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Recently came across this OpEd piece I wrote for the Buffalo News when my wife and I moved from Buffalo in 1999 wanted to re-post.
By John Kosich
When my wife, Stacey Frey, and I moved to Western New York in September 1999 to join WKBW-TV, neither one of us had ever been to this place called Buffalo. Oh, we knew it, much the same way the rest of the country knows it – the place with the chicken wings, the endless snow and the Bills who lost four Super Bowls.
What we found when we moved here, though, was so much more. We discovered a clean, friendly and inviting city that offered a rich history, jaw-dropping architecture and a picturesque park system. It was a place that had big-city amenities but with small-town charm.
We were able to find a beautiful and affordable place to live in a wonderful neighborhood within walking distance of all kinds of unique shops and restaurants. Topping it off was the fact that it was just 2.5 miles from City Hall. I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and I didn’t think such a combination existed in an urban setting.
As we saw all of this our reaction was: How could it be that such a secret could remain hidden? How is it that the rest of the country didn’t know what Buffalo had to offer?
As we talked with longtime Buffalonians, the answer became somewhat clear. Decade after decade of loss had done a hell of a job on this region’s collective psyche, feeding an inferiority complex that seemed to prevent people from seeing how good they actually had it.
There’s an old saying that is a personal favorite of mine: A guest sees more in an hour than a host sees in a year.
As a guest in Buffalo for the past three years, we didn’t look at what Buffalo lost, we were amazed by all that Buffalo still had. So what if you’re not one of the nation’s 10 largest cities as you were a century ago. Do you really want to be? Do you really want the inherent problems that accompany such a distinction?
One of our greatest thrills over the past three years was welcoming friends from out of state who were visiting Buffalo for the first time. We took great joy in seeing the look of surprise on their faces as they saw what we saw three years ago.
That said I know this isn’t Camelot. This city has its problems. But the current financial crisis, though difficult to swallow now, will only serve to position the city to be stronger in the long run. Economic realities are forcing elected officials to make tough decisions that politically they would never have otherwise made.
We say all this as we, like so many people before us, leave the city for other parts of the country. In our case, it’s just the nature of the television business we’ve chosen. But as we settle into a new life across the lake in Cleveland, please know that we leave Buffalo as two of its biggest cheerleaders, hoping to change in our little way that outside perception.
So when people ask about the chicken wings, I’ll say, yes, they’re as good as you’ve heard. When they ask about the snow, I’ll say, yeah, it snows but they get rid of it. I’d rather deal with two feet of snow in Buffalo than two inches of it just about anywhere else in the country.
And the Bills? Well, when your team gets to the big dance four years in a row, then we’ll talk.
JOHN KOSICH and his wife are former anchor/reporters for WKBW-TV 7. They now live in Cleveland, Ohio.
As a political junkie it was always on my journalistic bucket list to cover Iowa & New Hampshire this year though it came to be below is the New Hampshire experience.
Friday February 5, 2016: Two days after returning from Iowa for the caucuses we loaded up the news car for the roughly 650 mile trek from Cleveland to Bedford, New Hampshire and took off just after 7 a.m.
New England had been hit by a sizable snow storm and we were driving in just behind it which made for some amazing scenes as the wet snow clung to the trees was illuminated by the setting sun behind us against the back drop of the storm clouds ahead moving north and east.
Our first stop was a town hall in Bedford, which was Governor John Kasich’s 100th since announcing his run for the White House 199 days earlier. We were there for that first town hall in July in Nashua so it was fitting we were there for the 100th.
When on the road covering these types of stories the two greatest words I can share with young reporters is WORK AHEAD. When you see the opportunity to get sound for a future story get it! Even if it never sees the light of day it can potentially save you when something falls through or at very least make your days to come a little easier.
With that in mind at the town hall I took advantage of the opportunity to talk with Kasich co-chair, former New Hampshire U.S. Sen. John Sununu as well as Kasich’s Senior Strategist John Weaver for future stories.
We would be live at 11 p.m. and tape a look live for the Saturday morning show before checking into our hotel in a converted shoe factory in Manchester. (If you’ve never been to Manchester a great deal of the town’s manufacturing past is preserved with so many of the red brick buildings converted to new uses.)
