Gene Slaymaker · 2015
“The voice for those who had no voice.” Those were the words used to describe veteran broadcaster Gene Slaymaker.
The impact of his words resulted in more than 200 awards for journalism excellence during his distinguished career, which began when the Fremont, Ohio, native and World War II veteran was a reporter and announcer for WLWC-TV in Columbus, Ohio. After graduating from Ohio State University with a degree in radio journalism, he became a news anchor for Youngstown, Ohio’s WKBN-AM-FM-TV before joining Cleveland’s KYW-TV.
Slaymaker moved to Indianapolis as news editor of WFBM-AM-FM-TV (now WRTV). In 1976, he was hired as news director of urban radio’s WTLC-FM. His mandate was to make it a first-rate newsroom, which he did for 18 years. He also was news director of Big Band sister station WTUX- AM during the mid-1970s to early-1990s.
“Gene’s melodious voice had a certain power that made you want to touch the radio and listen to his message,” said Jim Brown, Indiana University School of Journalism’s executive associate dean emeritus. “He was a champion to anyone whose human rights were trampled in any way. The quality of his journalism set a high mark for those who followed.”
That quality was recognized by numerous awards from the Radio-TV News Directors Association, two Sigma Delta Chi Distinguished Service awards for editorials against police use of deadly force, three national Headliners Club awards and scores more from The Associated Press, United Press International, the Indianapolis Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists, and 15 CASPER awards from the United Way.
CASPER awards creator Donna Shea recalls Slaymaker’s tenacity. “Gene was a repeat winner who epitomized what the awards were really about. He didn’t just report on community issues and needs, he ‘bird-dogged’ the problem until something positive happened as a result.”
“He viewed his work with a sense of mischievous righteousness,” Phil Bremen, an associate professor of telecommunications at Ball State University, told Quill Magazine in a 2013 tribute to Gene. Bremen was an Indianapolis TV reporter in the 1970s. “Gene was driven by all the right motives — all the things you would hope a journalist would be, but he had fun doing it.”
Slaymaker ran his own in-house broadcasting school and trained young reporters, including 24 African-American reporters, many of whom moved up in broadcasting.
“Gene knew how to find and encourage news talent and instill in them the virtues of a no-nonsense approach to news coverage,” recalled former Indianapolis TV news director Kevin Finch.
Son Peter Bannon said, “Many journalists fresh from college classrooms learned how to become professional reporters and writers. ‘Like It Is,’ a weekly news magazine, showcased their long-form reporting and writing. Many of my dad’s writings were hammered out from his old typewriter, which is now on permanent display at the Indiana State Museum, serving as a symbol of journalistic excellence.”
Former WTLC reporter Kelly Vaughn recalled how Slaymaker and WTLC served as a watchdog for the Indianapolis African-American community: “For a man who was white, for him to be in that position over a primarily black staff — for him to put his heart and his soul into helping our community overcome barriers — I mean in the ’70s and ’80s, that was almost unheard of. He really had our best interests at heart.”
Daughter Jennifer Page agreed. “My dad sought the truth. There wasn’t a black truth or a white truth for him. Truth had no color. His job was doubly difficult because his audience didn’t trust the outside media. WTLC was theirs. And Gene was their voice, an open-minded journalist at a time when their city passed judgment. As an investigative reporter, he was a victim of death threats while reporting on a multi-state drug ring. But he chose to stay on the story, even though my mother wanted to move,” she said, laughing.
Another daughter, Leslie Farrell, said, “Dad believed that reporting the news was more than just a job; it was a way to better the world. When he died, Woman’s Press Club of Indiana established the Julie and Gene Slaymaker Public Service to Journalism Scholarship to encourage their legacy of giving back to the profession.”
Slaymaker was the second male admitted into WPCI, an affiliate of the National Federation of Press Women. He contributed his time and talent to both organizations, including being a WPCI office holder.
He was also a member of the Indianapolis Press Club and the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers. In 2007, he was inducted into the Indiana Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
A tireless leader, he was president of the venerable Lambs Club, the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association and the Indiana Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, which established the Gene and Julie Slaymaker Public Service to Journalism award in honor of their 30 years of service to the organization as statewide contest coordinators.
SPJ Indianapolis Professional Chapter President Kevin Finch recalled, “At the upbeat SPJ awards banquet every April, there would be Gene in his tux, and in his glory, celebrating what we do right in this field. He believed in quality and he believed in SPJ. And he believed they go together.”
A dedicated volunteer, the former Eagle Scout co-founded the Scarborough Peace Games. He was elected twice as the Indiana/Illinois regional director for the Radio-Television News Directors Association. A loving and involved father of six — Woody, Jill and Leslie Slaymaker; step-children David and Jenny Nash Page; and adopted son Peter Bannon — he was an active member of the Park Tudor Father’s Association board.
An extra in the Hollywood movie Going All the Way, Slaymaker was an amateur actor and member of The Players. He enthralled two generations of Halloween trick-or-treaters as Count Dracula, offering them cups of “blood soup.”
In retirement, Slaymaker shared his velvet voice with the Indiana State Library’s Talking Books for the Blind program.
He died Dec. 15, 2012, at age 84. Two weeks later, the City-County Council of Indianapolis closed its meeting “in recognition, respect and appreciation for the life and contributions of Gene Arthur Slaymaker.”
Gene Slaymaker, a journalist’s life well-lived.
— By Julie Slaymaker, former president of the Indiana Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and Woman’s Press Club of Indiana