America was in the final throws of Watergate. It was March 25, 1974 when Chuck Scarborough debuted on WNBC. An anchor from the outset, Scarborough has weathered various co-anchor combinations, multiple news directors and a sale of the company.
Scarborough, 70, and WNBC would not participate in this piece, but this celebration of four decades on the air in New York goes on without the legendary anchorman.
He’s the longest serving anchor in New York behind only Rafael Pineda, who has been seen uninterrupted on Univision’s WXTV/Channel 41 since 1972.
Scarborough was hired to helm Channel 4’s new 5 p.m. edition of NewsCenter4. Ultimately, he was named lead anchor at 6 and 11 p.m.
He had his share of on-air partners from Pat Harper and John Hambrick, to Lynda Baquero and Jack Cafferty.
But, of course, he is most remembered for his time with Sue Simmons. Their 32-year tandem ended in June 2012. (See video clip below.)
Simmons recalls the night “Chuck and Sue” was born.
“The first time I worked with Chuck he initiated me big time! I’d been so nervous that day I’d forgotten to eat,” Simmons tells Tuned In. “Right before the 11 p.m. newscast I realized how hungry I was and didn’t want to pass out in front of thousands.”
Simmons was forced to bring a vending machine sandwich on-set.
“So there I sat with sandwich on my lap reading the news,” Simmons continues. “Now it was Frank Field’s turn to do the weather. I saw my opportunity. Just as I took my first bite, Chuck asked me about my sandwich. I managed to explain myself to our viewers with food in my mouth. Great first impression!”
Another moment remembered by Simmons involves Scarborough fidgeting with his pen.
“As I read my first story, somehow the tip of his pen bounced off my eyebrow,” Simmons says.
In the post-Sue era, Scarborough has already had a revolving door of anchors, including Shiba Russell and Sibila Vargas.
Scarborough arrived at Channel 4 by way of Boston with his first major anchor experience at the former WNAC.
WNBC needed to make a dent in the ratings, against powerhouse WABC/Channel 7 with Eyewitness News stand out personalities Roger Grimsby and Bill Beutel. WCBS/Channel 2 was also gaining its own following with Jim Jensen, Dave Marash, and Rolland Smith.
“I never considered Chuck a rival. I considered him a colleague and a friend even though we worked at different stations,” Smith tells Tuned In.
He recalls an unplanned shout out by Scarborough during one nightly newscast.
“Many years ago, just after I left Channel 2, there was a several week hiatus before the announcement was made that I would be co-anchoring the CBS morning program,” Smith says. “During that time there was a felony arrest of a person named Roland or Rolland Smith. WNBC reported the story, but when Chuck read it on the air, he ad-libbed that even though the name was the same as the former WCBS-TV anchor, it was not the same person. He didn’t have to do that, and I have always appreciated the courtesy.”
Scarborough has won more than 30 Emmy Awards and is a charter member of the New York State Broadcasters Hall of Fame. The WNBC mainstay spent four years in the Air Force and has a commercial pilot’s license.
Jane Hanson was a colleague for decades.
“He took me under this wing when I arrived at WNBC in September of 1979, not just in the newsroom — he helped me find an agent and a boyfriend … How’s that for a pal?” Hanson jokes.
Although Scarborough can be considered stiff at times on air, Hanson says viewers only know a portion of the man.
“Behind that firm anchorman exterior is a fascinating guy with a wry sense of humor,” Hanson says. “He’s old school anchor with a bit of a renaissance man — pilot, author, great lover of animals — which many people may not know.”
What people do know is that after 40 years, Scarborough is the standard bearer of breaking news.
“It’s live TV at its best with ‘Charles in charge,’” Hanson, who co-anchored with Scarborough on 9/11, says. “He’s a fabulous ad-libber — and I can’t remember even one time where he said something he shouldn’t have…We had a news director once who called Chuck ‘Our Secret Weapon.’”
How long will Scarborough remain at WNBC is unknown, but the anchor has nothing left to prove.
“I congratulate him on 40 years with NBC and I am still proud to call him friend,” Smith says.
Simmons adds, “I’ve been away from WNBC for almost two years. We still love each other and see one another regularly. A good habit is tough to break!”