Back in the Day with GMJ; Jacksonville’s first morning show

Within months of launching a half hour morning show, Good Morning Jacksonville had expanded to one full hour.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville’s first television morning show launched 40 years ago in 1982. Gary Nelson served as the anchor for its soft launch and a young self-proclaimed “surfer boy” was hired to serve as the morning meteorologist.

“There was quite the debate about I don’t know if we should be hiring this kid that kind of looks like a surfer even though he’s a meteorologist,” said Tim Deegan. “Not only was this going to be the stations first morning show, it was going to be Jacksonville’s first morning show. And everybody thinks of course you have morning news now, but that was radical back then.”

Station management took a chance that soon paid off. Within months of launching a half hour morning show, Good Morning Jacksonville had expanded to one full hour, from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. by January 6, 1983.

“It was created to talk a little bit longer about the things that were important in our community,” said Pamela Rittenhouse, one of the first GMJ anchors. “And it was groundbreaking. It was exciting.”

Rittenhouse remembers the initial shock and apprehension to expand the show’s time slot.

“Of course there was a little bit of ok so how are we going to fill this time,” exclaimed Rittenhouse. “That seemed like so long a whole hour, which is so funny now. There were no computers in the newsroom. We had old fashioned IBM selectric typewriters.”

Three decades ago newsgathering was quite a bit different, slower. For content producers got creative, looking for fun new segments.

“So they asked everybody- does anybody have a talent,” remembers Lori Dorman who in 1982 served as a floor operator for GMJ. “And being young and naive I said I know how to decorate cakes. So they said ok come in and decorate cakes.”

The tables would turn for Dorman who was used to being behind the camera. She was chosen to do a weekly cake decorating segment on GMJ.

Good Morning Jacksonville would continue to lead the way, becoming the first local station to begin airing live traffic reports on June 2,1986. Just two weeks later tragedy struck. An estimated 48,000 people watched live as the traffic helicopter spun out of control during a report. It crashed in Riverside.
Traffic Reporter, Julie Ann Silvers, 26 and Pilot William Buddy Smith, 34 died.
Photographer, Brett C. Snyder was the only survivor.

“To have that happen live on air and to have it happen to someone who you felt was a part of your family was still the wildest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Deegan.

Through tragedy, trial and triumph, 35 years after walking through WTLV’s doors a “surfer boy” obsessed with weather, Deegan continues to do what he loves in an area that has become home.

“As a 22 year old and now I’m 57 I’ve gotten married, I’ve had kids, they’ve had kids,” said Deegan. “I’ve met people, I’ve watched Jacksonville grow and when I say Jacksonville I mean Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia. I’ve watched this area grow and evolve.”

“Good morning Jacksonville was ground breaking,” said Rittenhouse who currently lives right outside of Gainesville but has plans to return to the city where her broadcast career began in 1980. “I think the station just tapped into something that was one of those things like why didn’t we do this before?”

Dorman first joined WTLV in 1979 as part-time camera operator. 38 years later she continues to decorate cakes, not on camera but in the comfort of her own home. She’s also the Operations Manager now at First Coast News and considers herself forever a part of the GMJ crew.

“It’s pretty cool to know that we were the first in Jacksonville to do that,” said Dorman.

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