"Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." — Shakespeare
What is the most important thing that happened? That is the lead, the key to what your story is about. That was the first thing Henry Stone taught me about writing a news story. Every morning, we spent close to an hour together, honing each story until it said exactly what it needed to say, truthfully, honestly, completely.
Henry was 36 and I was 18 when we first met and talked. He took pity on me, a kid who wanted to write news, hired me and ultimately gave me a career I loved. He saw something in me that I didn't know existed and turned me into a broadcaster, something I had never entertained in my wildest dreams. Before he ever turned me loose on the air, he trained me on a "dead board," the radio control room at night when the station was off the air.
In those early days, Henry was the manager of WFKN. Stan Portmann was the editor of the Franklin Favorite. Howard Ogles and "Val" Valentine were also in the office and were the men in charge. While Henry wrote much of the news, Stan turned it into newspaper copy. Typesetters typed it into a machine that turned it out on slick paper. It was trimmed, run through a hot waxer and placed by hand on large pieces of paper. Those sheets were then photographed and printed out onto tin sheets that were placed into the printing press to print the pages.
As I learned from Henry, those of us on the radio end stayed out of the way of the newspaper people when they were working on their deadlines. It was always a pressure cooker, steam escaping all over the place until the paper was printed and ready to go. I'm not sure if those people with one big deadline a week ever understood that in radio, we faced deadlines sometimes as often as 10 seconds apart. When something ended, we had an immediate deadline to start something else. I learned from Henry Stone how to manage and deal with those constant deadlines.
In later years, Henry and Stan were able to buy the business. It remained locally owned and prospered under their careful management. Henry started developing the printing end of the business by bringing in a number of publications to be printed in Franklin, among them The Herald, the student newspaper of Western Kentucky University, as well as a number of other printing jobs from WKU. A nearby closed grocery store was bought by the company, building additions made, and a bigger press purchased. Still more people were hired full-time. A large part-time crew was hired to come in and help on paper days.
Always with an eye for the changing trends, Henry was at the helm when cable television came to Franklin. He saw the opportunities it presented and merged another media with those already in town. Those of us in radio learned how to program the local access channel, which ran a constant feed of community events.
His voice was the voice of Franklin, the one we trusted to tell us what was happening locally, what the weather forecast would be, when schools would be open or closed. He asked me one day what affected everyone who listened. I thought for just a second when he replied, "The weather, it affects everybody and they want to know what it is going to do." I realized instantly that he was right; he always was. All I had to do was listen and I would know what needed to be done.
From learning so much from him, I felt Henry's greatest gift was as a teacher. At least that was his gift to me. At age 40, I returned to college to finish my degree. A class in journalism was being revamped, the tests redone. After the first test, instructor Bob Skipper (a former co-worker at The Franklin Favorite) came to my desk and said, "Thanks for destroying the curve." The department had planned to grade on the curve, to enable the students to score better. My earning a perfect score on that test really messed up that plan! What could I say? I had had the best teacher in the world, and I listened to him.
Some of Henry's former employees have also shared memories of their time at WFKN:
Ron Dunn: He was a special mentor to many of us young upstarts at WFKN…as well as a dedicated friend to Franklin. He gave me my first radio job, which has shaped my life. God bless his soul.
Betty Raines: Mr. Stone always did what he thought was right for our community.
Joy Warden Bush: A man of integrity, passion, and the advancement of our community was a driving force in his work.
Steve Goodrum: The Franklin-Simpson community has lost a stalwart, one who put the community first and did not run WFKN & the Favorite only as a business.
James Bunch: Henry gave me my very first job as a teenager. The work ethics Henry taught me way back in 1981 would stay with me throughout my lifetime.
Scott Farmer: So many wonderful memories of Henry. Franklin has lost an icon.
Henry retired from the radio and newspaper in 2001. Rather than propping up his feet, he became a volunteer at the Community Action agency and began hosting a cable show called, "Frankly Franklin". Then, in 2002, he threw his hat in the ring for the Franklin City Commission. For three of his four terms, he was the top vote-getter in the elections, proving yet again the trust the community placed in him. While on the commission, he served as mayor pro-tem and served terms on the F-S Industrial Authority Board and the Franklin Housing Authority board. He was an elder for Franklin Presbyterian Church, served on the boards of the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce. He was past president of the literacy council and the Band Boosters.
For all the jobs he held, all the places he served, all the work he did throughout his lifetime, he was always looking to improve. Not only to improve what he was doing, but to improve others by offering them the means to succeed and earn a living; he was looking for ways to improve the community he called home, the state he lived in, and the country. As Pastor Katie Strednak eulogized him at his funeral, she mentioned the anonymous donations he made, sending a child to camp, helping someone in need with utilities. I worked as a volunteer with the American Red Cross for a time. During hurricane Katrina, Henry gave me a substantial check for the agency to use to help others in need.
So, what is the most important thing that happened? It is that this man lived among us, shared his life and his beliefs, and made us all better people for having known him. In his written eulogy of Stan Portmann, Henry shared the Shakespeare quote, "Goodnight sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."