Legend and icon, words that are commonly misused and overused. But they could have been written just for Gabe Pressman. The Bronx native was 93. He was a fixture at WNBC for decades, getting a lifetime contract with his second stint in 1980.
The pioneering broadcaster is credited as the first street reporter in New York, when he joined WNBC in 1956.
“Gabe was the real deal!” Sue Simmons, his longtime WNBC colleague, remembers. “There was no one more respected in our newsroom. In my moments of insecurity, he was always gently supportive.”
Along the way, he interviewed mayors, governors and presidents. Pressman would do just that, “pressing” his subjects to answer for a hard-hitting story and becoming a leading proponent for the First Amendment.
There was plenty of shock in 1972 when Pressman switched channels to WNEW (now WNYW).
Former News Director Ted Kavanau got word from his general manager Larry Fraiberg that Pressman liked the Ten O’Clock News.
“I went to Gabe’s apartment,” Kavanau says.
He brought the controversial commentator Martin Abend to make sure it would be a good fit.
“He assured me he wanted to join the team,” Kavanau tells Tuned In.
John Roland, former Channel 5 anchor, says, “I don’t know how Ted pulled it off. He was his own institution when he came to work for us.”
Roland says Pressman used that cache in his new Channel 5 role.
“He wasn’t assigned stories like the rest of us. Gabe had his own path, his car, [and] his own assistant. Even Ted usually didn’t know what [Gabe] was going to come back with, but he knew he was going to come back with something certainly worthwhile.”
Before arriving, Kavanau reflects on a funny moment, literally helping the veteran journalist make the move to WNEW.
“He had an old style way of keeping records with piles of paper and files,” Kavanau says.
He and a producer showed up at 30 Rock wearing some green uniforms that the cleaning people at Channel 5 used.
“We went to Gabe’s office and we were the moving men,” Kavanau recalls.
Pressman would remain on the street for WNEW until the end of the seventies.
“Gabe was as tough and tenacious a reporter as I have ever had the pleasure of working with or I have ever even known,” Roland recalls.
Roland says when he heard that Pressman’s voice was silenced, the Don McLean song “American Pie” came to mind with the lyrics The Day the Music Died.
“But substitute the word music for journalism, because journalism as I knew it, died along with Gabe,” Roland tells Tuned In.
Pressman was also an anchor in the infancy of local news. Starting in 1956 when WNBC was still called WRCA, he delivered a five-minute nightly broadcast.
That expanded to 10 minutes, and thanks to the 1963 newspaper strike it became a full half hour, when he teamed with Bill Ryan.
“He had a heart of gold,” Roland says. “Guys like him are absolutely irreplaceable.”
Before changing his work address, Pressman covered the tumultuous 1960s, including reaction to President Kennedy’s assassination. The reporting would be part of NBC’s coverage.
In 2015, Pressman told Tuned In, “It’s been a very interesting lifetime. I wouldn’t trade it for any other experience.”