Every kid gets asked, “What do want to be when you grow up?” Meet John Bridges. He knew it early, and he’s living it now. (That’s him on the left, with his cousin, playing with a microphone.) Childhood John loved music, but what interested him more than the music, were the voices of the DJ’s, especially when they read the news. When he was 7, his mother took him shopping in downtown Lake Charles, at Muller’s Department Store. He was right there, beside her, until he wasn’t. Where’s John!?! Like Elvis, John had left the building. His worried mother found him next door, at KPLC AM, entranced, staring through the window, at the radio announcers. Childhood John was a grownup just waiting to grow up. While other kids might read the sports and comics in the local paper, John was reading the front page, and the obituaries too.
While older neighborhood kids played football and baseball in a nearby empty lot, John set himself on the sideline, armed with a microphone and a cassette recorder, practicing play-by-play. He used his bedroom closet as a childhood sound booth. Shirts above him, pants beside him, John sat on the floor practicing his radio voice. The family story: his brother comes to his room, “Mom said supper’s ready.” John replies, “Tell Mom I’m doing the news.” (The news might be “Susie’s cat died, or Johnny’s bike was stolen.”) By age 10 he was riding his bike after school to KIKS 1310, helping with any chore, just to be allowed to watch a DJ in action. At age 15 John brought a public service announcement to the station, hoping the DJ would record it and play it. Instead, the DJ said, “Would you like to record it?” “Would I!!!” That was it. Within a week he was hired. “My first paycheck, they paid me in free albums.”
His parents encouraged John to go to college, but John was already doing what he liked. He went for one semester. “My father never pressured me. ‘As long as it’s legal, respectable, and you’re happy.’” John was even happier when he switched from being a DJ to being the news director. He enjoyed music, but loved news. In 1992, the TV people came calling. KPLC-TV, in the same building that he’d disappeared to as a child, came to hire him away. Why would TV hire a radio guy? “We were beating them at spot news.” Local media is competitive about who first reports local breaking news. Bridges kept a police scanner near him during his radio days, and his station was too often first at reporting a fire or traffic accident, so KPLC hired him away, made them their Assignments Editor, in 1992. In 1994, he transitioned to Weekend Anchor. In 1996 he began his long reign, as a Sunrise Anchor.
Part of Bridges’ particular calling is telling the stories of people who deserve their stories told. It’s the guy down the street, that often hasn’t told his family, what he’s about to tell John Bridges. In 2001, after the Twin Towers fell, John began the long running series, Hometown Heroes. Nearly fifty segments a year for twenty years, telling the stories of common people who were called into duty during uncommon circumstances. He’s interviewed many celebrities through the years, but it is entirely telling, that when I ask Bridges about favorite interviews, he doesn’t mention a famous name, he instead mentions a Mr. Broussard, who was part of the first wave of Higgin’s boats, landing at Normandy. “The ramp opens, men are mowed down in front of him. My cameraman is tearing up, his daughter is off on the side, she’s crying.” Mr. Broussard was one of five men who survived. When the interview was over, Bridges reached out his hand, ET style, and asked Mr. Broussard if it was “okay to touch him.” He’s talked to men who were this-close to General Patton, and Churchill, and even closer, to their dead buddy…
Anyone who has ever done public speaking wonders how TV people do it, talking to a camera box. Bridges explains, “When I’m speaking on TV, I imagine I am speaking to one person. It’s early in the morning. They’re on their first cup of coffee. I greet them, ‘Good morning,’ and once that is done, the rest of my duty is to finish, by saying, ‘Now here’s the bad news.’” There’s less pressure for that on early mornings. “People wake up and they just want to be reassured that the world hasn’t blown up while they were asleep.”
He awakens long before the rooster crows. “I have to be on air at 4:30AM.” In all these years, with all the variables of weather, he’s only been late once. Ice on the bridge. His local notoriety has a cost, loss of anonymity. He enters a Walmart through the garden section, not the front door. Being approached by strangers “when you’re buying deodorant or underwear” is not something most of us know anything about. He laughs when he recalls a little ole lady coming up to him in a store, saying, “I wake up with you every morning.”
“I thought Hurricane Rita was bad.” And then came Hurricane Laura. Most of us evacuated far away. John, spent the night in a jail cell. The dark of night hid the Jekyll and Hyde of nature, as gentle words – tree, wind, whistle – became the orchestra of danger. Next morning, there our John boy was, with just a cell phone and good intentions, standing in the rubble of our used-to-be… 500 people watching became 5000, became 50,000, pushing up towards 200,000, neighbors looking to the hometown boy who never left us, to tell us our news, give us our facts, even if they’re bad. It was full circle for John, whether he realized it or not. The nine-year-old kid practicing delivering the news in his closet, becomes the man of the moment in his 60’s.
What people that know John say about him: Britney Glaser, a KPLC co-host for many years, “I grew up watching John Bridges in the mornings and can vividly remember my 16-year-old voice shaking the first time I called “Mr. Bridges” to request the opportunity to do a Teen Report segment on KPLC. He was, and still is, a true celebrity to me and that feeling never went away – even after sitting next to him for several years co-anchoring 7News Sunrise. On TV, John is everyone’s best friend. The same rings true off screen, which is not always the case in the real world. John is fiercely loyal, compassionate, creative and always eager to tell the stories that bring out the best in people.” Ron LeLeux, former local mayor, “John is a legend, well respected. What you see, is what he is. I’m honored to know him.” Tony Mancuso, sheriff, “I have worked with John for over 30 years and I have always admired his professionalism and dedication to his profession and his community. We’ve been through good times and bad and I can say I have never seen him lose his composure or sense of humor in any situation. I am proud to call him my friend.”