Chris Smith Photo illustration
Gene Cox is not wearing any pants.
There he sits behind the anchor desk, perfectly coiffed and dressed, delivering news of a gut-wrenching tragedy with his signature enigmatic detachment. It is a perfectly ordinary scene for a TV news broadcast, except for the fact that beneath the anchor desk, Cox is wearing only polka-dotted boxers.
Now this is utterly untrue. I have no reason on Earth to suspect that Gene Cox reports the news undressed from the waist down, but for years I have dearly wished it to be so.
Get your mind out of the gutter. It's not like that.
It's just that behind the monotone voice, the almost completely emotionless delivery Cox has perfected, there is something more human, quirky and individual in him than in any other local broadcaster I have ever seen in any market anywhere. I've never been quite able to put my finger on what gives Gene Cox his charm, so years ago I decided to put it down to an imagined lack of trousers.
Love him or hate him (and most Richmonders do seem to love him), after his retirement we will not see his like again. The dry wit, the frequent stumbles, the fits of giggles over monkey stories, the impish question that catches the reporter off guard — all are part of the Cox mystique. But it's that dispassionate delivery, hurried and rattled off like he's reading a grocery list, that truly sets him apart.
Young TV reporters today are more heavily polished than the fingernails of the Real Housewives of New Jersey, and they all seem afflicted with a bad case of compassionitis, their meaningful head nods, slow blinks and well-timed pauses indicating just how deeply they give a damn about the sinkhole, the deteriorating cemetery or the puppy shot with the bow and arrow.
But Gene Cox doesn't play that game. He delivers the news without so much as a hint of human emotion, and somehow you come away with the feeling that he's the most genuine of them all. He is almost like an alien reporting Earth news.
Imagine you were hired to report the news on another planet and you had to read the words: "Today on the outer rings of Qutrox, several trogmeres in the Ketron Quadrant were discovered to contain eozian ekulostrodes, prompting officials of the Ladnarian Federation to launch a full investigation ..."
Is this good news? Bad news? Hard to tell. And so it is when Gene Cox reports any kind of news. A lottery-winning grandma and a killer tsunami are treated just the same. But his seeming disconnect from the news makes him more human and more relatable than any other local newsperson.
How does he pull this off? Who knows? Perhaps it's best not to question. It would be like asking Yoda why he talks that way or what in the world he means. It's Yoda.
As we all know, Cox, a two-time Emmy winner, retires June 16 from NBC 12's anchor chair after an industry-defying 33-year run at the station. His absence changes the Richmond landscape the way the sale of Ukrop's did, and the way some shiny new bridge will when it replaces our beloved but frightening Huguenot Bridge. Except that there's no question Cox has many more good years and usefulness in him than the poor old Huguenot Bridge.
So thank goodness there is the Internet and especially Twitter, where 4,000-plus followers are treated to Coxisms such as:
"Do you think these horses know we're betting on them?"
"In Denver, stripper Tracy Bolton sued the club where she worked, claiming there is no privacy in the dressing room."
"I'm sitting on the beach counting sand. This could take a while."
"I'm not ready to be a potted plant."
We're not ready for that either, Gene. Good thing we will have those Tweets, but without Gene Cox, the local news scene is likely to feel adrift for a while.
That's what happens when you lose your anchor.