Tomorrow, WPXI reporter Ron Jaye will sign off on Channel 11 for the last time, ending a career in Pittsburgh television that began in 1965.
Since then he's hosted talk shows ("Hotline" on WPXI), anchored news and weather (on WPXI and WTAE), read sports news (on KDKA), reported news for radio (WTAE-AM) and even hosted "Bowling for Dollars" (on WTAE).
A Buffalo, N.Y., native, Jaye said the talk show and reporting were career highlights. He said he was especially proud to be part of two first-time efforts: "Hotline" was the first show to feature telephone calls on television, and Jaye anchored Pittsburgh's first 5:30 p.m. newscast on WPXI.
On "Hotline," viewers would call in with questions for guests, who included authors James Michener and Gay Talese. To create a seven-second delay, Jaye said, "Hotline" was recorded on one VCR and the tape would then run to another VCR that played it back. The travel time between the two VCRs was seven seconds.
"Look at the kind of technology we have today," Jaye said. "In that light, it's quite humorous to use two tape machines next to each other."
Jaye was once encouraged to apply for a talk show host job by his cousin who worked at a TV station in Dayton, Ohio. Jaye procrastinated in getting the tape to him, and by the time he did, the station had hired someone else. His name was Phil Donahue, and his show was soon syndicated nationally.
But Jaye has no regrets. He got to do pretty much everything a person can do in television. Once he did it all at in the same day.
"One night on Channel 11, at this time of year when people were sick or on vacation, I did the news, sports and weather," Jaye said. "I was the whole show. Of course, we only had a half-hour, so it wasn't quite so bad, but the preparation was hell."
Jaye turned 66 in October, but decided to stay at WPXI "one more year, probably to their chagrin. You know the youth movement in TV. They're being very gracious and nice, but I think they're thinking, 'Get rid of the old fogey.' That's only natural."
Most recently, Jaye has been Channel 11's Beaver/Butler bureau reporter (Amy Marcinkiewicz will take his place). Before that he was a morning and noon anchor on Channel 11.
Jaye said losing his anchor seat felt like a demotion at the time, but ultimately he was glad for the change.
"Every anchor is a reporter, and if they aren't, they don't belong there, and obviously we know there are many who don't belong there," Jaye said. "Going back to reporting was the best thing I ever did. I've been all over Western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio and parts of West Virginia. You get a chance to talk to people. It's so different -- you're not sitting in a studio. You get to meet so many people and see so many different things."
Jaye said economics are the biggest change in TV news since he started in Pittsburgh 35 years ago.
"When television found it could make money on news, journalism went out the window," Jaye said. "Not completely. They still try to do a factual, good story, but it must have bells and whistles now. During the '50s and '60s and on into the '70s, we were making it up and we were allowed to use our imagination. Now with so much money involved, you can't use that much imagination. You have to package things in what television stations perceive to be the most palatable manner."
Jaye and his wife, Jane, plan to stay in Pittsburgh, where three of their four children live. And Jaye's distinctively raspy voice may be heard again.
"I'm going to let people know I'm available for free-lance, but I'm not going to push it," Jaye said. "I'd like to do voice-overs, documentaries, that kind of thing. I'll make myself available. If they call, fine."