This is your TV heritage, live and in person

It's accepted wisdom that local television news isn't as good as in the good old days — presumably a halcyon peak of perfection from which stations like KING-TV and KOMO-TV have tumbled.

That's a point of view Charles Herring disputes.

"I don't think TV news is bad," he says. "Surveys show most people get their news from television, and they mostly find it trustworthy."

At least news professionals no longer have to plug Alka-Seltzer on the air or change their names to accommodate a sponsor's whims. Generally, weathercasters today are meteorologists, not talented cartoonists amusing viewers with sketches of rain and sun.

Herring has the perspective to know all this. Exactly 50 years ago, on Sept. 10, 1951, he anchored Seattle's first newscast.

Its epic nature probably wasn't fully appreciated by the 10,000 or so households that had sets to receive KING's 15-minute history-maker.

The anniversary will be accompanied by a bit more recognition.

Today at 2 p.m. at the Museum of History and Industry, 79-year-old Herring will be honored with a ceremony recognizing the event and his contribution to Seattle TV as KING's news director from 1951 to 1967.

The gathering is open to the public, so feel free to drop in (2700 24th Ave. E., 206-324-1126). Admission and refreshments are free.

Other expected guests include KING anchors Jean Enersen and Dennis Bounds as well as TV pioneer Stan Boreson, who hosted early entertainment shows such as 1949's "Two Bees at the Keys" with Art Barduhn and the after-school favorite "KING's Clubhouse."

But MOHAI is hoping this afternoon's event will be something more — a way to draw attention to its efforts at preserving Seattle's local TV heritage.

The museum has the area's most substantial collection of broadcasting materials, including recordings, photos and ephemera dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. It would like more and welcomes contributions from ordinary citizens.

The cause is urgent. TV news, so caught up in immediacy, has done a terrible job at preserving history. Many stations have thrown out their archives — the 1970s were a particularly awful period of housecleaning — and few retain precious tangible evidence of early work.

You might say Herring is part of that invaluable documentation. His vivid recollections and dispassionate approach eschew the haze of nostalgia for hard facts.

Herring is a Walla Walla native. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Whitman College, then spent World War II in the Navy. He'd earned his way through school with announcing work and in 1946, joined radio station KJR.

That eventually led to free-lancing assignments at KING, including a Korean War-era variety show called "March On" with talent drawn from military installations in the region.

"They needed an emcee who wasn't apt to be shipped out," says Herring. "And since I'd just finished my naval stint and my uniform still fit, I got the job" — salary-free, he notes.

Herring had no sense of making history when he was tapped for the KING newscasting job. He may have been too busy; he became news director, anchor and producer and, along with photographer Ed Racine, constituted the entire department.

The news department did not really grow, as he recalls, until stations realized that newscasts were an efficient and potentially big source of revenue.

"The news was not a profit deal in the 1950s," says Herring. "The stations looked at news as something the FCC forced on them to serve the public interest.

"But then stations found that if they ran enough newscasts, they could sell time and make some dough."

At that point, local entertainment shows that were more expensive to produce began disappearing, making way for the hyperextended news universe as we know it today.

After a career at KING that witnessed such milestones as color broadcasts from the 1962 World's Fair and hiring the first "lady reporter," Herring quit Seattle for Port Angeles in 1967.

There, he and his wife (now deceased) owned and ran a 1,000-watt daytime radio station. He later worked for Boeing's video department, from which he retired in 1987.

Charles Herring will be featured tonight on KING's newscast — should you be unable to get to MOHAI.

But you'd miss a great opportunity to meet your TV heritage face-to-face.

Note: Speaking of our heritage — future, in this case — "Northwest Week" offers a lively, compact look at mayoral candidates Paul Schell, Greg Nickels, Mark Sidran and Charlie Chong tonight from 7-8 p.m. on public station KBTC-TV. Each candidate gets a 15-minute segment; host C.R. Douglas gets right to the point as usual.

Kay McFadden may be reached at 206-382-888 or at