Almost five years after leaving WTAE, anchorman Don Cannon is returning to Pittsburgh television -- but this time, he'll be on the early morning news of rival KDKA.
Cannon, 59, will co-anchor the broadcast preceding the new CBS program with Bryant Gumbel. His first day on the air will be Sept. 20, although Gumbel's "The Early Show" won't start until Nov. 1.
"One of the real neat things about coming here, it's like coming home again. I've always known the folks at KD -- on the air and behind the scenes," Cannon said yesteday. Plus, a number of former WTAE colleagues work at Channel 2. "It's like being with old friends, so it's not really a culture shock."
The TV veteran will co-anchor with Karen Schroeder, who joined the station in February 1998, and longtime weatherman Jon Burnett.
Cannon left WTAE in early 1995 after 25 years. He later took a job at the Philadelphia CBS affiliate but resigned after roughly three months because of health problems and returned to Pittsburgh.
He and his wife eventually sold their house in Upper St. Clair and moved to California. Cannon had been working part time as a newsman for San Diego radio station KOGO and also had done voiceover and on-camera commercial work.
"He is certainly a very well-known, well-liked and respected news person who really has gotten his life together and deserves another chance," said KDKA general manager Gary Cozen.
Aware that the subject of his health is unavoidable, Cannon said, "I feel terrific. I could not feel better. I feel great. Bottom line, I guess the question a lot of people will ask is, 'What about the alcohol problem?'
"And basically I had one -- me and about 18 million other Americans, and it took me a while to confront it, accept it and get over it. Realistically, if you want to be honest, I'm a full, firm believer in the one-day-at-a-time philosophy. That's the only way it works, as far as I know."
Cannon's struggle with alcohol and depression became public during his tenure at WTAE. He was arrested for drunken driving in 1993. In what proved to be his final appearance on Channel 4, he became tongue-tied during the news in December 1994.
He was hospitalized for depression and within a month, the station announced he had "voluntarily resigned by mutual agreement."
Today, he says the twin troubles of depression and alcoholism "just did me in five years ago, brought me to ... I can't tell you the depths they brought me to."
Now, a remarkably upbeat Cannon says, "If life never gets any better than it is today, I will be the happiest man in the world. Life is good."
Without being specific, he made reference to participating in some recovery programs and said, "In recovery, it's been a discovery process as well. I just discovered a whole new world of friends, a whole new world about yourself, that life can be terrific. In a way, and I never thought I'd say this, I'm very grateful I went through that process; it's kind of a renewal that changes you forever."
The veteran anchorman said his hiring was serendipitous. He had been visiting Pittsburgh and stopped by KDKA to videotape something for personal use.
"I just happened to be here, and they let me use their facilities for an hour, which was very nice of them. As I was walking out the door, someone said, 'Hey, wait a minute.'. . . I went back to San Diego the next day and was kind of shocked."
To be technical, this won't be Cannon's first time on KDKA. In 1997, he filmed spots denouncing the sort of contests WTAE and WPXI run during sweeps periods.
Cozen said there had been no plans to overhaul the station's third-place morning show but, after seeing Cannon's tape, decided there was a chance to draw more viewers.
"There's a real opportunity in the morning in this market where there is really no well-known, real Pittsburgh anchor who the market has grown up with and is well-established," Cozen said.
Cannon's hire means Paul Alexander, who has been KDKA's morning co-anchor since last summer, is being shifted to morning reporter. KDKA will carry Gumbel's "The Early Show" in its entirety, 7 to 9 a.m., beginning Nov. 1. On that date KDKA's morning news will begin airing from 5 to 7 a.m., rather than the current 5:30 to 8 a.m.