In a Small Town for the Big Picture
By Richard Huff
Richard Huff is the New York correspondent for Daily Variety.
Roger Welsch just wouldn't look right with one of those marble haircuts that are de rigueur in television news these days. A folklorist by training, he wears his hair long and prefers worn overalls to suits.
His reports for CBS also stand out. Since 1988, Welsch has been delivering "postcards from Nebraska" to viewers of "Sunday Morning."
Welsch, 55, was raised in Nebraska, a place where he says townsfolk have strong attachments to their lawns. During the 1960s and early '70s, he left his yard to the weeds and the overgrowth spurred neighbors to complain. Welsch stood firm, and the battle caught the eye of "Sunday Morning" host Charles Kuralt.
Kuralt featured Welsch's weed war on a segment of "On the Road" and later asked him to contribute his own reports. "The idea was to have a postcard from Texas and other places," Kuralt recalls. "But we never got around to adding the others."
About the same time, Welsch moved from Lincoln to Dannebrog, a town of 320 people. He often uses Dannebrog to provide a slice-of-pie perspective on sometimes indigestible national issues, such as when he explained why his new home hasn't been hurt by the economic doldrums elsewhere in the country. "We haven't suffered the long, painful hangover of America's economic bust," Welsch said, "because we weren't invited to the loud and flamboyant party of the boom."
In another segment, Welsch suggested that if it was harder for people to vote they would do so more often. To prove his point, he followed a family on its 17-mile journey to the nearest voting booth.
Welsch is not universally popular. Some viewers say his pieces are anachronistic, Kuralt says. Welsch says he gets disapproving letters complaining, "We got fat guys in overalls, too" – as in, what's so special about you?
"But that's the point," Welsch responds. "I'm not really talking about Nebraska or Dannebrog. I'm talking about every little town, any little town."
"His pieces are not candy on a stick," says Bud Lamoreaux, the senior producer who handles Welsch's pieces. One segment, for example, reported that the state's historical society refused to return the remains of several Pawnee Indians. "He wrote a tough piece and [helped make] them give up the damn bones," Lamoreaux says.
After 30 years of writing books and teaching, Welsch did have growing pains when he first encountered Lamoreaux's New York etiquette. "We'd go out for one story and come back with another," Welsch recalls. "I wasn't really used to being shoved around like this."
Welsch relayed his problems to Kuralt, who listened patiently and asked if he wanted to know how to solve them.
"Yeah," Welsch said.
"Shut up and do it," Kuralt replied.
Welsch complied. "All I needed to do," he says now, smiling, "was have it explained for me." ###