Saturday February 6, 2016: Our long day started early with a trip over to the campus of St. Anselm’s University to pick up our credentials for that evening’s GOP Debate on ABC.
From St. Anselm’s in Manchester we drove out to Portsmouth to meet with Ruth Griffin, the 90 year old political matriarch of the GOP with a rich New England accent. The sun was bright on the drive south and east to the coast with the snow clinging to the trees the scene outside Griffin’s clapboard home was vintage New England.
I first met Ruth back in July when she was still undecided on who she would support. If you want to run for president as a Republican, you come to New Hampshire and visit with Ruth and so at 11 a.m. we did.
Once again in the working ahead mindset it’s a story that would air Sunday night at 11 p.m. knowing that with the Super Bowl on there would be nothing else going on. We did live at 11 and then taped a looked live version for Monday’s morning show.
After leaving Ruth’s home we headed straight for Kasich’s field office in Manchester where his campaign bus would be arriving at 1 p.m. to allow him to greet supporters who were getting ready to head out and go door to door canvasing.
The number of media on hand was large so that when the bus pulled up and Kasich stepped out the cameras formed a large semi circle while John Roberts of Fox, myself and the other reporters crouched down in the front holding out the microphones a maneuver that takes its toll on your knees.
We would then go back to the hotel where I would edit that story then get ready for the debate, take the shuttle to St. Anselm’s and front it from inside the media filing center for the 6 p.m. news.
After the 6 o’clock live shot it was a chance to catch our breaths until the debate started at 8 p.m. This is when I edited the Ruth Griffin piece for Sunday and took a look at the other sound I had gathered.
The debate turned out to be the turning point in the race with Chris Christie’s cross examination of Marco Rubio the highlight leaving the door open for Kasich to have his best debate performance of the evening.
Our plan was to turn reaction from the Spin Room for the 11 p.m. but when it became clear that wasn’t going to happen because the debate wouldn’t wrap up in time I grabbed John Sununu quick and turned a quick interview with him to feed back and front that minutes later.
After the 11 p.m. I began to gather sound for the morning show when one of Kasich’s people grabbed me and asked me if I’d like to talk with him, so they pulled me over and after he finished with one of the networks we had a chance to discuss the debate which we would send back for Sunday morning’s show.
Sunday February 7, 2016: No rest for the weary we were out the door early to make our way to Nashua for Kasich’s first post debate town hall. The crowds were bigger and the media more prominent, Jonathan Karl from ABC News, John Heilemann and Mike Barnicle among others.
I would grab sound with Heilemann (working ahead) then put together the town hall for 6 p.m.
With the Ruth Griffin story airing at 11 p.m. this was the first real chance we had to relax since arriving so my photographer and I had a sit down dinner and watched part of Super Bowl 50 on a phone propped up on the table.
Monday February 8, 2016: Another early start headed out to Plaistow, NH for the first of four town halls for the day. He gaggled with reporters after, sound I would use for my 6 p.m. story. My 4 p.m. would be sound I got with Dr. Ben Carson right after the debate (working ahead) and my 5 p.m. would be on the impact of the weather on election day.
From there we headed north to Hooksett, to a place called Robie’s General Store set along railroad tracks it had been for years a political stopping off point and it was here that Kasich chose to rally his supporters one last time and send his campaign bus off to South Carolina.
Tuesday February 9, 2016: Election Day: Once again an early start as we met up with Kasich at a Manchester polling place to greet poll workers and supporters. The gaggle of media was thick around him so much so that my photographer had to shoot the governor with the camera atop of his head not even knowing if he was in frame. This setting made up most of our 5 p.m. story.
As the governor and his entourage made their way back to their motorcade my cameraman and I made our way back to our car as the motorcade drove by Kasich stopped and rolled down his window waving my cameraman off we talked privately which was really my first indication of the big night ahead for him.
From the school we went to a local Manchester diner where Sirius radio was hosting its political shows all day. Kasich was there to appear on Michael Smerconish’s show. In the many degrees of separation Michael and I both worked on the Frank Rizzo mayoral campaign in Philadelphia in 1987.
