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July 26, 2012

Exploring his corner of the world: New Albany resident Barry Bernson reflects on a lifetime of stories

NEW ALBANY — Don’t think local TV journalist Barry Bernson is retired. Although he left the co-anchor chair of “WDRB in the Morning” last year, the New Albany resident continues to stay busy.

Just this month, his first book “Bernson’s Corner: A Reporter’s Notebook” was released and has already topped Louisville’s best selling nonfiction list.  

On Saturday, Destination Booksellers in New Albany will host a book signing featuring Bernson from 4 to 6 p.m. The book, which describes Bernson’s life and his many experiences as a features reporter, will be available for purchase. The book also includes a DVD of his top 10 features segments.

From chronicling the dramatic aspirations of prisoners to covering a car-driving horse, Bernson’s 47 years in the news business has been dominated by unique human interest pieces about everyday people. His book reflects upon these varied tales, while it also allows him the chance to tell his own American story.

“This is really just one reporter’s career arch if you will,” Bernson said. “It’s not meant to be a great philosophical statement about American society or even journalism. It’s just my story.”

Bernson’s narrative began in Pompton Lakes, N.J., where at the ripe old age of 7 he began writing and distributing a local neighborhood paper called the “Bernson Babbler.” Later, he would graduate with a degree in journalism from the University of Iowa.

In 1969, he traveled to Louisville and began, at first, as a radio news anchor for WAVE-970. Television news gigs soon followed, and in 1972 he became a full-time feature reporter for WAVE-TV.

After a nine-year stint doing both features and movie critiques at an NBC affiliate in Chicago, Bernson returned to Louisville in 1985 where he continued his special kind of journalism for, at first, WHAS-TV and then the WDRB-TV morning show. He has won numerous awards for his work that include Ohio Valley Region Emmy awards, Louisville Magazine’s “Best Morning TV Host” and a myriad “Best Feature” honors from the Associated Press.

“The things that make good TV stories are, first of all, interesting people.” Bernson said. “An interesting person makes a story no matter what.”

His book details several of his most memorable interviews. Above all others, Bernson said the story of Homer Luster is his favorite. In 1988, he interviewed Luster about his amazing ability to mimic the sound of almost any mechanical engine. Like many good pieces, Bernson said it succeeded so well because the story told itself.

“If you remember me from a TV story, then I’ve succeeded as a personality, but I’ve failed as a storyteller. So I’d much rather you remember the story I did rather than what I did in the story,” Bernson said.

After four decades of meeting and observing everyday people, Bernson said he doesn’t think America has changed. People still want the same things as they did in the past.

“I think people live their lives essentially the same way. People try to just get food on the table and they try to do something interesting in their spare time. You know, if I find that interesting, maybe someone else will too,” Bernson said. “Fortunately, I’ve found people who do interesting, unusual things.”

Even though Bernson’s interests lie in adding these rare tales to his extensive collection, he now spends his mornings as an audio-book narrator at Louisville’s American Printing House for the Blind. In 2003, the American Foundation for the Blind named him the nation’s best narrator of nonfiction talking books.

“I read whatever they hand me. Interestingly, I just this week finished the memoir by Roger Ebert, who’s in my book. He actually was the movie critic after I hung up my movie critic hat,” Bernson said.

Upon completing the recording, Bernson emailed Ebert and told him of his narration. In 2006, Ebert lost his voice following surgery that removed his lower jaw. Bernson said he was glad to supply a voice to his old friend’s book. The long-time movie critic now uses a voice synthesizer.

In addition to his audio-book narration, Bernson will also be delving back into broadcast journalism. Talks are under way regarding a Showtime documentary that he might help assemble next year. And next Thursday, he’ll be returning to local TV as he appears as a guest co-host with Rachel Platt on WHAS-11’s “Great Day Live.”

As for the book, Bernson dedicated it to his descendants. Through his writings, he hopes all of his future progeny will know exactly who Barry Bernson was.

“If someone wants to know how one journalist operated in the second half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, it’s in there,” Bernson said. “That’s why I dedicated it to my descendants, so my great great-great grandchildren can say, ‘so that’s what he did.’”

— Amanda Beam is a freelance journalist who lives in Floyd County.

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