Years ago, when it came to news, weather and sports, there were only four stations in town, all who rivaled each other, WRC Channel 4, WTTG Channel 5, WMAL-TV Channel 7 and WTOP Channel 9. Each station competed for viewers, trying to drive up their ratings, which in-turn helped bring in advertisers, subsequently ringing in the cash.
The key for any station general manager, was, and still is, to find great talent to deliver news as if they were your friend. Last month, a stalwart visionary at Channel 4, a man who became a beat reporter, anchor, and friend to all of us for the past 45 years, Jim Vance, passed away from cancer.
Known to many of his friends and colleagues as just ‘Vance’, he was a true Washingtonian when it came to sports, especially in his adopted home town. He embraced our local teams as if they were his own, enjoying wins and grimacing through losses.
Ask any sportscaster at Channel 4 and they will all tell you that Jim Vance loved sports, especially our local teams, along with many athletes. Jim Vance’s loving friendship with the late legendary sportscaster, George Michael, fellow anchor, Doreen Gentzler, and weatherman, Bob Ryan, were a part of the chemistry that made Channel 4 ‘must watch’ television.
One of my fondest memories of Jim Vance, of many, was on Sunday, January 31, 1988, right after Super Bowl XXII, at Jack Murphy Stadium, in San Diego. I had taken one of the now-famous huge ‘BASEBALL IN D.C.!’ banners with me into the stadium, much like I had displayed them behind the visitor’s benches at RFK during Redskins home games.
With the excitement of the Redskins winning the Super Bowl, 42-10, over the Denver Broncos, and with quarterback Doug Williams becoming the game’s MVP, I had mistakenly left the banner underneath my seat. By the time I realized it, I was at my car, right outside of the stadium. It took some wrangling (and me becoming twenty bucks lighter in my wallet), but stadium security let me go back in to retrieve the banner.
‘The Murph’ was lit up in all of the splendor of a Super Bowl, but it was virtually empty, except for Jim Vance, a Channel 4 cameraman, and a producer, in the north end zone. I got the banner, and as I was walking with it under my arm, I noticed that Jim was taking a break, smoking a cigarette, taking it all in when I said, “That was one hell of a game, Jim!” He looked up, nodded to me, and said, “Yea, man, you’re right, that was absolutely one hell of a game!”
Walking, with our conversation going, I then said, “You know, we’re missing a great party in Georgetown!” Without missing a beat, Jim said to me, with his jovial infectious laugh, “No, we’re not! Well, at least I’m not!” I then said to him, “There’s going to a huge parade! You going to be there?” where he joyfully responded, “Yes, it will be! You know it! I wouldn’t miss it! I’ll see you at the parade!”
Jim’s smile, his wave, then him pointing to me, all will remain frozen in time in my memory of him at Super Bowl XXII, but that was a just a part of the charm of ‘Vance’, something that he shared with everyone he met when he wanted to connect with you.
Sadly, there might not be another person like Jim Vance in our lifetime, for the man from Ardmore, Pennsylvania was so much ‘one of us’, and the memories of him will always be close to our hearts.
Rest in peace, Jim Vance. May God bless you, always.
Oh, and 45 years of salutes to you, Jim! That truly, my friend, was one hell of a game!