Outside after I had a chance to talk with Kasich on camera and this made up our 6 p.m. report.
From the start of the poll results coming in Kasich was in second place, a lead that would hold through the night with Fox calling his second place finish. He was ready to address his supporters early but had to wait for Clinton, Sanders and Trump to finish to ensure the networks would take his speech live.
This unfortunately left us little time to turn the sound for 11 p.m. Nevertheless we make it simple and quick and got it fed back just in time for air.
Eulogy delivered at St. Martha’s Church Philadelphia December 27, 2013.
A good 30 years or so ago there was a Saturday Night Live skit involving a church organist who failed to show for a funeral. “Don’t worry said the priest I have a really good replacement, she plays at Madison Square Garden for the New York Rangers games.”
Sure enough she starts playing and she was good but it was only a matter of moments before the solemn liturgical strain morphed into dent-dent-dent-deh (imitating the organ notes overheard at arenas leading up to the crowd yelling CHARGE.)
My father loved that skit, I remember him at the time laughing and saying “that’s what I want!”
He wanted a celebration, so on behalf of my family I thank you for coming here to celebrate with us.
My Dad was an accountant, a numbers guy, so here are the numbers:
85: years of life
59: years of marriage
40: years with Philadelphia Electric
25: years as financial secretary for the Holmesburg Knights of Columbus
24: years of retirement and saying to waitresses “take your time, I have the rest of the year off.”
10: beautiful grandchildren
5: even more beautiful children
2: artificial hips
1: partner for life and
1: heck of a life.
Francis Kosich was born on April 12, 1928, the youngest of John & Rose Kosich’s eight children and the first to be born in a hospital.
He had five older brothers (John, Eddie, Joe, Albert who died at a few years of age and Larry) and two older sisters Aunt Marge and Aunt Sis, sisters he would go to his grave insisting were adopted.
They all passed before him which eliminated one dilemma for my father, he always said if he went before Aunt Marge he couldn’t be buried on a Thursday because of her standing hair dressers appointment.
Together they were raised in a small rowhome on Sepviva Street in St. Ann’s.
Ah St. Ann’s, there were many things that defined my father St. Ann’s was definitely one of them as was his choice of high schools; Roman Catholic, the first Catholic high school in America he would proudly tell people reminding them that their Catholic high school was merely an annex of Roman.
He was allowed to finish high school then went off to serve in the Navy and after several years came back to Philadelphia, started work at Philadelphia Electric and met the girl of his dreams.
She was a foreigner – Irish; from another part of the world – Olney. To this day I still don’t know how the two of you met, I just know the one fact that my father always happily shared… “I met her in a tap room.”
(this is the video made for my parents 40th Anniversary in 1994)
On September 25, 1954 Francis Kosich and Teresa O’Neill were married in St. Helena’s Church and settled in St. Bernard’s in Mayfair on Marple Street where over the next eleven years they would welcome five children into the world.
After the fifth came along it was time for the family to venture north to the vast wilderness that was the Far Northeast, settling just beyond the back field here on Byrne Road long before this place (St. Martha’s) was ever built.
They were one of the founding families of this parish. In fact the tabernacle that used to sit on the Blessed Mother’s side – or the Chalfont side as we called it here – they donated and inside they had inscribed the names of their parents our grandparents.
It was in this church my father would serve for decades as an usher, it was in this church he would watch his three boys serve as altar boys and it was in this church he would walk his two daughters down this very aisle to this altar. So it is only fitting that we gather here to bid him farewell.
There are many common threads that weaved their way through the fabric of my father’s life none more prominent than the Knights of Columbus. The friends my parents made at the Holmesburg Council were friends for life and in many ways part of our extended family. The Rietzens, the Greens, the Quinns, Martins, McElroys to name a few.
They’re all gone now. Somehow I got to believe there is one heck of a reunion going on up there right now with a lot of Manhattans flowing.
Ah the Manhattan, another common thread through my father’s life… “Grandpop’s medicine” he would call it. You can’t tell because of the pall, the liturgical cloth, but the coffin my father is being buried in is Manhattan in color.
