Bob Bernick’s notebook: My favorite Rod Decker stories

News came this week that long-time TV reporter Rod Decker is going to retire in September.

Decker, whom I’ve known since the mid-1970s, is 76 and has been with KUTV Channel 2 for more than 30 years.

It’s rare in any medium for a reporter to last that long with any organization, but especially so on TV – which seems to have turnovers as both men and women on-air folks age and the bosses (who get turned over as much as the reporters) bring in someone new.

It’s always the ratings battle for them.

But Decker is unique in the Utah market, mainly for his newspaper-based hard-work reporting and his on-air persona.

Which usually includes yelling at the camera.

Kind of. Or mostly, depending on when you catch one of his reports.

There will be all kinds of Decker tributes as he officially goes off the air in September. So let me just jump in before all of those and tell some of my favorite Decker stories early:

— My top Decker on-air story is one he did way back in the 1980s when the Great Salt Lake was rising to record modern-day levels, threatening lots of man-made stuff on the shoreline– especially I-80 out in Tooele County.

The Utah Legislature, in its wisdom, had written a law saying the lake could not go above a certain level – in effect outlawing lake rise.

The lake went up anyway. First inching over the legal height, then racing beyond it.

Decker went out to the higher lakeshore line – did a standup saying this is the current level.

Then he stripped down to a swimsuit and waded out into the lake to what he believed would be previous historical high – reporting from there.

Then he waded way out so only his head was above water and screaming into his portable mic that this was the level the Legislature said above which the lake could not rise.

Classic TV reporting. Very funny and eye-catching, while showing viewers how high the lake had come up.

— Back in the day, long-time KUED reporter-producer Ken Verdoia had a weekly Friday night public affairs program called something like “Off the Record” – a half-hour program that while not live aired about a half hour after the taping in the old KUED offices/studio in the basement of the music building on the U’s historic circle.

Verdoia would invite three local reporters on to the program, and each would talk around 10 minutes about a big story they had reported on the previous five days.

It was tough, timewise, for many TV reporters to be on the program since it taped at like 6:30 p.m. for 7 p.m. airing and they often had to do live stories on their 6 p.m. newscasts.

Anyway, Decker had promised to be on Verdoia’s program one Friday in which I also was on it as a political reporter for the Deseret News.

We started the taping. No Decker.

Verdoia said Decker had a 6 p.m. live shot for Channel 2, but promised to be there soon – this is when all three TV stations were on Social Hall Avenue, just minutes away from the U.

The taping starts and Verdoia introduces Decker, and me and the other reporter as if we were all there, but Decker wasn’t.

We go past the first-10 minute segment, no Decker.

Midway through my second 10-minute segment, I see Decker low-crawling around the On the Record set. When the camera switched to Verdoia, Decker scrambled up into the vacant reporter seat – and both Decker and Verdoia acted like he’d been there the whole time, and they flawlessly went to Decker’s segment.

Professionals, both.

— At the start of every general legislative session in January, the governor gives a live TV half-hour State of the State report, from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.

I was covering one of my first such addresses from the then press-bench on the floor of the Utah House.

Decker was up by a gallery door doing a live shot before and after the governor’s speech.

Then-Gov. Scott M. Matheson, who did not suffer fools well, was giving his address, live.

But he was running long, and it was clear he wasn’t going to finish before the 7 p.m. TV deadline to move to other programing.

Rather than just going long into the 7 p.m. network show, apparently Decker’s producer/director told him into his ear piece that he, Decker, had to do a wrap-up at just before 7 p.m., live from the gallery looking over Matheson, who was still speaking, and all the legislators and dignitaries in the House Chamber.

So as Matheson was talking live, Decker starts with his big-Rod-voice, almost yelling at the camera with Matheson behind him.

Matheson tries to talk over Decker for a few seconds, then just stops and stares at him. Maybe the director saw what was happening and told Decker in his earpiece to cool it – anyway it was a memorable live-TV event for me – with Matheson’s folks telling the TV stations that was not going to happen again.

Finally, I will always remember this about the talented Decker: People would ask him how he was doing.

His standard reply: “Better than I deserve.”

Which may be the case.

But reporters, politicians and viewers alike will remember Decker well through the years.

He’s a reporting institution in Utah.

Rest well in your retirement, my friend.