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Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
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Don Scott on saying goodbye to TV after 40 years and 4 days at WJZ

Don Scott will sign off for the last time Friday morning at WJZ-TV after 40 years at the station.

Tens of thousands of Baltimore viewers have started their day with him for the more than three decades that he's been at the station's morning anchor desk.

That's a run not likely to be duplicated by many in the new media world. And WJZ has consistently finished at or near the top of the ratings during that time.

I talked with the 64-year-old broadcaster this week about his final days on the air in Baltimore.

Q. I have seen different numbers on your run at WJZ. Can we nail it down? Is it actually 40 years??

A. My 40th anniversary was this past Monday. I'm going out Friday at 40 years and 4 days.

Q. Now this isn't a mandatory-at-65 retirement, is it? I know some media companies once had that rule. But that's not the deal at CBS, is it? You're choosing to step down, right?

A. I am choosing... It's my choice. My contract was up at the end of May. So, during contract negotiations, I just decided I didn't want to do this any more.

Q. Since the news of your retirement, there has been a lot of social media affection expressed by viewers. What's that feel like as you are going out the door?

A. I'm very gratified. I've always appreciated the support I've got over the years -- and the help I've got when I needed it. So, I'm thrilled that everybody would like me to stay, because that's a pretty high compliment. But I started the ball rolling, and I can't see a reason to stop it at this point or change my mind.

I don't know what I'm going to do next. I don't plan to sit in a rocking chair at 64 and 1/2. I don't plan to stop coloring my beard and my hair. I assume there's gray under there, but I haven't seen it.

Q. How about the changes you've seen in local TV news in 40 years?

A. When I started, we used film. We all had to have our stories back by 3:30 in the afternoon so somebody down the hall could develop the film. ... Then, when we switched over to electronic broadcasting, ENG, as we called it, that was a great step forward.

Q. That was the late 1970s, wasn't it?

A. Late '70s, yeah. ... Then, not only did we not have to develop film anymore, we could have a van out there with a dish on top that we could broadcast live. I remember watching Al Sanders do our first live broadcast. He did it from a temporary city hall. And everybody went, 'Woo, woo.'

Now, of course, we do live shots about anything. But it was a big thing at the time. ...

As far as other changes, one of the things me and Marty [Bass] like to talk about a lot is that I think what we do now on the air is recent history. And the news is on your smartphone. Twitter, you know, all that stuff, you can see what's happening right now. That's the news. Whereas when we go out and cover the story and put it in a package, we're showing you a recent historical event. It might be only two hours ago, but it's a recent historical event. ...

I think Twitter and all the social media have changed everything -- for the positive -- but it's changed.

Q. How about you?

A. I tweet every day. I'm on Facebook every day.

Q. Are you reading the well wishes from viewers?

A. I probably choke up two or three times a day now reading Facebook and Twitter, because you don't realize the effect you have on people. I enjoy all the people who say, 'I've watched you all my life,' because if they're under 40, they have. And I appreciate those who say I've somehow 'calmed' them or something. That's the one I get a lot: that my calm voice -- some people call it a tenor, some call it a baritone -- but that I set the pace for the day for them by being the first person they hear in the morning.

Q. Any last thoughts?

A. I'm still trying to formulate in my mind what I'm going to say my last 30 seconds on the air Friday. But one thing I think besides the support of people is the support on my partner.

You know, Marty and I clicked some time ago. And I hear all those stories about how I control Marty or I calm Marty down. I don't believe that. Neither of us controls either of us. But we do support each other. ... We've been working together since when Oprah left for Chicago.

... I'm gratified people think this matters. I think it's the continuum and I'm just stepping off. I've tried to formulate something to say that people will remember: I wanted to go out standing up, at the top of the game and healthy enough to do something else.

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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