When we knew we’d be hiring a new morning anchor for KARK in the summer of 2018, we wanted to do something unique to introduce her to the television audience. It had to be different — and it needed to be memorable.
In the past, I’ve helped organized week-long community tours that always seemed to be impactful to people in the places we’ve visited.
It was usually one visit per day.
What if we did more? What if we found a way to touch every county our station served?
The idea became the KARK 4 TODAY Summer Road Tour. The goal was to visit 36 counties in just 5 days. New morning anchor Susanne Brunner traveled alongside morning co-host D.J. Williams and morning show dog Shade. They’d stop for roughly 30 minutes at a designated location in each county in our market area to meet and greet folks.
In addition to interacting with people, they’d do live shots, put together stories for various newscasts and our website, and create compelling content for social media.
The result would be 12-hour days — followed by prep work and editing for the next day.
The longest workday ended up running 19 hours. Then it was back on the road again…
I went along on the trip as a field producer, event organizer, editor, and driver. Photographer Martin Couch arranged and shot the 33 lives shots and edited roughly a dozen packages.
It took all of us to make it happen. While I was driving, Martin and D.J were often editing pieces. Susanne would be on the phone organizing the next stop or updating the station social media accounts.
While Susanne and D.J. went out to sign autographs and give out t-shirts, I was back in the RV cutting video for the next broadcast and clipping stories for the website.
Much of what we produced was done on the fly. Depending on how much time we had, we’d spot something and try to shoot a segment in about 5 minutes.
When we rolled through Warren, we had 10 minutes to spare before our next stop. It’s known for its annual tomato festival. So, we found a grocery store and went to work!
At one point, we saw a sign on the side of the road for a fruit farm that matched name of our anchor. Instant segment!
And when we saw a packed parking lot outside a school the week before classes started, we knew there would be a fun opportunity to surprise teachers. We found a few dozen biscuits and went to work!
As you can imagine, there wasn’t much downtime outside of the occasional nap on the RV. It was all grind — all the time.
In the end, we made every stop across 1,600 miles (which calculates to 24 hours of drive time). We met roughly 1,000 people and produced more than 50 pieces of unique, positive content showcasing the communities we visited.
It wasn’t always easy. It wasn’t always fun. But it was memorable and rewarding.
It was an incredible opportunity to get out and connect with our audience. We need to see where they live, see how they live, and listen. To truly serve someone, you have to know them.
Susanne said it best: this tour was a great reminder of how lucky were are to live in Arkansas.
As journalists, we can’t take our home — or its people — for granted.