70th ANNIVERSARY: The Legendary Tom Charles tells us about his time at KSWO
LAWTON, Okla. (KSWO) - As we look back on the station’s history and being on air for 70 years, we stop today to talk to a man who was here for more than half that time.
Tom Charles joined KSWO in 1964, and before he ever started he learned some of the best laid plans can quickly change.
“I don’t want to be on camera. I’m scared to be on camera.”
That’s what Tom Charles says he told a friend when they called him up asking if he’d come work at KSWO. So, he was hired as a booth announcer.
But, as we know, it didn’t stay that way.
“Two or three days before we were due to be in Lawton, Ron [Kirby] called and said ‘hey, we’ve had a big change of plans down here...you’re gonna do the weather.’ I said ‘man, I can’t do that,’ but I did. So, I got down here and went on the air doing the weather that night. I didn’t have any idea what was going on. That’s the kind of stuff you couldn’t get by doing that now, I talk about it, and people wouldn’t believe it, but that’s the way it was back then. You just did it.”
While he grew up in Oklahoma, Lawton wasn’t home, but the more time he spent in Lawton the more it felt like home.
“So we just decided to stay. It was a good place to work. It was a family-owned operation and if you did your job, you had a job for as long as you wanted to stay here which was good.”
Especially because he ended up staying for decades. Charles says some of his best memories are having fun with the people he worked with, and seeing the station advance in technology.
He says when he got here there were just two black and white cameras. But then...
“You came in with a color camera, and then along came video tape. We had huge reels. The tape was about two inches wide and about the size of two large fridges put together, but that was the kind of thing you got a kick (out) of when you saw that come in and the station was progressing.”
The upgrades haven’t stopped.
“I can see what you folks have to work with now and compared that with what I came into in 1964 and the difference is amazing.”
Even the building we did the interview in didn’t exist when he first started. It was added in the 90′s. Charles watched as weather graphics changed--- bringing in color radar and green screens.
But eventually he moved from the weather wall to the anchor desk. He says the 12 to 15 hour days during storms is what caused him to make the change.
“I thought it was time just to do something different. So, I talked it over and they put me on as the morning anchor, and that was fun. I didn’t mind it. Just sitting down, reading the copy and getting up and going home. Not too bad.”
Charles retired from KSWO in 2010, after 46 years on the air. He says he and his wife Linda are now enjoying retirement and antique cars.
“I’ve been kinda hung up on antique cars for many years. I’ve had several over the years and we’re (in) the antique car club. Antique car people are nice people.”
After retirement, Charles says he and his wife planned on moving back home to Okmulgee in eastern Oklahoma - but that didn’t happen.
“As time went by we’d go back to Okmulgee and we’d see that things weren’t the same as we had in our mind, as we had in our mind growing up there. While at the same time, the more we stayed in Lawton we got to meet a lot of great people. I mean Lawton is not a perfect town, no town is, but they’re working on their problems and they have some of the nicest people you’ll ever find here. We had great friends and still do.”
While many people associate Charles with weather, but we learned while talking to him that he’s not a certified meteorologist, he was a weather presenter who was really, really good at it and people trusted him.
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