The Universal Notebook: News at 6

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As a news junkie and Portland native, I am a lifelong viewer of WCSH, but lately, I find myself grumbling a lot at News Center Maine.

My complaint goes something like this: “Too much weather, not enough news, no sports at all. Too much canned content. Same news morning, noon, and night.”

Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer WCSH to WGME (Sinclair Broadcasting airs conservative propaganda) and WMTW (news of New Hampshire), but I have become something of a curmudgeon about my news.   

Weather, for instance, used to be a five- to 10-minute afterthought on the evening news, but now it seems to dominate. There’s so much meteorological talk, in fact, that I often can’t figure out what the weather is actually going to be.

Channel 6 also all but stopped reporting sports after Bruce Glasier died and Lee Goldberg went to mornings. I find myself switching to WMTW for local sports coverage. 

And what’s with airing the same stories at 4, 5, 6, and 11 p.m.? It’s not more news, it’s the same news stretched thin. How about some new news, folks.

Then there are these canned Verify spots. I guess if you own 68 stations, as Virginia-based Tegna, WCSH’s parent company, does, it makes good economic sense to franchise the news, but thanks, but no thanks.

When I started watching Channel 6 news in the 1960s, Larry Geraghty was the anchor, Don McWilliams reported local sports and Ellis O’Brien was the weatherman. All three were a bit flakey, but they were our flakes.

One of the reasons WCSH rose to the top in the ratings was the continuity and longevity of its staff, many of whom were local folks. The ageless Pat Callaghan, the late Bruce Glasier, the boyish Rob Caldwell, the eternal Lee Goldberg, and retirees Bill Green, Lee Nelson, and Joe Cupo are News Center lifers.

And the boys were always complemented by a worldly woman from away. There was a time in the late 1980s when I was convinced that Michelle Gillen (1970s), Jan Fox (1980s), and Cindy Williams (since 1989) were all the same person.

Gillen became a major reporter in Miami and two years ago settled an age discrimination suit against her employer. And Fox became an Emmy-winning reporter and anchor at WUSA in Washington, D.C.

The WCSH formula also calls for a girl-next-door reporter, a position admirably filled over the years by Kathleen Shannon, Caroline Cornish, and now Amanda Hill. My guess is Hannah Dineen will be up next now that Jessica Gagne has left.

And then there’s the Lite ‘n’ Brite feature reporter. Dave Silverbrand played that role with “Dave’s People” on WGME. Bob Elliott came back to Portland from the bigtime to tape “Bob’s Basement” from 1986 to 1996. And “Bill Green’s Maine” aired from 2000 until his retirement in 2019.

Silverbrand is still doing “Dave’s People” for KIEM-TV in Eureka, California. Elliott died of a heart attack while riding his bike in Fort Williams in 1997. And Green traded on his television persona to help reelect U.S. Sen. Susan Collins last year. 

But when I think back over my long, voyeuristic association with WCSH, the person I most often think of is Fred Nutter, the station’s long-time news and editorial director. It’s not the gruff, old-school Fred Nutter delivering the official Channel 6 editorial line I remember as much as the chain-smoking Fred Nutter I often ran into huddled against the winter cold out on Congress Square smoking a butt.

And that’s the news at 6.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.