Big Pard: Lieutenant General

In the fall of 2000, KATV was Arkansas' most-watched television station. It hadn't always been that way with Dale Nicholson at the helm. Dale's son recalls how growing up, the ratings results for November would always come in a couple days before Christmas. A loss to then market-leader KARK often put his father in a foul mood for the entire holiday season.

"Why did they have to piss off Santa Claus on Christmas Eve?" Dale Nicholson didn't like to lose. And he didn't like being told what to do, either.

In the final days of the presidential election between George Bush and Al Gore, Dale Nicholson took to the airwaves as KATV endorsed Bush. It was an unprecedented move. The state Democratic Party threatened to sue. Arkansas in 2000 was coming off of eight years of a native-son Democrat occupying the White House. While a Republican had fallen into the state's top office, a true red tide was still a decade away. Such an endorsement was a big deal.

George Bush would get 51 percent of the vote inArkansas. Had Al Gore won Bill Clinton'shome state (or his own home state of Tennessee, for that matter) the Floridarecount would not have decided the presidency. To say that the endorsement of the most powerful TV station in Arkansashelped decide the most powerful leader in the world is not too much of astretch.

But to say Dale Nicholson made that endorsement willinglythatWOULD be a stretch.

Up until that moment in time, few had ever questioned who wasin charge at KATV. I mean, when yournickname is "Big Pard," it is easy to forget that there is a bigger pard outthere.{} Dale Nicholson ran KATV as if heowned the stationand he was handsomely rewarded by the Allbritton family forhis success. While loyalty, solidperformance and the passage of time at some companies is marked by a gold watchor set of golf clubs, Dale's service was recognized with a convertible FordMustang. And a party barge (named, whatelse, Big Pard). Such displays ofappreciation were impressive.

Also impressive was the trust and freedom given to DaleNicholson to do his job. If he wanted tohire people from other stations and wait out year-long non-compete clauseshedid. If he wanted to rent out space inthe River Market and start an entirely new showhe did.

Of course, some things were beyond Dale'scontrol. He wanted KATV to move to a newbuilding. It didn't happen. Would he have liked to see Scott Inman becomethe voice of the Razorbacks?{} Of course. Were there things Dale wanted to do where theanswer was "no?" Most certainly.

That explains the titleLieutenant General.

Although on most days it wasn't evident, Dale Nicholson hada boss. Like most of us. But Dale worked with the passion of anowneras if it was HIS company on the line every day. 50 years at KATV. Like Bob Steel shared at Dale's funeral, 20years longer than Cronkite was with CBS or Carson was with The TonightShow. Dale set an example that anyone inany line of work can follow: work hard,become good at what you do, earn the trust of your boss, make yourself asvaluable as possible to your company and obey orders unless they violate yourvalues or the law. Do thosethings and good things usually follow. It worked for Dale.