Long-time KAIT station chief engineer retires

Published: May. 2, 2020 at 11:16 AM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - KAIT has been on the air for 56 years. For 48 of them, there's been one man who has made sure we stayed on the air--and stayed at the forefront of innovation and technology.

Gerald Erickson is leaving us for a much deserved retirement. But, that's not before we pay tribute to his dedication to this station and how it has operated with him as Chief Engineer.

He's as much a part of the station as the radio waves that first put us on the air.

Gerald Erickson came to KAIT during those early years. The station was young and so was he. Just 21 years old, Gerald came to us as an engineer trainee in 1971.

A pivotal time in the history of the station.

“It was really the start of a new era,” Darrel Cunningham, former Vice-President & General Manager of KAIT, said. “We had wanted to expand our coverage for a long time. But we had been on hold with the FCC and with the FAA.”

KAIT would more than double its coverage area and transmission power with a new, much taller tower. The station bought 80 acres of rice farm land in Egypt, Arkansas. Erickson and Cunningham oversaw construction of the new tower in the early 1980s.

Darrel Cunningham and Gerald Erickson review plans for the station's new transmitter site in...
Darrel Cunningham and Gerald Erickson review plans for the station's new transmitter site in the early '80s.(Source: KAIT-TV)

"So that photograph is Gerald and me looking at the site after we purchased the 80 acres and were deciding exactly where to put the tower," Cunningham said on a Zoom meeting recorded from his northwest Arkansas home.

“With the antenna, it’s almost 1,800 feet,” Gerald Erickson remarked about the transmitter site.

That’s 550 feet taller than the Empire State Building! And that’s not the only game-changing technology Gerald has been a part of here.

In fact, it would be just the beginning.

"He would study a lot of it out and figure out how everything works on his own and then work to get this equipment," Hatton Weeks, current KAIT Vice-President and General Manager, said.

Erickson would take us from the early days of reporting with film to ENG, or electronic news gathering to videotape and medias that kept getting smaller and smaller.

There was the big switch from analog to digital and improved picture quality with the high definition technology of today.

“(Technology), It’s changed a lot,” Erickson said.

Especially, over the four decades he’s worked in television.

“Instead of lugging around big heavy cameras, now, you’ve got little cameras and a remote was an all-day job by a huge crew,” Erickson said. “Now, it can be done by two people.”

"Technically, I've never known anyone that is sharp as he is," Ronnie Weston, retired KAIT operations manager said.

Ronnie Weston remembers when Erickson would take a crew in the '80's to cover the Northeast Arkansas District Fair.

"They would have to build scaffolding high enough to shoot over the buildings and over the trees to get that signal back to the station," Weston said.

Big TV markets would buy live trucks fully assembled. Erickson had the know-how to build our own.

"The old KAIT CAM that we put on the air in the late 1980's. Our first live truck was home built," Weeks said. "We built it here at the station. Gerald facilitated getting the entire van put together, making sure we had the equipment in and that everything would work. And that is a true testament to his engineering ability."

Erickson saw many a news set change and the wiring challenges that went along with them down through the years.

Gerald Erickson with Lew Stearns as a news set is disassembled behind them.
Gerald Erickson with Lew Stearns as a news set is disassembled behind them.(Source: KAIT-TV)

Those things you could plan for. Mother Nature, you could not. And he kept us on-the-air through ice storms, tornadoes and everything in between.

"Gerald was always admired for his intelligence and his ability to make things work," Cunningham said.

And work while raising a family that now includes children and grandchildren.

He’s shared in the fun times of being a part of the KAIT family--and the difficult times-- when a few years ago, cancer claimed the life of his much beloved grandson, Kaden. Erickson has been there for us... and we’ve been there for him.

"He has contributed as much to the station as as anybody who has ever been here," Weston said.

“The viewers of Region 8 are far better served having Gerald here,” Weeks said. “He obviously will be missed; but we wish him well in retirement.”

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