100 prompt, reliable precincts

Baltimore Glimpses

November 27, 1990|By GILBERT SANDLER

IT IS 7:00 p.m. election night, Sept. 18, 1950, and you are watching WMAR (Channel 2) -- the only Baltimore TV station carrying election returns. (You could have tuned in to Charles Roeder on WCBM, the only radio station in those days that could be said to be "doing election returns.") On the TV set, seated at table on camera in a studio in The Sun building at Charles and Baltimore were David ("Dave") Stickle, Ernest ("Ernie") Baugh and Richard ("Moco") Yardley. Stickle was a Sun reporter who went to TV reporting (he was Baltimore's first TV reporter) from the day The Sun went on the air as owner and operator of WMAR; Baugh was a long-time Sun editorial writer; Yardley was The Sun's political cartoonist.

They did not know it that night in 1950, but they made history as Baltimore's first TV election coverage team.

They were covering Maryland's gubernatorial primary. William Preston Lane was running for a second term as governor against George P. Mahoney. (The big issue was the sales tax). The technique they used to "call" the race was strictly Stickle/Baugh/Yardley. They created it, and they used it with remarkable effectiveness. Baugh's son, Ernest ("Duke") Baugh III, who followed his dad's TV career closely and remembers it well, says, "They were right far more often than the 'exit polls' used by the networks today. Those guys were able to call the city's election early and right!"

How did Baltimore's first TV reporting team do it?

"They studied the city's history," "Duke" Baugh recalls. "They picked 100 precincts that had historically voted for the winner in every election and with a pattern of reporting in promptly. So promptly at 7:00 p.m. [when the polls closed in those days], they were on the phone. In minutes they had the results of those 100 precincts -- and called the election. I never remember their ever being wrong. The system didn't work too well in Baltimore County because as late as 1950 the county was still using paper ballots that had to be counted by hand, and it took them forever to report in. The city was way ahead of the county on that one, they had had voting machines years before!"

And as Stickle and Baugh were calling the election by reading the 100 precincts, Yardley was cartooning the winners and the losers on large sheets of paper so the camera could pick it all up for the viewer.

Yardley was the first to leave the team, sometime in the mid-1950s. Baugh was next in the early 1960s. Stickle did the coverage all by himself until 1966. (That was the year Mahoney ran his infamous, "Your home is your castle campaign!" against the more liberal Spiro Agnew. Agnew won -- on the liberal vote.)

Interestingly, Stickle, Baugh and Yardley did not start out in TV -- they were not TV types (youngish, well groomed, good looking), they were newspaper men who had come over to TV from reporting (Yardley from newspaper cartooning). And for a while in the early 1950s, they were Baltimore's TV election coverage -- all by themselves.

They did have a little help. From 100 precincts they could count on.

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