PROFFITT: 2 WHAS broadcasters rock steady during '74 tornado

PROFFITT:  2 WHAS broadcasters rock steady during '74 tornado

Ken Rowland anchored WHAS-TV's coverage on April 3, 1974


by Doug Proffitt

Posted on April 3, 2014 at 10:52 AM

Updated Thursday, Apr 3 at 10:52 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- I knew on the school bus ride home from Lyndon Elementary School that April 3, 1974 was not normal.

The driver told us the school had called our parents and they were meeting us at the stop to get us home faster.

Instead of the regular 70's hit music on her portable radio, the driver had switched to WHAS AM where we listened to a man in a helicopter chasing tornadoes not far from our location.

The man was military veteran Dick Gilbert.

1974: No MAX H-D LIVE RADAR; No Super Doppler. Gilbert was the human version, alerting people from his traffic chopper of the exact track of the huge twister.

He followed it for miles, telling people to take cover as it was heading past the Fairgrounds, toward Bardstown Road then to Crescent Hill and Northfield, near Holiday Manor. We were listening to him in our basement.

When it was all clear, we still had power. From that point on and for hours on end, our family was glued to Ken Rowland of WHAS-TV.

"We've just been told that the water supply in Louisville has fallen to dangerously low levels after the tornadoes struck the reservoir earlier this afternoon," Rowland said.

Watching those LIVE broadcasts on tape in 2014, as I have now for each April 3 anniversary, I'm always struck by how calm and reserved Rowland remained.

He was the sole anchor, joined by rotating reporters like Bud Harbsmeier, Fred Wiche and Bob Johnson who would sit on the set and narrate their just-developed film of the devastation.

As an 11-year-old boy watching Rowland, he let us know that things were very bad, but he had a reassurance about him that let us know things were going to get better.

There were no theatrics, no sensationalism. It was a just the facts ma'am presentation.

The film archive shows him rattling off amazingly accurate facts for such a fast breaking devastating story. Ken is in his late eighties now and still lives in Louisville.

A few years ago he was honored by the Weather Channel when they included him in a documentary about his rock steady coverage.

The tornado changed how we live in this community. It was also the defining moment for broadcasters who witnessed how their work made a difference.