I was curious to learn more about Byron Harmon, WNYW New York VP/news director, after interviewing him up at Fox 5 headquarters for my recent Fifth Estater profile. After all, the guy seemed to get major promotions every year or so, hopscotching from WBRZ in Baton Rouge to Tulsa, then Baltimore, then New York, then the New York market leader—all in about five years’ time.
Harmon has a knack for getting promoted that any of us would envy. I wanted to see what makes him tick.
So I picked up Harmon’s memoir, God Gave Me Some Bad Advice (Bolden). The title came from his mentor, Katherine Green, who was most recently the senior VP of news at Tribune. She plucked Harmon from obscurity and helped him on the fast track to New York, but the relationship had its down moments. Harmon had only been in his first major market job, at WBAL Baltimore, when he got an offer to work at WCBS. Harmon told Green that God had told him to take the job. Green snapped back that God had given Harmon some bad advice.
Despite the title that was hatched in a news director’s office, Harmon’s memoir doesn’t go too in depth into his meteoric broadcast news career. He gets his first TV job on page 176 of a 216-page book. His year at WBAL merits three pages. Three years at WCBS and WNBC get five pages, and four years at WTTG Washington —during which he covered Monica Lewinsky, President Clinton’s impeachment hearings, the Gary Condit-Chandra Levy story and Sept. 11, not to mention the anthrax scare and DC sniper in the wake of Sept. 11— gets just two.
The memoir, published in 2008, ends with Harmon departing broadcast news for CNN.
He came back a few years later, landing at WNYW. With Harmon’s professional wanderlust, one wonders how long Fox 5 will keep him occupied. “It seems that just when I settle into a groove, it’s time to shake things up,” he writes in the book.
God Gave Me Some Bad Advice is hardly a local news tell all, though Harmon’s depiction of his second stint at WCBS from 2003 to 2008 does feature a bunch of sniping anchors against the gloomy backdrop of a downsizing industry. Known as being good with talent, he writes, “I disliked half the people I worked with and for. I was sick of all the backstabbing, whining and crying. I’m sure they were sick of me, too.”
Instead, it’s a fun account of growing up in rural Louisiana, of a memorable stint in the army during the Iraq War, of Harmon battling the alcohol and drugs that claimed so many childhood friends, and his strong religious faith. It’s also the story of a father and son relationship that was difficult, but ultimately shaped Harmon into the driven professional that he is.
Harmon writes candidly of things that many corporate executives would avoid. Harmon details his awkward first kiss, and the many that follow. He mentions an uncle, Bookay, who dressed like a pimp and dealt marijuana-filled ice cream cones out of an ice cream truck, and the author’s own (mis)adventures selling weed. Harmon’s recollection of his days as a rapper, using the name MC Shryme (a mashup of talking shit and rhyme), is entertaining.
At times, Harmon’s abundant confidence gets in the way of his storytelling. He seemingly can’t say no to a metaphor, be it a good one or a cheesy one. In one paragraph alone—the one about that awkward first kiss—the girl’s lips “would have pissed off Angelina Jolie,” are likened to “inner tubes” and her mouth “had been on more lips than Maybelline,” all in the same paragraph.
But for the most part, Harmon can write. His fifth book, the murder mystery novel City of Saints, comes out in May. God Gave Me Some Bad Advice is fun to read, and offers a glimpse inside the mind of a local news exec whose career has shown him to be pretty darn exceptional.