Mike Randall’s three-year plan to stay at Eyewitness News is going to hit 30 years next month.
He has replaced two Channel 7 legends – feature reporter Don Polec and weatherman Tom Jolls – and has become one in the process.
Over his career, the 59-year-old Randall has filled in on ABC’s “Good Morning, America,” met such stars as Dick Clark, John Candy, Rosie O’Donnell and Steve Allen and sang like Robert Goulet to Robert Goulet on “AM/Buffalo.” He also briefly revised “Rocketship 7,” appearing with his wife and the youngest of his three sons 20 years ago.
Not bad for a guy that Channel 7 legend Irv Weinstein said in an infamous 1991 memo assessing the station’s talent: “Good feature reporter, but limited intellect. Looks great. The kind of talent that can potentially draw viewers if properly promoted.”
Randall thinks he knows why Weinstein made the intellect crack 22 years ago.
“One morning he asked, ‘How is that morning show going?’ ” Randall recalled. “I said, ‘It is fine Irv. I think it would be better if we showed cartoons or had puppets.’ I was joking. He walked away. And it wasn’t long after that, that crack came out. I said ‘What is he talking about?’ ”
Randall got the last laugh. He has been at one local station longer than any on-air staffer here but Channel 4’s reporter Rich Newberg.
More than 30 years ago, Randall did an audition tape to replace Polec that featured a Weinstein cameo and answered the question “how to apply for a job at Eyewitness News.”
There have been good times – Channel 7’s news dominance until 2002. And bad times – its slide into third place.
The news business has experienced incredible changes in Randall’s 30 years, but he doesn’t think he would do the audition piece differently.
“I was showing off my talents – I juggle, I could be goofy, I can make funny faces, I could do all the stuff that you needed to do to be a funny feature reporter, including some real information on how to apply for a job,” said Randall.
Randall hadn’t planned to become a broadcaster. The Kenmore West High School graduate attended four colleges without earning an undergraduate degree. He became an actor. He performed six or seven nights a week at dinner theaters across the country – doing a Mark Twain act that he still does in Buffalo, and other roles. He also would go to local TV stations to see if he could do any commercials to augment the $100-$125 a week he would get for performing and being a waiter.
A commercial director suggested that he audition for the syndicated program “PM Magazine” in Roanoke, Va. He was getting tired of not having any roots or having any money. This time, he got the job – and a lifetime contract.
“I walked in the job the first day in Roanoke and one of the first people that I met was my wife, Kathy,” recalled Randall. “She was the morning anchor.”
They began dating and got married in May 1982, a year before he joined Channel 7.
“I was in Roanoke for 18 months,” said Randall. “That was the longest I ever held any job.”
He advanced to Hartford – a larger market – to do “PM” and was miserable despite seeing his salary triple. He and his wife quit their TV jobs. When an agent called Kathy, she told him that she wasn’t interested in a job but her husband was.
Randall wanted to go to Buffalo, which surprised the agent. Randall told him he grew up here, had family here and he might go someplace else in a few years. The agent, Ken Lindner, who became one of the prominent agents in the business, got Channel 7’s news director to look at Randall’s resume tape, which led to the “How to Apply” audition tape and Randall’s hiring.
Randall was undaunted about replacing Polec. “I thought I was suited for it,” said Randall. “I had a sense of humor.”
A month into the job, he got a very positive review from a TV critic. (OK, it was me).
“One of Polec’s attractions,” I wrote, “is his ability to make the viewer feel good by looking uncomfortable on camera. Randall makes you feel good by looking so comfortable and personable.”
He remained a feature reporter until 1989 when the weekend weather personality quit. Randall, who had filled in on the noon weather, replaced her.
“I had no idea what I was doing, my science, my geography were a little shaky at that point,” said Randall. “It didn’t matter because it was the noon weather and it was schtick.”
Shortly after that, former News Director Linda Levy told Randall about the debut of a morning newscast and told him he was “going to be the David Letterman of mornings.” When he was told the newscast would start at 6:30 a.m., Randall replied: “Are you kidding me? Who is going to watch a show at 6:30?”
Randall did features and weather until 1999, when Jolls retired. Jolls previously had suggested Randall do weather. “Tom said to me, ‘You really should think of doing weather. Weather is so easy, High pressure is nice weather, low pressure is bad weather,’ ” recalled Randall.
Of course, weather isn’t that easy. Randall eventually got two meteorology seals after taking weather courses for years.
Long before becoming the station’s evening weatherman, Randall’s three-year plan to remain in Buffalo had to be adjusted after the birth of each of his three sons, all of whom are now in their 20s.
In 2009, former General Manager Bill Ransom convinced Randall to return to the mornings, which now start at 5 a.m. He has been there ever since, and will be part of the reboot of “Good Morning” next month.
Instead of moving on, Randall has lived the life that Weinstein suggested years ago in a conversation that had more impact than the infamous memo.
“Irv told me years ago that a lot of people get in this business and travel around and keep trying to get a better job and more money,” said Randall. “He said there is nothing like being in one market was for an entire career. He said you might not make the big money but the reward is people get to know you, they are comfortable with you. And I think that’s true.”
Referring to the infamous memo crack, he said one other thing might be true: “I think Irv might have changed his mind over the years.”