The television journalist turned celebrity speaks to the
Huntington Quarterly of a career that began in Huntington in 1979
and has since landed him in more than 25 countries around the world.
By Tim Irr
The offers have come in from the Late Show with David Letterman and scores of other television programs. But Chuck Minsker just can’t seem to find that old video. “When Letterman’s producer heard I might have video of Matt Lauer in a chicken costume, she went wild,” Minsker says. “She said she had to have it, and was willing to pay big money for it. I have a lot of old tapes from back then. I know it’s around here somewhere."
Chuck’s tapes and memories of the NBC Today Show host date back nearly three decades to their days working together at WOWK-TV in Huntington. It was Lauer’s first job in a career that has taken him around the world – many times.
“I had an internship at WOWK my senior year,” says Lauer, a student at Ohio University in Athens at the time. “When the internship ended they offered me a job. I left college needing four credits, and to be honest, the credits I needed were in a classic literature course. So I thought I’d find time to do that later.” And that he did. Matt worked with the university to complete his bachelor’s degree in 1997, the same year he returned to the school as commencement speaker.
Regular viewers of the Today Show will tell you, Matt never misses a chance to point out someone on the plaza outside?Rockefeller Plaza wearing an Ohio Bobcat T-shirt or waving a poster through the air. In addition, Marshall University?gear?also catches his eye. While Lauer’s time in Huntington was brief, he made the most of it. He will be the first to tell you the relationships he developed here are special, and he still keeps in touch with several of those old friends.
He started out as a producer of the noon news at WOWK, meaning he was responsible for writing the bulk of the stories and designing the flow of the newscast. “After I produced for a while,” Matt remembers, “I kind of got antsy. When a reporter left, I went in and asked the news director, Jackie Mullen, if I could just get a camera and try. She ended up offering me the job as a reporter.”
Twenty eight years later, Lauer can run through a list of former co-workers’ names like it was yesterday, and he gives them a lot of credit for his development as a broadcast journalist.
“Bob Smith was the anchor” he states. “Leo MacCourtney was the general manager. Jim Cline was one of the sportscasters. Jim and I are still dear, dear friends. Charlie Cook was a director. They were the first professionals I ever met. These were the people who probably made the biggest impression on me of anyone. So it was a great time.”
The young reporter from Greenwich, Conn., left a strong impression on veteran local newsman Bob Smith, who was the anchor at WOWK at the time. “It was so many years ago, but I remember Matt as a very nice guy,” says Smith. “He came across as kind of laid back, and yet he was very focused on his job and what he wanted to do. Since he was right out of college, he was very green, but also very ambitious. I remember he decided to take a class at the Ohio University Southern Campus in Ironton to earn some more credits while he was working with us in Huntington.” Bob begins to chuckle. “The funny thing is, it was a ceramics class…and he got a B.”
The hours were long and the work was challenging, but the 21-year-old reporter did manage to weave a social life in the river city. Matt lived in what he describes as a great house on Eutaw Place.
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