VOL. 9 NO. 2 THE MAGAZINE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH FALL 1999
FOR WHAT HE'S WIRTH
Don't adjust your screen: this quirky perspective on TV is brought to you by Craig Wirth BS'74.
by Kristine Deacon, photos by Terry Newfarmer
Watching Craig Wirth BS'74 belly dancing on TV, it's hard to tell he's a shy guy. "But I am shy," insists the Channel 4 reporter. "That's why I went into television-you can be shy in television. You're always focused on someone else."
Wirth is the writer, reporter, and editor of "Wirth Watching," a regular feature on KTVX Channel 4. In his trademark '34 Packard, Wirth travels Utah and reports on Utah history and culture. His quirky reports on offbeat subjects have become a hallmark of the station's news.
Mementos of the "someone elses" Wirth has interviewed in his 30-year career pack his crammed office. An autographed Rancho Lanes bowling pin competes for space with journalistic awards. A pup tent on the floor overlaps a blue sock (just one) under the desk. A handmade, 18-inch Craig Wirth doll perches over it all.
"Rubble. This is rubble. But my home isn't like this," laughs Wirth, 47. "When my co-workers' children sell Girl Scout cookies, I have to go pick them upthey won't let their kids come in here."
The most interesting thing in Wirth's grandmother's attic of an office is the newscaster's television. A 30-year-old black-and-white television with a nine-inch screen rests between two broken coffeemakers. The old television represents both Wirth's interest in the history of broadcasting and his recent donations to the University of Utah.
"Most students today don't even know what black-and-white television is or that this is a history or heritage," he notes. To help preserve that heritage, Wirth donated 20 working television sets from the 1940s to the University of Utah last November. And the television sets "are just the topping of a huge collection of papers, tapes, and programs Wirth gave to the U," says Department of Communication Associate Professor Tim Larson.
"He's given us the best record we have of the late sixties in broadcasting," Larson, a friend of Wirth's, says. Throughout Wirth's career, which includes reporting for ABC's "Good Morning America" and the Financial News Network, he has won four Emmysand "never threw anything away," marvels Larson. "He even donated letters that documented the times he was fired."
Larson and Wirth are writing a history of broadcasting in Utah. "He's the scholar and I'm the storyteller," says Wirth. Larson notes that Wirth "likes the department and the education he received at the U, and we're lucky for it." Last fall, Wirth and Larson loaded the 20 televisions into the covered trailer that Wirth usually uses to store his '34 Packard. They brought the televisions to the Language and Communication building, where the sets are awaiting display space.
"It gets them thinking," Wirth says. "What do you do with 20 televisions stacked in your storeroom?"
Wirth bought the sets from a collector for "a deal I just couldn't refuse," he says. And it seemed natural to Wirth, a current communication instructor, to give the sets to the U, along with tapes of his work and other memorabilia.
"Oh, the sets are magnificent," says Greg Thompson MA'73 PhD'81, assistant director of the Marriott Library, Special Collections. The materials Wirth donated "are a great, great piece of time-preserved television.
"The focus of his career has been the humorous, the unusual, the special, and his collection is marvelous because of the way it depicts that," adds Thompson.
"It's not a great gift," Wirth demurs. Rather, he says, "it's a relief" to get rid of it.
Wirth "always was his own person," remembers retired KSL editorialist Don Gale BA'58 MA'60 PhD'86, who taught journalism to Wirth in the 1970s. "He was always very creative."
Wirth remembers something else. Gale "gave me my only C."
"I'm not sure that's true," laughs Gale. "It makes a good story, but I'd have to look it up to see if that's actually what happened.
"I don't take much credit. He's done well, and if I thought I had something to do with it, I'm proud," Gale adds. Last spring Gale asked his former student to introduce him when Gale accepted the Silver Award from the Utah Advertising Federation, an annual award to recognize an individual's distinguished career in advertising.
Department of Communication Professor Robert Avery remembers Wirth, the student, as well. "My recollections of Craig Wirth as a student are uniformly positive, not because he always treated me with what I considered at the time to be proper respect (he didn't), but because Craig had his own special brand of charm, wit, and intellectual intrigue," Avery says.
"I was one of Bob's first studentsin fact, I think I was his very first student," back in 1971, Wirth notes. Avery "came in a suit and tie, and I thought, 'God, you're new around here, aren't you?'
"The first day of class, I thought, 'Well, I'm not learning anything I haven't learned before,' and I drew a caricature of himthen gave him the caricature at the end of the hour."
Avery's take on the story? "On my very first day in a University of Utah classroom in 1971, I was lecturing to my first Broadcast Management class, and Craig had positioned himself in the back row. Throughout that lecture, Craig appeared to be busily taking down my every wordhis actions gave me the confidence that I was holding the attention of everyone.
"At the end of the class session, Craig said, 'I thought you would be interested in my lecture notes for today.' The single sheet of paper revealed his artistically crafted certificate for the 'Bob Avery School of Broadcasting.' I've still got that artifact of my first day in the classroom," Avery says, laughing.
"I count Craig among our most gifted undergraduates," Avery adds. "For me, his work has always been 'Wirth watching.'"
"Craig has a different way of seeing things," notes Howard Jorgenson BS'54. Jorgensen is a partner in Barker & Jorgensen, a Salt Lake City advertising agency that represents Sinclair Oil, the sponsor of Wirth's segments for the past three years.
"We just found Craig had a different twist to Utah history. A lot of us drive down a road and don't see anything," Jorgensen says. "Craig sees something and finds out about it. After watching one of his reports, you always say, 'Wow! I didn't know that!' And I guess we were fascinated by his big Packard automobileit seemed a natural tie-in to Sinclair."
"It's been a great way to know people," Wirth says of his job. "No way could I ever retire. There are so many stories to tell."
Kristine Deacon is a doctoral candidate in communication at the University.
Copyright 1999 by The University of Utah Alumni Association