Humor was another thread, we inherited a lot of things from our father, unfortunately for the rest of you his sense of humor was one of them. It’s somewhat fitting Dad and Cozy Morley would die within a few months of each other.
My father would be the first to tell us though, “parents are hard to raise.”
There was a learning curve, the father I knew and the one my older siblings knew were in many ways different.
Encouragement from Dad often came in quiet forms and so it was when I chose to pursue a career in a field where few people who graduate from college are able to find jobs, he didn’t stand in my way but left me to find my way and helped me along the way.
Like when I got my internship out at Channel 6, three nights a week I would take two buses and the el, an hour and 45 minutes one way to get out to City Line Avenue but when I was done each night at 11 it was his car in the parking lot waiting to pick me up even though he himself had to get up for work at 4:30 a.m.
He impacted all of us in little ways.
Terrie: Tessie Fitzy, mother of Ry-guy – pumpernickle, you inherited Dad’s sense of numbers and you like he followed a different and sometimes difficult path to higher education achieving success at a level he so greatly respected.
So much so that you were the only one this keeper of books would trust with his.
Franny: the Colonel, the son whose height ranged from 6’4″ to 7’2″ depending on who Dad was talking to.
I want to read something you wrote in a newsletter when you were a commander in Korea.
“I’m reminded of something my father said to me right before I came into the Army ‘just remember nobody owes you a living’ he said and he was right. Success and credibility are earned and if you don’t like your lot in life do something to improve it.”
Then you went on to write how you have drawn upon those words so often in life.
Joe: the middle child, the one who pushed buttons we didn’t know Dad had and yet you were the only one Dad ever trusted with one of his cars.
I believe he saw in you the unbridled potential that you harnessed and realized well beyond his high expectations.
Mary: “Kiss the day goodbye” (sung), so great to see you. Dad always said his funeral procession would have to swing by the house because Mary wouldn’t be ready.
You inherited the personal side of Dad. The side of the man who could sit and talk with anyone, anywhere, whether he knew them or not.
He had the ability to make strangers feel welcome. That’s you.
Dad loved all his children and grandchildren but he only carried one picture in his wallet, it was of his Pride and Joy… no literally it was Pride and Joy. Pride furniture wax and Joy dishwashing liquid.
It was his way of getting a cheap laugh but it was also his way of saying i’m proud of all my kids and grandkids and there’s no sense in showing you one picture if I can’t show you them all.
I’d like to close with a conversation I had with my Dad in September of 1985. It was the day my grandmother O’Neill passed away, my Mom had just received the call and my father and I were standing on the back deck overlooking the fields of Ryan.
Dad turned to me and he said “John, I want you to know one thing, if the good Lord takes me today he cheated me out of nothing.”
That was 28 years ago. It’s a conversation I have taken great solace in this past week and we all can going forward.
His body is gone but he lives on through his children and grandchildren and all of you.
He lives on every time we tell a bad joke or an occasional good one.
He lives on every time I drink a Manhattan.
He lives on every time we as parents and eventually grandparents pull out this, the Snoopy tickler or maybe one day tell them call me Pop.
He lives on every time we simply wave to a friend or take just a second to say hello to a stranger.
He knew that. He was tired, he was ready to go but he could leave safe with the knowledge that he will never truly be gone and through all of us he never will.
In 23 years of working in television news I have never had a week, like the one that started around 6:30 p.m. May 6, 2013.
While waiting for a story to start in Bay Village, my photographer Tom Livingston rolled down the window of his live truck “I’m being pulled, you’re staying,” he told me. The assignment desk had just called and said some woman called 9-1-1 saying she was Amanda Berry, a Cleveland woman who disappeared ten years earlier on the eve of her 17th birthday.
So out of right field was this news that he immediately followed it without missing a beat with “so I’ll be right back.”
The news as well didn’t strike me as being real either. We had covered so many false hopes over the years in the search for Amanda and Gina DeJesus, who vanished a year later only a short walk away from where Amanda was last seen.
We had anxiously waited along with both families on two different occasions when police acting on credible tips dug up an empty lot and the garage of a home looking for Amanda and Gina’s bodies respectively.
