It happened any time I went out on a story. Whether it was in Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, Cave Junction, Crescent City, Yreka, Prospect or even in town in Medford. Every time, someone would walk up to me, shake my hand and ask:
“Well, where’s ol’ Ron Brown today?”
That’s the effect Ron has on people. He is Mr. Southern Oregon. And he’s retiring today after 29 years “on the Newswatch” with KDRV in Medford.
Ron Brown has been with KDRV since the very beginning in the 1980s, but his time in media extends long before that. In his time on channel 12, he’s been a constant presence for viewers, both at the morning anchor desk, and out in the community.
Wherever Ron goes, he is a beacon of class, professionalism, and down-home friendliness. When he meets people, he shakes their hands, talks with them for a while, and takes the time to learn their names. He takes that attitude with him wherever he goes, telling stories from every corner of southern Oregon and northern California.
And believe me, he can tell stories.
Ron always dedicated himself to learning and sharing the stories of people and places that shaped the history of the region. This wasn’t just for nostalgia, it was to better understand why our world now is shaped the way it was. In stories like the region’s economic problems or timber issues, Ron understands what happened in the past to cause those things – and he knows the right people to talk to about it.
And that’s how I first got to know Ron – as a wealth of knowledge about our viewing area. As a young reporter straight out of college, I had never been to Medford before, and didn’t know where anything was, or who the movers and shakers were in this rural area. On one of my first stories, I was assigned to cover a story about the remote Bear Camp Road, an infamous rural stretch on which James Kim died when his family was stranded in 2006. I had no idea where this road was, where it went, or why it was significant. So I asked Ron what he knew about it.
Ron then proceeded to pull out three or four table-sized maps and laid them out to show me everything. He explained about old logging roads in the area and how they can be confusing in the winter, and explained how Bear Camp Road was originally a road to the coast before people wised up about how dangerous it was. In that moment, he gave me what I needed to understand that story, and a little about the history of it.
I would go to him from time to time when I needed help on a story. Whatever it was, Ron could always pull a 15-year-old phone book out if his desk with the right person’s phone number still in it; or he would know which old file tape had the best archive video of a story.
And he is such a calming presence. During the worst snowstorm we had in Medford in my five years there, I was sent out to cover Interstate 5 being closed near Hugo, Ore. Go get the video, now! my producers intoned to me. But I was nervous – I hate driving in the snow and ice, and didn’t want to get trapped on I-5 like the rest of the drivers in the blizzard. So I called Ron, and asked him the best way to get there and get video without being trapped. Immediately, he knew of a back road that ran from the town of Merlin to an overpass near the closed area, and said it should get me exactly where I needed to go and get me back safely. He was right – the road got me to my goal. Only Ron Brown would know about something like that.
Like I said, he is a wealth of knowledge.
Ron made such an impression on me and other young reporters, and his example taught us the value of understanding a story fully and developing relationships – not just turning a package and forgetting about it when you go home.
And he is seemingly unflappable. I never heard him raise his voice or get angry, even when things were at their most frustrating. He’s been shot at, nearly hit by cars, and been yelled at by people. For God’s sake, he even turned a package on HIS OWN HOUSE BURNING DOWN, before he drove back home to check on things.
TV is such a fast-paced environment, and producers seem to think that if something doesn’t work the first time, it’s worth freaking out over. But Ron showed me that if you prepare, stay professional, and take your time, the news will benefit from it.
His Oregon Century and Oregon Trails special reports were a welcome oasis in a news desert. It gave viewers a four-minute break from fires and death and shameless self-promotion (and as an occasional producer, I loved getting a chance to sit back and actually watch the news for four minutes while I worked). And they also fulfilled a piece of news that’s been lost over the last few years – teaching your viewers. Every day, Ron taught our viewers something new, and left them richer for the experience.
But above all, he is also a wonderful human being. He is always there with a smile and a joke, always encouraging, and of course, always available to answer questions. Ron has been with Newswatch 12 for 29 years, and in that time he’s probably worked with hundreds of reporters, anchors, photogs, and other staff. But even if someone was only there for a short time, or even if he didn’t work on the same shift, he would still deliver a heartfelt goodbye message in their farewell videos.
“Don’t forget about us,” he’d say.
Ron, how could we ever forget you?
Enjoy your retirement!