December of 1990 a young, southern boy who had never even visited Iowa or Illinois (except for his interview at KWQC) began his career at the number one station in the Quad Cities. In case you hadn’t already guessed, that guy was me. I was nervous, felt like I didn’t belong and wondered if I’d made a mistake. It was an incredible opportunity to come to a number one station, in a part of the country where accents didn’t seem to exist and have a chance to further my career. Still, I was unsure, very unsure. I came in. I did my job and tried to not let on that I was extremely homesick.
Within a few weeks. Our desks were moved around in the newsroom and I was positioned directly across from Charles King. I rarely watched his morning show. After all, I was young and didn’t dream of waking up by 6am. When I began my KWQC career, I was the weekend weather anchor and weekday reporter. I really got to know Charles when I was called in to fill in for the morning weather anchor due to vacations or illness. Charles was always in a good mood. Jim Victor joined us on the news desk to bring the morning’s financial report. They both seemed to be so happy to be there. I wondered what I was missing. Others seemed to overlook my discontent. Charles did not. One morning in the newsroom following the morning show, CK initiated the conversation:
Charles: So, are you settling in?
Me: I guess
Charles: You guess?
Me: It’s a little difficult. I’ve never lived this far away from home.
Charles: I understand. How do your parents feel about you moving away?
Me: My dad died when I was 21. My mom supports it, but she misses me.
Charles: I’m sure she does but I bet she’s proud of you.
That conversation only lasted a few minutes, but it meant a lot. Charles let me know he was cared enough to see through the TV persona and realize that I was a young man who was struggling.
Over the next few months, Charles would initiate other conversations. Sometimes asking about my family, other times mentioning nice comments he was hearing about me from viewers. That interaction laid the groundwork for what would become a very important relationship. As the days, weeks and months passed, the separation from family became a little easier, but still there was void. As I sat at my desk, one cold morning, (I remember it was cold because I struggled with Midwest winters when I moved to the QCA) Charles asked,
“What are you doing in the community?”
“What do you mean?”
“If you really want to feel like you belong, maybe you should volunteer. You’ll meet the best of the best.”
I simply nodded and went back to work. It was a few months or maybe a year before I took his advice. I joined the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters. I met some great people. Perhaps more importantly, I met some great kids who needed a positive role model in their lives. I realized that Charles was becoming that role model in my life. I already loved the community outreach campaigns at KWQC. Taking part in the Toys for Tots Drive, the Easter Seals/Children’s Therapy Center Telethon and Festival of Trees Parade became my favorite times of the year. I got the chance to interact with viewers and meet some of the great people who called the Quad Cities… home.
I was finally feeling like I belonged. In the coming years, I left weather and became a news anchor. Theresa Bryant and I co-hosted a mid-morning newscast. Before each of those newscasts, I would join Charles on set to tease what we had coming up on the show. That three-minute tease became one of my favorite times of the day. Charles never allowed me to be too serious. This is just one example of how he turned the show over to me:
Charles: It’s time for your mid-morning news. Here’s Mike Mickle. He’s not fickle and he’s sweet as a dill pickle.
Mike: Charles, dill pickles aren’t sweet.
Charles: I know. (said with no emotion shown on his face)
After a couple of seconds of me staring at him while he looked straight ahead at the camera, I would shake my head and carry on with my job. As time went on, I learned to dish it out as well as take it. One morning we were teasing a story about certain foods making you age prematurely. I stopped in the middle of the story, looked at CK and said, “Dear Lord! What have you been eating?!?!?!” Even the master of the one-liners couldn’t hold back the laughter.
Several years down the road, Charles gave me another important piece of advice. Feeling the pressure of daily deadlines, combined with the sleep deprivation having small children can bring, I was stressed. Charles looked at me and said one sentence that helped shape my future. “Just remember. Your real life begins when you walk out these doors, not when you walk in them.” Charles was the consummate professional but he never let his love of news overshadow his love of family.
To say Charles King made a difference in my life would be a huge understatement. He gave me the encouragement I needed to not give up my dream. That’s huge. He also gave me words of wisdom that helped me realize when that dream had changed. When chasing the lead story or sitting at a news desk paled in comparison to being home, being present with my children and following a new path. Tonight, I’m mourning like many of you. I’m also smiling because I know CK is in heaven cracking jokes and happy that he made his exit just the way he wanted. He did it on his own time and with class and dignity. Charles, as I count my blessings, you are definitely one of them. Thanks for helping me find my place, enjoy the ride and never take life for granted. Without those carefully chosen words at just the right time, life might have been much different for me. There’s a good chance I wouldn’t be sitting here in a community I now love and call home. Rest in Peace Chuck and please know, you are loved.