So this latest news had to be just someone making a sick crank call to police.
Just a few minutes after Livingston left with the live truck, that perception would change when the assignment desk called my cell phone and in an urgent voice said you have to go, it looks like Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus have both been found and they’re both alive!
How I didn’t get a speeding ticket I don’t know but as I raced to Seymour Avenue on Cleveland’s west side my stomach began to turn in a way I had rarely felt. So many years of seeing the pain and anguish in these families faces as they gathered each April to mark the respective anniversaries of the girls’ disappearances, could it really be ending?
As I pulled up to Seymour Avenue I ditched the car on West 25th and made my way through the growing crowd, Livingston was already setting up the truck to establish a live shot I began scanning the crowd looking for familiar faces from either family to get confirmation.
It was in this time that I overheard a man telling his story of the rescue, the man was Charles Ramsey.
As I waited for them to come to me on the air I began interviewing Charles on tape because I didn’t want to lose him in the crowd and he told me of the “amazing sh#t” that had just happened.
When they came to me live a minute or two later Charles was still within arm grabbing distance so I immediately brought him in and asked him to tell the story that began with him hearing screaming… the rest is viral video history.
As the interview was going on what was going through my mind was the fact that Charles had just dropped the “S” bomb prior to us going live so my fear was him dropping another on live TV. They were telling me in my ear to wrap it up and toss it back when Charles delivered what would be the most famous line “I knew something was wrong when a pretty little white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Dead giveaway, dead giveaway.”
In my mind I’m thinking OK where are you going with this so I thanked him and tossed it back, thinking it was a really good interview but I’ve interviewed some colorful people before and began the process of just looking for more information, the next interview in this incredible story. I had no idea what was about to follow.
Within an hour the interview was being played and replayed across the country and our website Newsnet5.com was exploding with hits as the video was quickly becoming viral.
By the time I got back to the station around 12:30 a.m. the numbers were off the charts and several of my co-workers were telling me you watch this is going to get autotuned, something I had never heard of before. They explained it’s when an interview gets so big it’s set to music and if it’s really big the Gregory brothers will take it on… within 24 hours they did.
With the song and with the attention Charles Ramsey began the process of moving from news figure to pop icon. With the interview popping up on shows like TMZ.
Around the same time Jimmy Kimmel was introducing an even wider audience to Ramsey.
And then came the Taiwanese cartoon recreation of the interview.
I’ve had some amazing interviews over my career, amazing in the sense that the individuals were amazing because of who they were, presidents, celebrities.
This interview ended up surpassing them all in terms of global reach not because of who Charles Ramsey was but what he did and the timing of his coming forward so early in a process where people were starving for insight information into this unimaginable tale.
The global news vacuum in the early stages of this story transformed him in a matter 2-3 hours from a guy eating McDonalds to an international figure.
Finally the French take on the Charles Ramsey phenomena.
So many times in my life I would watch a pitcher at the start of a baseball game retire the side for an inning or two wondering if this might be the elusive jewel of pitching genius in the making, the perfect game.
I usually didn’t have to wait long, like the third or fourth inning, before being disappointed. That would change June 13, 2012 in San Francisco’s AT&T Park.
It was a game we honestly didn’t intend to stay for in its entirety. After a day taking in golf’s U.S. Open practice round at The Olympic Club, my son Aidan and I and our friend Mike who we were visiting, headed downtown to see the Giants take on the Houston Astros.
The golf course high above the city had been shrouded in a cool fog that day and even though it had lifted in the city itself the wind coming in off the bay made us wish we had dressed for football not baseball.
We took to our bleacher seats in left center and squinted through the setting sun to watch pitcher Matt Cain retire the side in the first.
The Giants scored two in the bottom of the inning then Cain went 1-2-3 to retire the side again. With the temperature dropping and our stamina fading we quietly thought about calling it a day early for the hour drive home when young Aidan, in his 9-year-old wisdom, blurted out “what if he throws a perfect game?”
We didn’t say anything for even in the second inning the superstition of sport was already rearing its ugly head, don’t acknowledge it and don’t jinx it.
