Twenty years ago, one of the most talented, inventive, well-liked TV feature reporters I’ve ever met passed away. He was only 26. With the unlikely TV name of Jon Quattlebaum, his Q Point of View reports on CBS affiliate WINK in Fort Myers, Fla., were required watching for viewers all over Southwest Florida. Even the […]
With the unlikely TV name of Jon Quattlebaum, his Q Point of View reports on CBS affiliate WINK in Fort Myers, Fla., were required watching for viewers all over Southwest Florida. Even the competitions’ newsrooms turned to WINK at 6:25 every evening to see what zaniness Quattlebaum would dish that night. Quattlebaum’s reports always occupied what in the news business is known as the kicker, the last story of the newscast, a story intended to send viewers off with a smile.
And Quattlebaum always delivered.
Jon Quattlebaum died Dec. 12, 1994, when he fell in a hiking accident while in Arizona. He was 19 days away from getting married on New Year’s Eve. Friends went from being ushers in his wedding to pallbearers at his funeral.
But while his life and TV career was short, the impression he left with all of us who knew him, worked with him or watched him still lasts to this day. His alma mater, the University of Florida, honors him every year by giving one outstanding student in news the Jon Quattlebaum Award.
I refer to the day Jon died as the day the music stopped for me. My innocence was over. There is no justice in life, good men do die young and before their time. Life is random and cruel, and you just have to live with it, Paul.
That very well may be, but thanks to this column, I do have the power to tell a little bit of Jon’s story and share some of his work. So please forgive me this sad indulgence.
I was the marketing director at WINK from 1992 until 1997. It was Christmas morning in 1992. I hadn’t been at WINK very long and so I didn’t know much about Quattlebaum. He calls me to ask if he can come out to shot some video of my kids with their toys. I thought it odd that he was working on Christmas but I told him to come on over.
That night, my family and I sat down and tuned into WINK’s news to see what Jon was going to do with the footage he shot at our house. Here’s the clip of that story. There’s an unmistakable twinkle in Lois Thome’s eyes as she sets up his story.
I have almost 100 stories in my files that Jon Quattlebaum did while at WINK. I don’t know how many stories he did at WINK over all, but doing the kicker every day, five days a week can result in quite a body of work. And Jon was always under pressure to come up with something.
Jon was the king of low-tech, always looking for some TV trick to accomplish something only he could see in his mind. Like the day he came and asked how he could make it appear his trademark Converse sneakers would come back on his feet when he whistled. We scratched our heads, thought about it, and then decided the best way to do that would be to shoot him kicking off his sneakers and then reverse the footage.
One day, while giving a tour of the station to some local school kids, they insisted on visiting Jon’s desk, which was piled high with all manner of items capped off with a fireman’s helmet, like a cherry on top.
Kids and old people especially loved Jon.
It was around lunch time and Jon was trying to come up with a story for the day. As Jon started talking to the kids, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a dollar and laid it on his desk.
He told the kids that the dollar was theirs if anyone came up with a story idea for him to use. Jon wasn’t opposed to bribing anyone who could help him come up with a story.
The world was a little brighter every weekday at 6:25 thanks to Jon Quattlebaum.
And his stories still bring a smile to my face, even through a few tears.
Perhaps his most famous story was what happens to the pink flamingoes when the tourists, AKA snow-birds, leave Florida and go north in the spring.
Someday, Jon, I’ll write a book about you. In the meantime, just know that we remember you well and with great fondness.