If you’re not in TV, you probably don’t know who Don Fitzpatrick is. If you are in TV, but haven’t been in long enough, you don’t know what he once was and the power he held.
Don died over the weekend in Louisiana. He was from there originally and moved back a few years ago. He will be most remembered for his years in San Francisco.
I first heard about Don right after I got into TV news. He was a headhunter of broadcast talent. He, or someone working for him, would comb the country, making videotapes of every on-the-air reporter and anchor they could see. That was then, and still is, a stunningly daunting undertaking.
Don’s company back in San Francisco, Don Fitzpatrick and Associates, kept those tapes cross referenced in an intricate filing system.
If you were a news director, looking for a reporter or anchor, you could go to San Francisco and look at everyone in a hurry. And, those you were looking at never had to know. It was cleaner that way.
Back in those days Don’s biggest client was probably the CBS owned stations. If Don had your tape, and if you were liked, he had the power to get you moved along. He was a giant in that way.
There was another side to Don. He was one of the first computer publishers. I want to say Internet, but he really was here before the original DARPA Internet became the World Wide Web we know today.
In the early 80s, his daily “Rumorville” was a must read… at least for the few of us who had accounts on “The Source.” There was little interconnection between the many networked services, like CompuServe and Prodigy and The Source.
Rumorville was fearless. Fitzpatrick would often print what his name implied – rumors. More often than not, they were true. Often they concerned powerful people in lofty positions.
Most of the Rumorville subscribers were news directors and other managers. As an on-the-air person, I was an exception.
I remember Don having trouble accomplishing some bit of computer minutiae. I sent off an email with some tips. This was nearly 20 years ago. I expected everyone using a computer then to be a geek. Don was not.
More important than knowing their inner workings, he was able to see the power of interconnected computers to pass timely info back-and-forth. Again, we’re talking about the early 80s!
As time went on, and the face of broadcasting changed, Don’s business seemed to become more marginalized. Finally, he was out of the talent aircheck business.
Later, Rumorville became ShopTalk, a daily newsletter. It, unfortunately, became a lot more mainstream and fact based. I miss the days when it was freewheeling. I missed the juicy rumors.
I met Don twice. The first time was in Charlotte, NC. I was there giving demos for a weather graphics company at the Radio TV News Directors Association convention. Don tapped me on the shoulder and introduced himself.
I looked and saw a rumpled guy in an poorly fitting sport coat and vaguely matching pants. I had expected to meet a slickly packaged giant. Instead, he was a real person.
Don and I traded emails a few times a year. Though we seldom chatted, I kept his screen name on my Instant Messenger friends list. I’ve watched him sign on at all hours of the day and night.
It’s sad to hear he’s died. He and I were separated by just a year in age – though he seemed so much more worldly and mature, early in my career. I knew he had health concerns, though nothing this serious.
He was one of a kind. He was a trail blazer. He was a king maker. He will be missed – certainly by me.