Around the fourth or fifth inning though the cold began to get to us so we made the decision to move from the bleacher seats we scalped for $5 above face, to the standing room section between home plate and third. Shielded from the breeze, monitors in front of us, beer and bathrooms behind us we were set.
It was around the seventh inning I put my hands in my pockets and discovered that in my right I had placed the tickets that if this indeed became a perfect game I’d want to hold on to. I thought do I dare move them to a safe place now? Hell no, that would be acknowledging it, don’t jinx it.
As the game moved into the eighth the waiting around I thought was now worth it. I could say I saw a perfect game go into the eighth inning. When Cain retired the side yet again the crowd of 42,298 erupted in a roar unlike any I’ve ever heard.
As the Giants came to bat in the bottom of the eighth the crowd was never so happy to see three of their own make outs and get to the moment that had eluded this franchise for the entirety of its 129 year history in New York and San Francisco.
With the ninth upon us every working camera and every cell phone was poised to capture the momentous occasion. We got to two outs and I had my still camera around my neck and my video camera in hand. I panned from the field to the monitor in front of us showing the crowd going nuts down to my son screaming and proudly showing his SF cap he just got back to the field itself.
As Cain threw the final pitch I zoomed in on the hard throwing righty and heard the crack of the bat. I didn’t know where the ball had gone but a split second later by his reaction and that of the crowd around me I knew indeed this was history.
As I captured the celebration on the field I panned down once again to my son, jumping up and down, his screams drowned by the roar of the crowd around us. I tried to instill in him just how big a deal this was, that we had seen what so few over the history of this great game had. As we left the ballpark I said the way these fans were reacting is what it’s like to be at a ballpark when a World Series is won.
In looking back when we went to California on vacation we packed our baseball gloves, even though we didn’t have room for them, so that we could continue to have our almost daily games of catch. It was that love of the sport that brought us here on this night, this Wednesday before Fathers Day, to share in a moment in baseball history that will forever bond us. A story one day, God willing, he’ll share with his son.
(This is the video I captured of the final out.)
In going through an old calendar I saw that it was 20 years ago this week, February 12, 1993, that I interviewed Paul Anka at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City.
This particular interview stands out for me not for what I learned in it but rather for what I almost didn’t learn after it.
The interview came just a couple of weeks after the death of legendary lyricist Sammy Cahn. What I didn’t know as I sat down with Anka that night was how close he was with Cahn. The two had traveled around the world together and as Anka told me, they were closer than friends.
The subject actually came up after we had finished our interview, the cameras were turned off and we were just sitting around talking.
I shared with Anka how Cahn had told me how he came to write Three Coins in a Fountain in only an hour, a song which went on to win Sammy the first of his four Academy Awards.
It was then Anka said to me “well did you ever hear how I came to write My Way?”
With that I was smart enough to start the cameras rolling again as Anka started telling me about running into Frank Sinatra in Miami back in 1968.
“He told me at that time when we met he was retiring from show business,” Anka recalled. “And he said ‘kid write me something that says it!'”
How do you put into word and song the sum and substance of a man who for a generation had so influenced American music and pop culture. A man who was as colorful as he was talented.
He thought about it for the longest time but despite his best efforts nothing was coming to him.
He tried to put it out of his mind as he returned to New York City where he told me one day, at two o’clock in the morning, with rain pouring down outside, it hit him.
Originally schooled to be a journalist Anka wrote all his songs on a typewriter. So he got up, walked over to his typewriter and just started pounding out “and now the end is near and so I face the final curtain.”
When he finished, he knew immediately that this would be the song for Sinatra.
Anka later flew out to Las Vegas and hand delivered the song to Sinatra “and he said ‘kookie kid kookie, I’m doing it,'” remembered Anka. “You know to him that was like ecstatic.”
Weeks would go by though and he heard nothing more from the Sinatra camp. Did he really like it or didn’t he, nothing.
Then one day Anka said the phone rings and on the other end of the line was Sinatra. He was calling from inside the very studio where he just recorded what would become his signature song.
