Whenever there was something going down in Abington, it was a good bet that there would be a guy at the scene wearing khakis, a black baseball cap and carrying a black video camera with a microphone in his belt.
That guy, Glenside resident Tom Kirk, is retiring; his weekly TV program “Abington News and Views,” aired its last episode late last month.
Over the years, the program featured mostly upbeat, “feature-ry” local news stories. It also featured a slew of guests, ranging from politicians to sports icons. One of the unique aspects of the show was that Abington residents got some face time.
“I had a lot of fun. It was all about good news, and I’m very proud of that,” Kirk said, while sitting in his Keswick Avenue studio. “We’ve interviewed a lot of people, and we actually gave a lot of Abington residents 15 minutes of fame — they were either hosts for the show, news readers or reporters.
“Sometimes they reached out to me,” he continued, “and a lot of them were lawyers, which surprised me … or maybe it didn’t. We accommodated a lot of folks and we tried to keep it very local.”
Kirk, who was born in Scotland, moved to the States in 1960 “as a young lad,” (his words) and moved to the Abington area in 1965. Prior to shooting video he worked as an executive for a Fortune 500 company — until he saw a plume of smoke out of his window.
“When I first bought a video camera, a home video camera, I filmed a major fire at a local gas station and I contacted the local news media — Channels 3, 6 and 10,” Kirk said.
Channels 3 and 10 said “thanks but no thanks,” as they didn’t accept footage from non-union videographers, but Channel 6 asked him to stop by its City Avenue headquarters.
“An intern at [Channel] 6, who was really on the ball, asked me if I would bring the footage in so they could take a look at it,” Kirk said. “She looked at it, and they looked at it, and they were thrilled — there were major flames and smoke, it was the lead story for two days.”
That fire at the no-longer-around Atlantic gas station in the 600 block of Easton Road landed Kirk some work, covering events in the Abington area. He said he did that for a while until the news outlet started calling him for things happening in the middle of the night. Channel 6 asked him to shoot video of a man who barricaded himself in a building in West Chester at 2 a.m.
He stopped for a second, and had a revelation.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I’m doing this for them, people in Abington would surely like to have news stories and TV stories about what’s going on here,’” Kirk said. “Even myself, when I was sitting there watching television and reading the paper, if news came on about Abington Township, my head would look right away at the television because it was something that I knew about. I didn’t really care what happened in West Chester or Philadelphia.”
All great things start in a basement or a garage or something.
He got together with a friend of his, former State Rep. Bud Hannings, also of Glenside, and started shooting a TV show in Hannings’ basement; Kirk said he had several politicians on the show as well as local celebrities. He shot the show in the basement for about two years, and shot weddings and bar mitzvahs in the meantime, and the show morphed into what was “Abington News and Views.”
“In 1992, the FCC came out with leased access for cable TV. I talked to Bud about doing a TV show and we went up to Comcast in Willow Grove to talk to them,” Kirk said. “Comcast had to provide independent producers airtime on certain channels and [Comcast Willow Grove] had no idea about the new rules and regulations. I literally handed them the rules.”
During his run, Kirk said he interviewed a slew of politicians ranging from the governor to every candidate for Abington Commissioner in the past 10 years. And he’s learned over the years that politicians are very superstitious — perhaps even more so than baseball players. He said he would always attempt to get politicians to do a plug for his show by saying, “If you want to be guaranteed a win, you’ll say, ‘You’re watching Abington News and Views …’” Most of the candidates played along, but Kirk does remember one specific instance in which he did not get a plug.
He was covering a Democratic rally at the Keswick Theatre several years ago. Following the rally, he was walking behind one of the party’s “rising stars” — a younger guy from Illinois. Kirk thought about approaching the man, but decided against it.
“Abington News and Views” has always been a commercial operation, and Kirk has always worked by himself, with the help of his wife. Kirk got local businesses to advertise with him. He said he gave businesses a chance to break into the realm of TV advertising inexpensively.
“We gave everyone a shot,” he said.
Well, someone else will have to give residents and local businesses a shot at being on TV. Kirk said he’s had fun airing “Abington News and Views,” and added that its run of 10 years is incredibly long for a television program, but said it was time to go.
Kirk said he’ll probably still find time to shoot video, and do some editing — it’s not something that you just stop — but he said he’s probably going to take some time to do some traveling and to do some volunteer work in the area. And yes, some of that volunteer work will include teaching others how to shoot video.