Unique style sparked Haywood's success

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   KINGSPORT -- Bob Haywood's 21 years as a sports anchor could best be described by the slogan of the Dodge car company. He was different.
   Haywood, the former sports director at WKPT in Kingsport, did things his way for over two decades before the station abandoned its news department in February.
   Haywood felt like he had to be different.
   "I did do some different things," Haywood said. "When I started, the other stations were more established. We were the only UHF station in the Tri-Cities, so we didn't go into Kentucky and North Carolina. The other stations had bigger numbers, so I started things like the 'Freaks of the Week.'"
   Haywood's broadcasting career kind of came about accidentally. The Rogersville native was a management and marketing major at the University of Tennessee, and he had all intentions of doing that as a career.
   But after graduation, things took a slightly different turn for Haywood.
   "I was one of 10 students to be interviewed for marketing positions at Alcoa Aluminum," Haywood said. "They were going to take five. I went to Pittsburgh for the interview, and WKPT Called me. I drove up to Kingsport, and took the position. When I didn't get the job with Alcoa, I stayed with it."
   Haywood did have some broadcasting experience before he took the job at WKPT, so he was prepared for this career.
   Haywood worked at Channel 10 in Knoxville during his college days. He started out in news at WKPT, but when the sports position opened up, Haywood was ready for the challenge.
   "I've always loved sports," Haywood said. "In college I helped out sports on Friday night. I also did a scoreboard radio show on WKPT radio. When the sports anchor job opened up, I applied for that and the rest is history."
   WKPT's sportscast did have a different twist to it. The segment "Freaks of the Week" was started by Haywood, and quickly became a big hit in the Tri-Cities.
   Haywood wanted to get the viewer that maybe wasn't a big sports fan involved, and his mission was accomplished.
   "I wanted to get the non-sports fan to watch," Haywood said. "I thought about doing it just one week, but people started calling in to tell us they enjoyed it. We just kept doing it. And right before we went off the air we were at show 498. We almost made it to 500 shows."
   Another segment that Haywood is proud of happens to be the Scholar Athlete of the Week. Each week, WKPT would honor a student-athlete from the area high schools who excelled in both academics and athletics.
   "The parents and teachers really liked that," Haywood said. "We've interviewed 700 scholars since 1990."
   Sprint sponsored the segment, and the idea quickly caught on to other television markets.
   "Sprint agreed to sponsor it the first year," Haywood said. "After Sprint saw it was a success, they sponsored it in different markets.
   "We wanted to honor people who did it the right way, We wanted to honor people who excelled in both academics and athletics."
   When WKPT pulled the plug on news, Haywood was concerned with what was going to happen with the Scholar Athlete of the Week program. But WJHL recently announced that it would pick up where WKPT left off next season.
   The decision made Haywood very happy.
   "I was pleased," Haywood said. "I didn't want to see the program end. My main concern other than how I was going to put food on the table was whether or not that program was going to continue.
   "People come up to me all the time and tell me things like 'my brother or sister was a scholar athlete of the week, and I wanted to be one when I was a senior.' I'm glad we can sit back and watch that, and carry it on."
   Another idea that Haywood came up with was making Friday night high school football highlights a little different from the other stations.
   On Friday nights during the fall, WKPT's studios became a locker room.
   "Dobyns-Bennett High School gave us some of their old lockers," Haywood said. "We made the set a make-shift locker room. We had the local high schools give us jerseys. Even when we had our first major cutbacks, we continued that. After the 11 o'clock newscast was cut out, we came on at 11 p.m. with Football First. It was a very popular program. The viewers could watch us for 15 minutes, then they could turn over and watch the other stations."
   WKPT didn't have the staff to be at 20-25 games, but Haywood thought the highlights he did have were in-depth.
   "What made our show a little different was that even though we only had 12 or 14 games, we stayed a little longer," Haywood said. "We were a little more in-depth. That's something people told us about our show."
   Haywood said there were some newscasts that were harder to get through than others.
   "One of the toughest things was when Buck VanHuss died," Haywood said. "We were real close. We used to go shoot around with the team (at Dobyns-Bennett), something you wouldn't do now. We would even run by his house before the game and do an interview. That was tough to deal with.
   "Another tough day was when Dale Earnhardt died. I've always admired him, and he was my father's favorite driver. That was another tough sportscast. And the last one was a tough one to get through."
   WKPT now shows WJHL's news on its station as part of a joint sales agreement between the two stations. Haywood is now working in sales for WJHL.
   Haywood is enjoying his new job, but he doesn't quite have being a sportscaster out of his system yet.
   "I guess I'll always have the sportscaster thing in my blood," Haywood said. "Not a day goes by when somebody says, 'We miss you on TV.' I'm reminded daily of what I used to do."
   And Haywood isn't ruling out one day getting back into broadcasting.
   "I'll never say never, and it's still in my blood," Haywood said. "It's a possibility, but right now I'm a 100 percent sales person. But if the right situation presented itself, who knows?"