It’s not quite accurate to call Bill Goodman’s departure from KET a retirement. For the founding host of Kentucky Tonight, it’s more of a transition to an entirely new full-time adventure. He’s exchanged his journalism duties for those of executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council.
Goodman, who left the network at the end of 2016, appeared on Connections with Renee Shaw to talk about his two-decade tenure at KET and his hopes for the fourth career of his working life.
Careers One and Two
Bill Goodman’s father was the candy man – literally. He supplied candy and other sundries to small groceries and roadside country stores around his native Glasgow and the surrounding counties. In his story collection “Beans, Biscuits, Family and Friends,” Goodman describes accompanying his father as he made the rounds of stores in Eighty Eight, Summer Shade, and Marrowbone and other hamlets that dotted the landscape long before grocery goliaths put many mom-and-pop stores out of business.
“When I was 12, a day as a junior traveling salesman had a way of wearing me out, but Dad never faltered or let on he was the least bit tired,” Goodman writes in his book.
His father would joke with him about joining the family business, but Goodman had other ideas. He majored in communications at nearby Western Kentucky University and then worked as a reporter and news director at the CBS affiliate in Nashville. After a dozen years there, he became news director at the CBS station in Houston, which was then the ninth largest media market in the country.
Back home, his father was in failing health and was considering selling the candy company he had operated since the 1930s. Feeling the tug of home and wanting his children to know their grandparents before they died, Goodman moved his family back to Glasgow and took over his father’s business.
“I really, honestly thought it would only be a year or two,” says Goodman, but “I sort of liked being back in small-town America.”
Freed from the strictures of journalism, Goodman says he allowed himself be more involved in the community by serving on boards and joining the local Rotary Club. Goodman’s father died five years later, and the family sold the Goodman Candy Company. The new owners asked Goodman to stay on to manage the business, which he did for another five years. The former journalist says he grew to like being a businessman in his southern Kentucky hometown.
KET Offers a Third Career
In 1996, a friend in Glasgow, who was chairman of the Authority for Kentucky Educational Television, called Goodman about applying for a host job at the network. At first Goodman declined the suggestion, but when the friend appealed to him a second time, Goodman decided to drive to Lexington for an interview. He says the thing he remembers most about that conversation was when then-KET Executive Director Virginia Fox asked what trustworthy meant to him.
“For me at that time, it meant establishing a bond with a viewer that what you said and what you reported and the questions that you asked would always be fair, they would always be balanced, that you would go out of your way to elicit responses on both sides of issues,” Goodman says. “I must have said the right things because I got the job for Kentucky Tonight.”
In addition to serving as host and managing editor for KET’s weekly public affairs discussion program, Goodman would also host bookclub@KET and the interview program One to One. He also worked on legislative coverage, and hosted Fancy Farm broadcasts, candidate forums, and election night programs. Goodman says one of the best parts of his tenure at KET was hearing from viewers about how the network’s programs have enriched their lives.
“I got an email just this week…that was from a young person who said that they moved in here four or five years ago, and if it was not for Kentucky Tonight and the issues we discussed, like charter schools and foreign policy and the electoral college, that they would not have gained the knowledge of the state that they have,” Goodman says.
A Fourth Act on a New Stage
The journalist-turned-candy salesman-turned-TV host has always enjoyed new challenges. He climbed Mount Rainer and Mount Whitney, taught journalism and politics at two Kentucky colleges, earned an MFA in creative nonfiction from Louisville’s Spalding University in 2012, and published his first book in 2015.
As he turned 70 last year, an unexpected opportunity emerged, which Goodman decided to embrace: the chance to be executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council. The job would enable him to blend his love of books, history, and the state’s rich culture into an exciting new challenge.
He says many people know the council’s Chautauqua speakers, who travel the state portraying famous Kentuckians like Daniel Boone, Mary Todd Lincoln, and Adolph Rupp. And the KHC recently took over management of the Kentucky Book Fair. Goodman says he’s eager to help promote those functions as well as lesser-known KHC activities like the Prime Time Family Reading Time program, which teaches parents how to read to their children.
“We supply the books [and] we help them with instruction,” Goodman says. “These are maybe parents who haven’t had the good fortune to go to college or to really be a reader themselves, so they become readers along with their children.”
Even though he’s leaving TV, Goodman says he hasn’t completely lost the urge to interview his fellow Kentuckians. He says he’d like to start a podcast series at KHC that would allow him to talk with artists, authors and professors about their area of expertise in the humanities.