Here's a confession about my old friend Howard Wilkinson: Many of his best stories never made the radio, newspaper or web.
Yes, he has reported the news for 43 years, and has been the leader in breaking news about politics – but his best stories were about how he got the story, the crazy, weird and always funny stuff that happened in pursuit of the news. Until now.
Howard starts a new column Saturday called "Tales from the Trail: Stories from a Lifetime of Covering Politics."
Since his first days covering politics when we were at Ohio University's The Post student newspaper in 1974-75, whenever he came back from covering a story coworkers and friends loved to hear Howard's story behind the story – about Ohio gubernatorial candidate Jim Rhodes slamming his wallet on the table to make his point; an Ohio Highway Patrol police dog chewing up Howard's laptop; an elderly Ohio politician trying to stay awake through a vote count which didn't end until dawn; or his personal observations from covering presidents, popes, presidential candidates and decades of politicians in the White House, statehouse, city hall, Congress, picnics, parades and a ballpark or two.
I still have the pennant Howard brought back from covering Pope John Paul II's visit to Chicago in October 1979. But he didn't get a souvenir periscope they sold so the estimated 750,000 people could see the motorcade. As the vendor told Howard, "You can't see the Pope without a 'scope!"
"Tales from the Trail" grew out of Howard being honored in Columbus for 40 years of political coverage by the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics on May 10.
He told a couple of his favorite stories accepting the award -- and a few more on the drive back to Cincinnati with our WVXU bosses. They asked him to dig through his old notebooks for a new weekly column to post on Saturday, a day before his traditional Sunday "Politics and More" column.
"It's a trip down memory lane, something light for a Saturday, to get a laugh out of people," he tells me.
WVXU's official announcement puts it this way:
For more than 43 years, Howard Wilkinson has been covering the campaigns, personalities, scandals, and business of politics on a local, state and national level. He's covered every Ohio governor's race since 1974 as well as 16 presidential conventions. He's interviewed sitting presidents and presidential candidates; senators and representatives; governors, county commissioners, mayors, and city council members. He's won a myriad of awards including induction into the Cincinnati Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame in 2012…
"Tales from the Trail: Stories from a Lifetime of Covering Politics" will take readers through more than four decades of covering the newsmakers and hand-shakers, the policy-makers and world-changers that have kept Howard intrigued, befuddled and bemused.
When asked about Tales from the Trail, Howard said, "Yes, covering politics is serious business, because there is so much at stake – for the people, more so than the candidates. But I can't help but laugh sometimes at many of the behind-the-scenes things that happen along the campaign trail. It can be like watching sausage being made sometimes, but on many occasions, it's just plain funny. We don't laugh enough in our politics. I'm hoping this column with give you a reason to laugh along with me."
His first column posts Saturday. I'm smiling already.