Q&A With Videographer Gene Ashley
Having worked at WHYY-TV 12 since July 1970, videographer Gene Ashley has clipped a microphone on many a prominent Delawarean—including the veep.
Photo by Ron Dubick
DT: How did you land a job at WHYY?
GA: I was coming out of the U.S. Air Force. I was living in Chestertown, Md. I grew up in Rock Hall, Md. I was working for my grandfather on his farm in Rock Hall. I was helping with the crops and stuff. My sister and I took a ride and I said, ‘Maybe it’s time to get a job.’ We rode up to Wilmington, and Channel 12 was located in an old schoolhouse building at 5th and Scott streets. I think it’s apartments now. I went in there and applied for a job and they said they didn’t have an opening. I talked to the crew chief there, his name was Don Parsons, and Bruce Beale was the vice president of the Wilmington operation at the time. And he said, ‘There’s no job here.’ But two weeks later they called me and said, the man’s name escapes me it’s been so long ago, but he got a job at Channel 6 and I took his place.
DT: It’s like it was meant to be.
GA: I think the reason I got hired was because Bruce Beale, who was in the Air Force, I assume that he liked how people were trained in the Air Force. It didn’t have anything to do with me being in college or anything; it was that I spent three years in a technical school in the U.S. Air Force. I was in the Air Force from 1966-70. I spent a year in Panama, just out of basic training, honing my skills there. We’d spend the night in the jungle testing weapons—I’m a big animal lover now—but I look back and think, Oh, my gosh, what were we killing in there?
DT: Did they call it videographer back then?
GA: In the Air Force, it was called Motion Picture Photographer. That’s what I was trained for. I was actually trained to go to Vietnam. I took a lot of jungle training. But I didn’t actually go because at that time my stepfather was over there—he died over there—but he was over there, and at that time you couldn’t have two people from the same family over there.
DT: So you’ve been doing the same job for more than 40 years?
GA: Pretty much. I’ve had a good ride. I’ve enjoyed every day. It’s been beautiful. I enjoy my job very much. You meet a lot of people. I have spent a lot of weekends here at Channel 12. We used to do these things called interconnects with “Face the Nation” with Joe Biden. We became very good friends. I saw him as an early senator right up to vice president. He was fun. He was a good influence. I enjoy doing that kind of work and being out in the public. Just doing a different story every day. It’s fun. You’re going to have a day here and there that’s not as much fun, but most days are fun. You meet different people.
DT: Who is the most famous person you’ve ever put a microphone on? Is it Biden?
GA: At this point, it would be Joe Biden. I met Jane Fonda at the University of Delaware when she was really a rebel. I miked Charlton Heston. It was later in his career, but he was at some place up there off of Pennsylvania Avenue. He was talking about guns. Isn’t that funny that today we’re talking about guns and that had to be 20 years ago.
DT: You make it look easy. Is it really that easy?
GA: I’ve had a lot of help along the way. The videography is very easy to me. It’s very natural to me. I was influenced by Eric Sennhenn. When I first got here, he was one of the first people I met at Channel 12. He’s won several Emmys. Lighting-wise, I do a lot of lighting with Gary Lindstrom, who is here now. I was influenced by Harold Parsons. Such a great teacher for me. Basically I knew nothing about lighting, but he taught me so much. I’ve had great bosses along the way. Bill Osborne, who was vice president here, was such an influence on me. I remember him saying, “Gene, it doesn’t matter that you have a problem. Give me the problem, but give me a solution with it.” He taught me a lot. My grandfather really taught me the art of working hard—of appreciating hard work. You know, work hard every day and you’ll feel better about yourself. He was a big influence on me, as far as my work ethic. The business has changed so much now, I feel a little bit dumb with the computers and stuff, but Gary Lindstrom has taught me so much. These young people have such a mind, and they’re not afraid of failure whereas, probably I am afraid of doing something wrong with the computer. Paul Gluck was such an influence on my career. These are very talented people, which makes me better. John Mussoni, our boss now, he’s such an influence on how we work because he is a hard worker and I like that about people. It makes the work fun. We have fun doing the show. Wednesday is our overall production day and things that would probably take us eight hours we do it in three or four because everybody is having fun and we’re on the same page. John makes it fun for us to do it.
DT: Do you have a favorite story you’ve done?
GA: I hate to use a more recent one, but the one Mark Eichmann did this story on Prime Hook. Because I’m such a wildlife person, I really enjoyed doing it. Mark and I left at 5 in the morning and went to Prime Hook. We did a story on how they are concerned about the storm damage there. We saw deer going through and other wildlife. My wife, Alex, and I are such wildlife people.
DT: How did you get into wildlife?
GA: I grew up on a farm, helping my grandfather. I used to be a hunter. I wouldn’t hunt anything now. He has 400 acres there and three sides were surrounded by water. We had wildlife everywhere: geese, ducks, deer. Plus, he had a dairy farm. It’s just a big appreciation of wildlife and just that way of life. My wife and I feed the cats at The News Journal every day. Been doing it for 40 years. She feeds deer and geese and whatever. I’d like to see people be more of an advocate of taking care of their pets. Having them neutered and spayed.
DT: You’re from Chestertown, so you must love to eat steamed blue crabs.
GA: Oh, yeah. This tells my age, without giving it. We used to go to crabbing at a place called The Flats on East Neck Island. You put a bushel basket in an inner tube and let it float around. And back then, in the late 1950s, you could walk around the flats and take a crab net and dip the crabs out of the flats. Back then, crabs were no more than $10 a bushel. Beautiful crabs.
DT: I don’t like seeing myself on television. Do you come across many folks like that?
GA: A lot of people are like that. My wife, Alex, she never likes having her picture taken. That’s sort of normal with a lot of people. When it’s a controversial story or a crime, people are hesitant about being on camera.
DT: Have you ever had anyone put their hand over the camera lense?
GA: Oh, yeah. We’ve had that.
DT: What are some of the highlights of your career?
GA: I always enjoyed George Jarvis. He was in the legislature. He was such fun to interview. He was always jovial. Not that he wasn’t serious about his legislative work, but he was just fun to do an interview with. I always thought Karen Peterson, who is in the legislature now, she’s always forthcoming. I really consider her a good legislator.
DT: Are you recognized on the street? Do people know who you are?
GA: Yeah, pretty much. Bill Osborne always said that you are more recognizable than any newsperson. He said everybody knows you because you’ve been everywhere.
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