Jim Pitcock, a pioneering reporter and news director who led KATV-TV’s newsroom through ABC’s golden era in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, died Oct. 9, according to the station and his family.
He was 83.
Pitcock built up the Little Rock station’s news staff from 3 to 55 during his tenure, which began in 1964 and lasted decades, and was honored in later years for preserving decades of Arkansas history by rescuing thousands of Channel 7 news reels from destruction.
Those reports on a bygone Arkansas were eventually digitized and placed online by the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History at the University of Arkansas. That library includes footage from Pitcock and cameraman Art Pearrow interviewing Arkansas soldiers and sailors fighting in Vietnam in 1967.
Pitcock was the only broadcast journalist from the state to make a reporting trip to Vietnam, KATV said in announcing his death. Pitcock and Pearrow got accounts from more than 100 servicemen across Vietnam and interviewed sailors and officers on the deck of the aircraft carrier Intrepid in the South China Sea.
The interviews with Marines like Wayne Lindsey of Jonesboro and Tony Shaw of Harrison, soldiers like Joe Wolverton of Luxora and Air Force servicemen like Dennis Williams of Stuttgart gave viewers a firsthand glimpse at how Arkansans were fighting the war.
Lindsey, interviewed at Con Thein, which Pitcock described as “one of the roughest spots in the war,” said he and his comrades “stay in our holes as much as we can” during artillery bombardments. Asked what the Marines talked about, Lindsey said “girls, mostly.”
Even when artillery rounds are coming in? Pitcock asked. “You do a lot of praying when it’s real rough,” Lindsey replied.
Pitcock began his career at KFSA-TV (now KFSM) in Fort Smith in 1957 and moved to Little Rock to work for KAAY-AM in 1963. He joined KATV the next year as a reporter and was news director before his Vietnam reporting in 1967. He was news director for three decades, and worked later in life as a staffer for Arkansas Attorney General and U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor
“Pitcock is fondly remembered as a dedicated leader in the newsroom,” KATV said in a note to viewers, “always pushing himself and others in their shared mission to deliver the best-quality news coverage as possible.”
KATV’s local evening newscasts kept Arkansas viewers around to watch classic ABC shows airing later like “Bewitched,” “The Odd Couple,” “Barney Miller” and “Taxi.”
UA journalism Professor Larry Foley, a former KATV reporter, described Pitcock as a mentor and “kind of our Edward R. Murrow. He could be tough, but he invested in us.”
Bob Steel, one of Pitcock’s successors as new director, called him a visionary, well ahead of his time, covering “things that most news departments may not think that you need to be on top of.”
“New construction,” Steel continued, “he would have us go out and shoot a building that was coming up where we could time-lapse it and show the growth of the city.”
Ron Sherman, the former KATV weatherman who now leads Ron Sherman Advertising and Teleproductions of Little Rock, called Pitcock a true journalist.
“He was a journalist first, news director second,” Sherman told Channel 7 news. “It was amazing how deep we dug into stories, and Jim Pitcock was like an encyclopedia of what was happening in the state politically and what the impact was going to be.”
For a look at Pitcock’s legacy, search the KATV Collection on the Pryor Center website, pryorcenter.uark.edu.