“He said ‘listen to this kid’ and he put the phone up to the speaker and I heard it for the first time over the phone sitting in New York City and I cried, man I cried,” said Anka. “I mean I went from Puppy Love to My Way overnight.”
I’ve had the occasion to tell that story a number of times over the years but the one I remember most was the morning of May 15, 1998. I was speaking at an awards breakfast in Wilkes-Barre, PA.
I remember the date so well because it was the morning that we all woke to learn that Frank Sinatra had died.
As I began my remarks on the particular award program that was to follow that morning I did so over the din of the wait staff clearing the dishes, the conversations continuing at the tables.
I began to tell the above tale and as I did I noticed the noise in the room lowered, the conversations suddenly slowed to a halt, even the wait staff and had stopped to hear the back story of how one of the most iconic figures in music was paired with one of the greatest tunes in the American song book.
A story I almost missed. Thank you Paul Anka, thank you Sammy Cahn.
BUFFALO, NY; December 25-30, 2001 – 7-FEET OF SNOW IN 5 DAYS:
When it comes to lake effect no week stands out more to me than Christmas week 2001. As of Monday December 24th, Christmas Eve, Buffalo hadn’t had any snow for the season, not even a trace.
It was the first year on record the city had gone that long without a flake. Later that night the snow started falling and when it ended Christmas Day we had around 25″ on the ground.
We became the talk of the country and on Wednesday we found ourselves doing extra live shots for the network and other stations on the Christmas snow. The sun was out much of the day though in Buffalo as the band drifted north into Niagara County and was hitting them hard and giving us a chance to dig out.
By 4 a.m. Thursday though it drifted south and was back on top of us dropping snow at the rate of 3″ an hour again. Once again we were the talk of the country (remember no real news happens during Christmas week so the networks loved it.)
My wife and I were doing live shots for just about every network (even the financial ones) and tons of local stations around the country. (One of the live shots she did was for a station here in Cleveland and from that came a job offer and that’s how we ended up moving to less snowy side of Lake Erie.)
The storm hit during a time in my career where in addition to anchoring WKBW’s morning show I was a fill-in weather person pushed into full time duty because the station had only one meteorologist working that week. He handled the late shows I handled the early.
Between live shots they asked me to a phone interview with Sam Donaldson on his national radio show. I thought sure I can do this one from my desk where it’s warm.
As I waited his producer asked me if I could wait a minute or two, there were some new developments out of Afghanistan that morning and Sam wanted to get a quick update. I said no problem, I’m good on time.
I sat at my desk with my coat on trying to warm up and actually started to dose off a little as I waited. It was then I heard Sam come on and talk about what happened with Al Quaida that morning. Then I heard him say “joining me now with more on this is John Kosich, President of the National Institute of Military Justice.”
Like a kid called on in class by the teacher the adrenaline rush shot through me “oh crap” I thought. I can talk about travel bans not the Taliban. A heartbeat later Sam recognized his mistake, corrected himself and said “I’m sorry Eugene Fidell, President of the…” Needless to say when Sam came to me a minute or two later I was awake.
When the snow ended Friday we had 84″ of it in five days. Saturday was spent just trying to first find my car then dig it out for the third time this week.
The biggest problem with 7-feet of snow is where do you put it? Buffalo has huge trash cans, I’d fill one up, roll it to an empty spot, dump it, then repeat the process.
Oh and if you wondered what 7-feet of snow looks like? It actually looks like three or four feet because it’s constantly packing down under it’s own weight.
We couldn’t get out of town for New Years until Sunday and even then it wasn’t easy, then as we got 20-30 miles out of town there was hardly any snow, the joy of Lake Effect.
The most awesome thing about that year was the fact that we basically had winter in a week. We had nothing leading up to that storm, we got walloped and then we really had very little snow after it. Maybe one or two 6″ storms but nothing huge.
In 1994 five candidates vied for the chance to replace outgoing Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey. At WNEP-TV that fall we profiled all five but also decided to take things a step further with Pennsylvania 101: The Candidates Quiz.
The first three fringe candidates didn’t fair all that well leading us to the two finalists, the Republican and Democratic hopefuls.
