A decade ago, back when he reported dining health inspections for WMC-TV, Richard Ransom gained notoriety for his bark to dirty restaurants: "Clean up!" These days, on WREG-TV's evening news, Ransom's softer side pays off, literally, to viewers of the station's "Pass It On" segment. Each Tuesday, the affable co-anchor hands over three $100 bills to an individual who agrees to "pass it on" to someone in need. We met with Ransom to find out more about the idea that began last July, and why it strikes a chord with his audience.
Certain rules apply, right?
Yes. We ask viewers — or those we call playmakers — to email names and information about people they want to help. The recipients can't be themselves or family members, and the playmaker has to be able to give the money away within an hour.
Why an hour? And why $300?
To keep it moving — and to be sure I get back to the station to do the news that day. The $300 is because we're Channel 3.
Are the recipients expecting it?
We like to keep it a surprise, and the playmakers enjoy going along with us to keep it a secret.
You also "pass it on" at busy intersections. More on that.
Reactions there are spontaneous. Once I was at Stage Road and Kirby-Whitten, holding my sign. A couple pulled over.
The wife got out and said she knew exactly who she wanted to give the money to. She'd just left an automotive repair shop where another customer couldn't pay the bill. She was so gregarious, talking about how she hadn't done her hair or put on makeup, but she'd told her husband, "We've gotta do this!"
Are recipients ever reluctant to be featured?
I think modest is the word. Maybe embarrassed. Just lost their job, not sure they can make their house note. I may know more personal details, but I'll ask the recipient, "What are you comfortable with me saying on the segment?"
How many emails do you get — and are all legit?
On Wednesday mornings I usually have 20 to 25 messages. Most genuinely want to help. Sometimes I'm a little suspicious of [the emailer's] motive. And on occasion they aren't so subtle. Like the ones that say, "How do I get that $300?"
A favorite segment?
The playmaker knew [the recipient] through their mutual affection for stray animals. The person didn't even have a bathroom. She and her husband had cardboard on their windows, blankets on doorways, and yet she wanted to use the money to buy Christmas presents for her grandkids. Boy, did that touch off responses.
More people wanted to help?
Yes. MIFA referred her to handymen. And a higher-up from Morgan Keegan called me saying, "I make a six-figure salary and my kids don't lack for anything. I made them watch that story; they need to see how lucky they are. I told them, 'We're going to take that lady a Christmas basket.'"
You obviously enjoy the job.
It gets me out of the newsroom and meeting people from all walks of life. And it's amazing how in a two-and-a-half-minute report, you can go from surprise to tears of joy, then everyone laughing about what we've pulled off.
Will WREG continue the segment?
In these tight media times it's hard to know, but we're always looking for ways to set ourselves apart. And I've been overwhelmed by the number of hard-luck stories out there, and by the response from our viewers.