“The Life of Harold Dow,” an Omaha pioneer
July 27th, 2011
Omaha, NE- One of Omahaâ€™s most famous journalists died suddenly last year. Harold Dow was the first African American reporter to broadcast on the air in Omaha. His career traversed the national spotlight with landmark interviews, and a long career on 48 Hours with CBS News. UNO Television has produced a two-part documentary on the life of Harold Dow, which airs beginning Thursday night.
Harold Dow made his entrance onto the journalism scene under the leadership of Lee Terry Sr., the News Director at KETV at the time. In UNOâ€™s documentary, Dow tells the story of his first day on the air…
It was a dangerous time to be black and on TV. Harold knew he could be in trouble after his first newscast.
â€œLee put me on the air on the newscast at 6 oâ€™clock, the very first day I arrived. Now when I got off the air, I was like a deer caught in the headlights, you know what I mean. I stumbled through, and I got to the newsroom and all the switchboard phones were lighting up, and everyone was trying to explain to these Cornhuskers what had just happened.â€
UNO Television host Cathy Wyatt interviewed Terry, Sr. for his remembrances of those early days.
â€œWe were in a position where we were continually looking for good black talent,” Terry said, “Harold showed up, and I was a little leery about him because he was studying history. That didnâ€™t seem to go along with the need for journalism, but Harold had a good writing skill and he had a nice voice. So when I brought him in, and hired him, and taking a chance on him, we decided to put him on the air.â€
â€œHe told the stories, told it straight,” said Jim Adams, Assistant General Manager of UNO Television. “I think the public was better off for Harold Dow.â€
Adams said Haroldâ€™s journey as the first black reporter on the air paved the way for other African Americans in the city. He said it took a lot of courage to take those first steps.
“To be an African American in the early 70s, which, myself as a Caucasian, I guess I never really thought, as much as maybe I should have, about how difficult it would be to be for an African American to be on the air,” Adams said. “With so many negative calls and letters, but to strive forward and not let it hold him back, I think takes a heck of a person.”
Adams said Dow left a legacy in Omaha, with people he inspired and friends he made, many of whom followed their own pioneering journeys, like Rudy Smith.
â€œHe changed the landscape in Omaha,” Smith said. “I was the first minority in print. He was the first in broadcast. We both had parallel paths to our success.”
Host Cathy Wyatt asked Smith what that meant to Smith, personally, to be a pioneer in journalism. “It means that you have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders,” Smith said. “You have a lot of people that are counting on you, and looking at you. The way you do it sets the way for minorities following us in that industry.”
Harold Dowâ€™s career grew from that responsibility, and was peppered with landmark interviews. He was the first to interview Patty Hearst, after sheâ€™d been kidnapped by an American militant group, who she later joined. He was also the first to sit down with OJ Simpson, and one of the first reporters on the scene of the September 11th attacks. (Click listen now to hear snippets of Dow’s interviews).
Harold Dow died on August 21, 2010 at the age of 62, from an attack of adult-onset asthma. The Life of Harold Dow, a Consider This Special, will air on NET Television beginning Thursday night.
For air times and dates of the Life of Harold Dow, visit UNO Television.