First up was then Republican Erie Congressman Tom Ridge:
Followed by the rather confident two term Democratic Lt. Governor Mark Singel:
Unfortunately for Singel it didn’t translate into success at the polls.
While covering elections on Tuesday November 8, 2011 I had one eye on the Ohio results and the other on State College, PA. With events surrounding the growing sex abuse scandal changing hourly I had a feeling that if we were going to go to Penn State we better go tomorrow and so we made arrangements to leave in the morning.
On the ride across Interstate 80 though we got word that legendary head coach Joe Paterno just announced his retirement in a statement that read in part:
“I am absolutely devastated by the developments in this case. I grieve for the children and their families, and I pray for their comfort and relief.
I have come to work every day for the last 61 years with one clear goal in mind: To serve the best interests of this university and the young men who have been entrusted to my care. I have the same goal today.
That’s why I have decided to announce my retirement effective at the end of this season. At this moment the Board of Trustees should not spend a single minute discussing my status. They have far more important matters to address. I want to make this as easy for them as I possibly can.
This is a tragedy. It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”
Between live shots we debated whether to spend the night in State College or drive four hours back to Cleveland but ABC was reporting that University President Graham Spanier could be out tonight so we decided to stay. We shot stories for the 11 p.m. and the morning news programs and were in the process of editing when we got word their would be an 10 p.m. news conference at the Penn Stater Conference Center.
I called my executive producer and said we’re going because it likely means Spanier is out. My story was already fed back so I said you can either use the updated information going into my package or we could dump the package and do a live shot on what happens. He decided as long as we’re there let’s just go live.
We got to the Penn Stater at 9:58 p.m. and rushed upstairs to the room where the news conference was going to be but everyone was still waiting out in the hall. As I looked around there was Armen Keteyian from CBS, Dan Harris from ABC all the big guns waiting to get in. That’s when someone I knew said to me, I hear JoePa’s out.
At that point the doors opened up and we all ran into the room, someone even shouting at some point to relax, don’t push. The Board of Trustees was already seated with the chair and vice chair at a table ready to address the media. I put our microphone on the table but there were literally so many of them I worried if it would be able to pick up the speaker.
Vice Chair John Surma did the speaking and wasted no time in saying that president Spanier was out. But then came his next words that Joe Paterno was joining him. As you watched the announcement on TV you know the audible gasp you heard but in the room it was so much louder.
My cameraman rushed with the video back to our satellite truck while I waited for the news conference to break so I could get our mic from under the pile, then sprint to the truck barely making the top of the 11 p.m. news to do the live shot below.
Within minutes of the announcement the news had reached virtually everyone in State College through twitter and facebook and soon into the streets the students poured.
When we arrived minutes after our 11 p.m. live shot Beaver Avenue was packed solid with students who within seconds of our arrival started running to get away from local and state police in riot gear with tear gas.
With order restored the crowd started chanting “we are Penn State” and “JoePa-terno” but when the chant turned to “Old Main” the massive crowd was on the move to College Avenue ahead of police.
There they shattered car windows, knocked over street signs and tipped over a live truck belonging to WTAJ of Altoona. Gasoline from the truck soon pouring into the street. At one point a flare thrown dangerously close to the pool.
In a moment though the thick smell of the fuel was replaced by the burning sensation of pepper spray as videographer Gary Abrahamson and myself were hit several times by the police spray looking to disperse the crowd, at one point taking a direct spray from an officer who was attempting to keep the crowd behind us from closing in as we attempted to get video of the overturned truck.
Pepper spray was one thing but when items being thrown into the crowd went from toilet paper to bricks and one landed a few feet from us, we made the decision to go.
We headed back to our hotel where we would edit through the night for the morning live shots that started at 4:30 a.m. We were live through the morning every 5-10 minutes with not just our station in Cleveland but stations in Tampa, Detroit, Kansas City, Phoenix and Baltimore.
This is one of our hits for Newschannel 5.
As we drove down College Avenue later that morning all traces of the chaos that happened just hours before were gone and by now the live and satellite trucks from stations around the country were starting to roll into town as we were rolling out, ending what was for me one of my most crazy and memorable 24 hour periods in television.