When Tucson OASIS recently announced it was discontinuing its Lifelong Learning program because of financial restraints, it may have in the process ended the media career of a Southern Arizona television pioneer.
Larry Schnebly's near 40-year TV run officially came to an end in 1994, although he continued to work with the media during his volunteer stint at OASIS, which offers classes to those 50 years and older. Schnebly, 85, came to Tucson during the genesis of the industry in this city. It was the early 1950s and Schnebly, then a radio personality at KPHO in Phoenix, got wind of a new media opportunity down south.
"I wanted to get into television so much, but was told that if I wanted to get into TV there was a brick wall between radio and TV," Schnebly said. "I knew KVOA television was going to be signing on sometime in the fall of 1953. I also knew that to operate a television station you needed to flush the radio personnel to television, so I applied and accepted a job at KVOA Radio with the understanding I could get some television exposure. That was good enough for me."
What Schnebly and the other KVOA employees also got was a crash course in resourcefulness. They had just flipped the switch on a new technological venture, but how in the world were they supposed to go about filling the airtime?
"Nobody knew how much material television was going to consume and how much of a people mill it was," Schnebly said. "There was no videotape at that time so you had to have a live on-camera person. There were filmed commercials, but we didn't have a lot of those locally."
His time at KVOA lasted five years. At that point, Schnebly returned to his hometown of Flagstaff to pursue a graduate degree with thoughts of moving onto a college job. But after his experience in TV, college just wasn't cutting it.
"I didn't know that many alcoholics at the university, but radio and television was full of them," Schnebly said. "In my life I've never met a boring alcoholic. I loved that sort of verbal skill and activity, and missed it when I was away. Not just alcoholics, but broadcasting and media people seemed to be alive, vital, eager and full of a lot of unexpected things. The academic people weren't like that."
Schnebly was hooked. He and his wife returned to Tucson in 1960. He got a job with KGUN Channel 9 and moved up the ranks to general sales manager and regional sales manager before he retired in 1994.
"I got out of programming and being production manager and got into sales, which surprised me because I didn't think salespeople were worth shooting," Schnebly said. "I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the people contact. I did sales and University of Arizona football, and golf tournaments and a lot of on-air and voiceover work. I enjoyed the flexibility of moving through a number of areas of broadcasting, and I think it helped maintain a freshness in what I was doing. I did the Muscular Dystrophy telethon for a number of years, and some news work, and I stayed at KGUN for 34 years because I enjoyed it."
Retirement for Schnebly has consisted of numerous volunteer endeavors, from holding seats on newspaper boards to becoming certified as a track and field official. He was also approached by OASIS to spearhead a program called Pulse of the Media.
"I invited people from radio, television, print—the (Arizona Daily) Star, the (Tucson) Weekly, the (Tucson) Citizen—to come to speak to older audiences because they are heavy news users," Schnebly said. "They have time to stop and think and ponder and consider and be engaged."
Schnebly organized about eight Pulse of the Media events each year for 15 years. During that time, he approached pretty much the who's who of local media.
"The publishers of the Star and Citizen, news directors and general managers of television stations, on-air people and beat reporters and photographers, people who are involved in processing and delivering information have been willing to step up," Schnebly said. "It's maybe 15 to 35 to 50 people (in the audience) but nevertheless the news anchors and weather people, people who are word-oriented and have a sense of news from an inside-out process, provide an internal view and a sense of what's happening in media. ... They've come and shared their experiences, and it's been valuable for both of us."
But with Tucson OASIS' decision to discontinue the program, Schnebly's interaction with members of the media has likely come to an end.
"I am not sure I want to continue putting in the time and effort it took to do eight of those (Pulse events) per year," Schnebly said. "And my wife is pleased that I have one less responsibility to pursue. For now, I think I will stand pat."
Although his program focused on the insights of others, Schnebly is a font of media knowledge in his own right, including about what the business has become.
"It's different with the modern corporate model, which I think is more about profits over people, but maybe that's because I'm an old guy," Schnebly said. "Old guys are supposed to say things were better in the old days."