In 1994, WINK Fort Myers sports anchor Warren Flax, pulled off one of the most original, inventive, creative and fun feats ever seen in local television: He went on strike for 103 days.
In 1994 Warren Flax pulled off one of the most original, inventive, creative, fun feats ever seen in local television broadcasting: He went on strike for 103 days.
At the time, Flax was the main weekday sports anchor and sports director at WINK, Fort Myers Broadcasting’s CBS affiliate in Fort Myers, Fla. This reporter was the marketing director at WINK during this time.
In the summer of 1994, Major League Baseball went out on strike. And on Oct. 1, so did the National Hockey League.
That didn’t set well with Flax.
“They are not doing their job so I will not do my job,” is the way Flax described his intention to go on strike.
Flax’s idea was to still do his sports segments every night in the 6 and 11 o’clock newscasts, but he wouldn’t do them from the studio, or wear a suit and tie until either hockey or baseball ended their strike.
(Flax’s original strike stories were recorded on 3/4-inch tape so there may be some occasional distortion).
So where would he be and what would he be doing if he wasn’t in the studio?
During a brainstorming session in the WINK lunchroom, anchors, reporters and producers came up with some ideas.
For the 6 p.m. newscast, Flax would be live anywhere except the WINK studio. That required a microwave truck and at least one photographer. “I was always out somewhere in a community,” Flax says. “Doing a live shot was a big deal then.”
For the 11 p.m. newscast, knowing that a live shot anywhere at night taxed the staff, an ingenious solution was born of necessity.
Flax took the idea to WINK’s news director, Mel Martin. Martin was a legend in local television news circles for his funny, curmudgeon personality and high journalistic standards.
Flax says Martin told him, “You’re on to something.”
So that night at 11, on the very day the NHL players went on strike, when viewers in Southwest Florida watched the sports on WINK, they got it from a guy in his pajamas laying on a cot set up in the corner of the WINK newsroom.
And for next 103 days, Flax was on strike, live and unscripted, as he gave his sports reports.
Flax went fishing, took guitar lessons, ran for governor and delivered pizza to the news crew.
He showed up at businesses all over town, flipping burgers and grilling chicken. He bagged groceries at a local supermarket, interrupting his live shot to ask if the customer wanted paper or plastic.
And he went to jail.
“The police let me go into their jail and actually do the whole sportscast from inside a jail cell,” Flax says. “I didn’t know if they were going to let me out once they got me in there. That was fun.”
Flax says that level of participation was indicative of what he got from the community.
Letters poured into the station “every day from people in the community with different suggestions,” he says.
“We had more ideas than we ever could have done,” Flax says. “We could have done it forever.”
Of course, the strike had to end sometime. And when it did, the station needed an extravaganza, something special, taped in advance and ready to air if the strike ended suddenly.
So the day the National Hockey League ended their strike, viewers all over Southwest Florida tuned into WINK’s 6 p.m. news to see what Flax was going to do. They caught shots of him from a chauffeured limo waving to boisterous admirers around town as the limo made its way to the WINK studios.
Once there, Flax was greeted by the Cape Coral High School Marching Band. Cheerleaders formed a gauntlet of kicking legs on either side of Flax as he ran from the limo to the WINK studio door.
The director cut to Warren live as he came through the door, and ran to his seat next to WINK news anchors Jim McLaughlin and Lois Thome.
“Jim, Lois, the National Hockey League strike ended today and I’m back on the set here at WINK News. Let’s see what’s happening in sports tonight.”
NOTE: After leaving WINK in 1996, Flax worked as a sports reporter/anchor for KOMO in Seattle. In 1998 he left TV and moved to Israel to do volunteer work and learn Hebrew. In 1999, Flax moved to Ecuador to learn Spanish and expand his family business into South America. He then got an MBA in international business from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
After graduation, Flax worked as a management consultant before starting a sales career in real estate. He sold the real estate company in 2018 and took over the family manufacturing business which he continues to grow and expand today. Flax has a wife and two children who all live in Yardley, just outside Philadelphia.
Almost 30 years have passed since Flax’s “strike,” but it still serves as a clever idea that became a phenomenon for WINK’s audiences, building ratings and loyalty before “engagement” was a KPI for stations. Social media was still long in the future, but Flax had already figured out how to go viral.
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