Singing the News

Stormi Martel’s voice thunders across the table.

“Rick never came home for dinner. Not once! He always stayed at the station to work on the newscast and make it better. This is the thanks he gets.”

The other three couples at the long center table at Cafe Monte Carlo in Pismo Beach murmur in agreement.

Rick Martel, wearing a rather natty purple sport coat, seems more interested in his thick New York steak. It’s Saturday night. Almost time for his weekly gig at the restaurant.

“I don’t know why you keep bringing that up,” Rick tells his wife. “I’m happy. I’m relieved. This will all be fine.”

The news isn’t very good for Rick Martel. Not anymore. It used to be, during most of his 16 years a popular news anchor on the Central Coast. But people, viewing habits and station owners–especially station owners–change.

New owners, Bender Broadcasting Corp., took over KCOY-TV in June. They fired Rick last week, claiming it was time to take the newscast in a fresh direction; TV jargon for finding a younger audience.

But all that is yesterday’s news. Tonight Rick’s among friends and fans, chatting easy over dinner, cracking jokes, seemingly at peace with his abrupt dismissal.

“I’ve been very lucky here–16 years,” Rick says, jabbing at his steak. “That’s a pretty good run, isn’t it? I had a good run in San Diego. A good run up here.”

Stormi is quick to jump in and defend her husband of 33 years. “They never said a word to Rick,” she insists. “They didn’t give a reason for firing him. Not a word.”

Rick signed a new one-year deal with KCOY-TV last April for $62,000. He suspected something was up when news director John Pilios, once quite friendly, suddenly became quiet around his new anchor.

“I figured one of us was getting the boot. It was either him or me. I didn’t for sure until the meeting.”

Adding insult to injury, the new station owners not only fired the 64-year-old broadcast veteran; they also refused to buy out the remainder of Rick’s contract. The topic brings a sudden edge to Rick’s voice.

“They owe me that money,” he says. “Even Elisabeth Murdoch bought me out when I was let go from KSBY. I suppose I’ll be seeing an attorney this week.” His friends around the table nod again. “Make sure you go, Rick,” one man advises. “You deserve that money.”

Almost showtime. Rick steps outside for one last cigarette. Stormi is still stewing over what happened to her husband. “This is going to be very strange,” she says. “Rick’s worked nights for most of our marriage. Always working at night. Now he’ll be home. It’s going to be so different.”

Otherwise, the future for the Martels remain uncertain. The couple plans to stay in the area and keep their Arroyo Grande home. Rick might try radio again, or sell cars with his brother. He has a meeting scheduled for Monday about possibly hosting a new local TV show.

And there’s always the music, the true anchor of Rick Martel’s life, the thing that first brought him from the Midwest to California back in the 1950s. He was going to be a singer, but settled for a career in radio and television that took him from Bakersfield to San Diego to San Luis Obispo. He’ll continue to perform Saturday nights at Cafe Monte Carlo.

But tonight is his last hurrah as the Singing News Anchor. The spotlight fades on one of more offbeat and quirky slices of Central Coast life. How many towns can boast of a news anchor who can also sing Willie Nelson? One less thing we can uniquely claim.

It’s 9:20. Rick Martel finally takes the stage and opens his set with the old Patsy Cline standard, “Crazy.” His friends drift towards the dance floor.

Take a bow, Rick., You did it your way, sir. And that’s the way it was.

San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (July 1996)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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