscast rose to No. 1 in local news ratings.
After 55 years of earning a paycheck, John Lomax is ready to retire.
The Knoxville native, who lied about his age at 15 to get a dishwasher job at a University of Tennessee dormitory cafeteria, leaves WKRC-TV at the conclusion of Good Morning Cincinnati 10 a.m. Friday, April 29.
"I was the oldest of seven kids. My dad used to have this saying: 'I take care of your needs. You take care of your wants.' Essentially I've been getting a pay check since I was 15. It will be odd at 70 to not get one," Lomax says.
Lomax was hired from a Knoxville TV station in 1983 to be WKRC-TV's Northern Kentucky reporter shortly after Nick Clooney's 11 p.m. newscast ended Al Schottelkotte's 22-year streak at No. 1 for WCPO-TV.
"I'm the last of the '80s kids, when you look at the people who were here when I got hired: Howard Ain, Kit Andrews, Ira Joe Fisher, Denny Janson, Deb Dixon, Steve Forest, George Ciccarone, Dan Royal, Randy Little, Karla Stanley and Edie Magnus.
"You stop and think about it, every one of them was an All-Star. And I'm the last one standing."
Soon after he arrived at Channel 12, his bosses used him frequently to fill in on the anchor desk, including a six-month stint as weekend sports anchor before the new sports guy was hired. For November sweeps in 1990, his temporary assignment to co-anchor Good Morning Cincinnati with Jill Kelly became permanent when the newscast was only one hour. Now it's more than 5-1/2 hours, from 4:25 to 10 a.m.
Lomax has anchored mornings for 32 of his 39 years, working for a variety of Channel 12 owners, news directors and general managers.
He hadn't planned to be the last one standing. He figured that he'd stay in Cincinnati long enough to jump to a bigger market, perhaps Miami or Atlanta, because in the TV business "if you want to move up you have to move away," he told me.
That was one of the surprising details he shared about his career when we chatted over coffee last week at Covington's Spoon: Kitchen & Market, where his son Brandon once was a chef. Here are 12 things you didn't know about Channel 12's legendary Lomax:
CROSSWORD PUZZLES: In Kit Andrews' final years at the station, Lomax and Andrews co-anchored Channel 12's half-hour newscast. "She liked to do crossword puzzles. I liked to do crossword puzzles. She had a book of New York Times crossword puzzles and we would work on those during the commercial break. Even the crew got involved. You'd see six or seven people huddled around the (anchor) desk, all trying to collaboratively solve these New York Times crossword puzzles."
TV BREAK: John Lomax quit the TV business shortly after earning degrees in communications and psychology from the University of Tennessee in 1977. He moved to Fort Lauderdale and worked four years as a savings and loan branch manager.
"I got the itch to get back in the (TV) business, so I just decided to go back to Knoxville and ask my old news director if I could work as a reporter again in 1981," he says.
CINCINNATI STEPPINGSTONE: Two years later, Lomax was hired by Clooney to be Channel 12's Northern Kentucky reporter on June 13, 1983.
"I came here thinking that this station was a steppingstone to my next job, that I'd head somewhere else in the country after a few years … I fell in love with the place and never really wanted to leave."
STAYING PUT: One reason Lomax put down roots here was to provide his children Lindsay and Brandon the stability he didn't have as a child. Lomax jokes that he grew up "everywhere" as the son of a Coast Guard officer who moved the family from Knoxville to Cleveland; Cape May, N.J.; Detroit; Chicago; Alameda and Oakland, Calif.; and Seattle.
"I had my eyes set on going to Miami or Atlanta. What kept me here was the fact that this is a community that embraces you, and it was easy to raise my family here. I had lived in all these cities growing up, and I didn't want that for my kids. I didn't know how they'd handle the challenges of always being the new kid in school. I had opportunities to improve my lot here, and take care of my family here, and it just kind of happened."
LUCKY 13: For 13 years, Lomax did mornings with Cammy Dierking (who retired in 2019) and meteorologist Steve Horstmeyer (now chief meteorologist at WXIX-TV), including broadcasting from a Fountain Square studio 2001-2005.
"I love them like my family. Cammy is as close to me as blood, as close as anybody."
When Dierking visited Lomax on Thursday's Good Morning Cincinnati, she called him "the wisest, funniest, most kind and caring person I've ever met … I feel like the luckiest person in the world that I got to be part of all of this with you."
LOVE FEST: Lomax explained to viewers why he and Dierking hugged, held hands and said "I love you" repeatedly Thursday: "One reason why we will say out loud, in front of God and everybody, that we love each other is because of 9/11. We were down at Fountain Square when it happened, and we made a pledge that we would never see one another without saying 'I love you.' Because you never know when you won't have another chance."
CLOONEY INFLUENCE: In TV, young reporters and anchors often emulate how a popular anchor looks or sounds. Nick Clooney, who was managing editor and anchor in the 1970s and '80s, was more than that as he shaped a generation of TV journalists who worked at WKRC-TV for more than three decades.
"Sometimes you learn from people the nuts and bolts, like how to write a story and that sort of thing. But he showed us how to be a journalist. It goes far beyond the mechanics of what you do every day, beyond the who, what, why, when and how. Nick was a man of principal and integrity. He was honest. He had a set of standards.
"He believed you didn't have to play 'gotcha journalism,' and that you could ask hard questions without being rude. When you did a story, you were essentially trying to … (let) people who may have made a misstep or whatever have a chance to explain how it happened and why it happened. It didn't matter what walk of life somebody was in, they deserved dignity and honesty in what you did."
HOLDING DOWN THE FORT: "I was asked to fill in (as anchor) almost from the time that I came here. I actually did sports for about six months on weekends, filling in while they were waiting to hire somebody. I continued to report for the first 15 years on the desk, and I used to do live shots at noon. I was kind of the intermediary (on breaking news). I was the guy they'd send to hold down the fort until the person covering it arrived."
DESK DUTY: "The fact that I got a chance to anchor best suited the skills that I had. I'm a very patient person. I'm able to take in a lot of information for a lot of different sources, and to reduce them to the very basic elements very quickly. I don't know how I do it, but it just sort of happens.
"When the garage collapsed at the casino (in January 2012), I essentially solo anchored for like, three hours. For the first hour, it was just me and a camera, with people feeding me information. That's a different challenge than going out doing a live shot at a fire … Over the years I realized this is where I was supposed to be."
ROAD TRIP: Definitely his future will include traveling to see national parks, and taking lots of photographs. "I have every intention of trying to see every national park I can — the Grand Canyon, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, the Everglades. I like road trips. I'd love to see those places and take my own pictures." (He's been posting a photo of the day on his Twitter page. Most of them are watermarked John Lomax Photography or jlophoto.)
RETIREMENT PLAN: "I don't have any specific plans. I'm just a jumble of emotions and feelings right now. I've got some things kind of jumping around in my head, and I want to take some time off to let things settle down in my head and figure out what direction I want to pursue the most. I just don't want to jump into something where I'm in a rat race again. I want to be a better steward of my time. I want to be in control of what's going on."
NEXT STEP: "I'll be honest with you. I'm a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other kind of guy. I believe that something will come to me. I'd like to find a way to incorporate photography into what I do. And I haven't spent all of this time learning to write and present information to not think that that might be a part of it, too. We'll see what happens."
After he catches up on sleep, he'll figure it out.