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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Jack

We lost Jack Scannella this week.  He was 90.

You might not have realized it, but Jack Scannella was an important person in your life.  He helped invent television news in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area.  Jack was one of the pioneers, starting as a photographer at WGBI TV 22, when the station was new.  WGBI eventually became WDAU, and then WYOU.  As the years went on, Jack became chief photographer, then assignment editor and finally operations manager before his retirement.

Jack was an important person in my life, and I'd like to share some of that with you.

I started at WYOU in 1990.  While I was green when it came to TV, I knew how to do news from my 10+ years in radio.  Plus, I was a local boy.  I knew how to get around, and I think Jack appreciated that.  I was eager, taking some of the lousy shifts, filling in on late notice.  Jack did the scheduling, and I think he appreciated my flexibility, too.

Early on in my stint at WYOU, I was assigned to cover an arrest in a cold murder case.  It had been dormant for years.  Jack told me where to find the film of the original crime.  It was in the station's vast storage area in the basement of our building at 415 Lackawanna Avenue.  Not only did Jack know exactly where the film was, he described it frame by frame-- even though he hadn't seen it for years.  His memory was flawless.

This next story is going to be a long one.  I'll shorten it up and clean it up as best I can.

We caught a certain city with padlocking some of the doors of one of its sports and entertainment buildings while events were going on inside!  The city explained that it had to lock the doors because of a vandalism and theft problem.  That's all well and good, but this reckless behavior would have resulted in multiple fatalities in the event of a fire.  Responsibility for this building, and the locked doors, fell to the city's public works director.  I went to his city hall office for a comment.  He declined.  Okay.  Fine.  The lack of cooperation wasn't going to kill the piece.  We still had an excellent story, and if the city wasn't going to try to spin it, or apologize, that was their own problem.  I asked the photographer to get video of the public work director's office door, to show we were there.  We tried to get the city to respond, and the person in charge wanted no part of us.  As the photographer was getting video of the door, the public works director exited and started screaming at me in the hallway.  It was not pretty.  I should add the photographer, in plain sight, in a public building's hallway, was rolling on the whole thing.

When I got back to the office in Scranton, Jack could see something was bothering me.  Contrary to popular belief, I don't go looking for fights.  I told Jack what had happened, added I felt awful and said this person will never cooperate with us ever again.  I had to put the hallway reaming, where I was drilled several new orifices, on the air.  It became a vital part of the story, and it showed the indifference of city government.  Jack had the magic words:  "#@%* him.! Next time, he'll know better."  It made me feel better, instantly.  Jack, as always, was right.

Jack had some other well known, and much cleaner, phrases.  When Jack was on the assignment desk, he would set up a story for you, and as he was describing it, he would invariably say "Go there.  They will talk to you."  If you balked at a story and didn't like the idea, Jack's advice was "Just do the piece."  Once again, Jack was right.

I remember one day, when I was part time, and up for a full time opening, I walked in to the assignment office.  Jack said to me "I heard cats can get AIDS.  Do a story on that."  I did, and during the production, I thought my full time possibility is going down the tubes with this one.  It turned out surprisingly well, and I was made full time.  I don't think the cat story was much of an influence.  My fate had already been decided.

Here is how Jack remains an inspiration to this day.  Jack started in primitive film.  Film gave way to video tape, and eventually computers.  Jack not only embraced any new technology that came in the door, he excelled at it.  When he retired, Jack was as good with a computer as anyone in that building.  When I struggle with new technology, I think of Jack, and how he was never afraid to learn.

Writing a short Newswatch 16 piece on Jack's passing fell to me Tuesday morning.  Here is how that started.  A close friend messaged me that Jack had died.  I verbally mentioned it to our news director, Carl Abraham.  He had old pictures of Jack and added that we really should say something on the air.  I had enough in my head to bang out a quick story.  Jack deserved more.  The funeral home was kind enough to quickly email me an obituary.  Thanks to our competitors, who kindly provided some video.  The news director called me to make sure we received the computer video file.  Thank you to the people down the street, who know, at a time like this, there is no need to compete.   And, thanks to my boss Carl, who understood you really should know about Jack's passing.

During this quest for information, I called Jack's house, hoping someone could fill in some dates and numbers for me.  Jack's wife, Joan called me back. We had a nice talk, and I was glad to have the opportunity to tell her how much Jack meant to me.  The viewing is on a Friday afternoon.  My work schedule will keep me away, and Joan, a TV wife, understood that.

I will tell you something I told Joan Scannella.  So many of us working in broadcasting right now owe our careers to Jack.  We are better journalists, better people, because we worked with him.  It is an outstanding legacy.

PS:  Great friend and former co-worker David DeCosmo has some thought on Jack on his blog.  Check it out.  There is a link on www.NepaBlogs.org.

1960, Red Skelton and Jack Scannella.
Courtesy:  CarlAbraham.com