Chuck Scarborough Reflects on His Half-Century at WNBC New York

 Chuck Scarborough of WNBC on-air in 1974.
Chuck Scarborough of WNBC on-air in 1974.
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Chuck Scarborough celebrates 50 years on WNBC New York March 25. He got to flip the switch on the Empire State Building that morning, which lights up in blue in gold that evening in his honor. WNBC will celebrate Scarborough’s extraordinary run with special programming–showcasing the anchor’s on-air highlights all week, and a 30-minute tribute on Thursday, March 28.

Chuck Scarborough
Chuck Scarborough

Scarborough, 80, told B+C he has no plans to retire. “The problem is, I haven’t figured out what else to do,” he quipped.

Scarborough said the seeds for his career were planted when he was around 2. His father flew B-17s in World War II and his mother would take him to the movies, where there would be news clips about the war. Seeing B-17s on the screen, Scarborough said he stood on his seat and informed the theater that his “daddy” flies those same planes. Some in the theater got emotional.

“The ability to make a lot of strangers cry set the tone for a career in television news,” he said.

His mother helped set the tone too. She was hired to be a “weather girl” at KCMO Kansas City in the ‘50s, smiling and offering the forecast. A local Chevy dealer suggested the weather girls also drive customers to work after they dropped their car off at the dealer, so Scarborough’s mother, who did not drive, got lessons.

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“She got herself a crash course … literally,” Scarborough said.

Indeed, driving a customer for the first time, she ended up in a crash with a florist truck.

“It rather doomed her very brief career in television,” Scarborough said.

Like his father, Scarborough knew a bit about flying planes. He was in the Air Force in Biloxi, where he was involved in an attempt to launch a TV station at the base. He parlayed that to an operations manager position at WLOX Biloxi. The FCC pushed the station to do a better job in terms of community service to retain their license, so WLOX launched local news, and Scarborough began chasing down stories.

Biloxi offered plenty.

“Biloxi was as thoroughly corrupt a place as you can imagine,” he said. “Everywhere you pointed the camera, there was mischief going on.”

Scarborough moved on to WDAM Hattiesburg, then to larger markets: WAGA Atlanta, then WNAC Boston.

After close to three years in Boston, WNBC called. The station’s ratings weren’t so hot, but they offered the anchor a two-hour newscast at 5 p.m. “I was 30 and thought this was higher-risk, higher-reward,” he said.

Fifty years later, he’s still there.

Asked about memorable stories, Scarborough mentioned one about a B-17 being restored. The end-of-newscast story ended with the plane flying past the Statue of Liberty, and Scarborough mentioned to his co-anchor how his father had flown those planes. Moments later, he got a call from a man in Brooklyn who’d flown with Scarborough’s father. A reunion ensued, and Scarborough made a story out of it.

He also mentioned The New York Times covering the September 11, 2001 terror attacks with a story about a mysterious man in a red bandana who saved many lives and was not mentioned by name.

Scarborough jumped in and started searching. “I found him and it turned into a very, very powerful story,” he said. (The man’s name is Welles Crowther.)

Scarborough has appeared plenty on the network shows, including Today and NBC Nightly News, but has been content staying in local TV. He said covering news in New York is plenty exhilarating. “This is an exciting city, a fascinating, complicated city,” he said. “It’s a teeming, ambitious metropolitan area that is awfully interesting.”

He likes that the New York audience is very diverse and that the station, part of NBCUniversal Local, has supported his wishes to cover stories beyond the market’s borders, including one on social security in Chile and another on Special Forces in the Philippines. “I had a great amount of latitude to go anywhere around the world to cover a story,” he said.

Amy Morris, WNBC senior VP of news, said of Scarborough: “In a city defined by change, Chuck has been a constant force for truth and exceptional journalism. A half-century after he walked into 30 Rock, he continues to lead by example, collaborating with the team and challenging everyone to make every newscast even better.”

Scarborough anchors the 6 p.m. news four days a week. He called it a “cushy schedule” that suits him at this stage of his career.

He added, “That’s one thing that seniority does for you.”