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Bearing Witness 

At least 600 government meetings have unfolded before Richmond public television host Dick Harman — and he’s there till the end.

click to enlarge news14_dick_harmon.jpg

Scott Elmquist

Dick Harman has brought a stable, grandfatherly presence to WCVE's "Gavel-to-Gavel" coverage of Richmond City Council meeting as the show's host for 26 years. The 74-year-old says he's attended at least 600 government meetings. Last week, City Council President Charles Samuels recognized Harman for his years of service. Style Weekly asked the veteran host for any insight he's picked up along the way.

Style: How'd you get this job? Was it always a dream of yours to announce City Council meetings?

Harman: No. I started my career in Buffalo, N.Y., my hometown, back in 1955. I've worked in radio and TV all over the East Coast. I came to Richmond when I got a job offer from TV and radio advertising firm here. Eventually I got a call from a buddy of mine and he said WCVE was looking for somebody. They said, "Let's try it for a couple months and see how it works out."

How'd it work out?

Well, I'm still here after 26 years, so I guess it worked out OK.

Have you ever missed a meeting?

I've missed two. One I was having minor surgery, and once there was a death in my family.

How do you prepare for meeting? Bulk up on carbs? Straight bourbon? Lots of sleep?

I don't drink for one thing. No, I get the copies of the agendas. Then I always get down to City Hall around 2:30 before the informal meeting and spend time reading up on what's going to go on. I don't do calisthenics or anything like that.

What about during the meetings? They can sometimes get a bit, um, arduous. How do you handle that?

I always bring a book to read.

What have you been reading?

You name it. Everything. I love to read. I think at the last meeting I was working on William Bernhardt. It's political fiction.

That sounds appropriate.

Oh yeah. But I do pay attention to the meetings. I always keep track of how many speakers we have for and against and how much time goes to people speaking on different issues. If there's something that may be a little confusing, I try to explain why people voted for certain things. Frank little points like that.

Thinking back to when you first started, does anything stand out about the meetings then?

Well, the meetings back then — we ran until usually midnight or 1 in the morning. It's because a lot of things wouldn't be sent to committee so they'd all be worked out all at once. It's a lot more streamlined now.

What about the nature of the public comment you hear. Has the tone changed at all?

Well, let's see. No. It's always about the same. You have the people who disagree with everything they do and the people who agree with everything they do.

Do you think you'll ever retire?

I didn't think I'd be here 26 years. I'll see how my health goes. I was diagnosed a year ago with cancer, so I just play it by ear. I wake up in the morning and say thank you.

I'm personally kind of jealous of your job. How do I know I have what it takes?

Oh, you want my job? Well, you'd have to be willing to put the time in and become aware of what's going on and what the background of the papers are — you know, get to know the workings.

I feel like I already have that going for me. Will you put in a good word?

Sure. But you have to stay until the very end every time. You can't leave early.

Please don't tell people I've been leaving early.

OK, but you do have to stay until the bitter end — and the wrap-ups and everything. You've got to be willing to put the time in. And now that I'm retired, I can do that.

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