Obituary: Ray Tannehill / News anchor at WPXI and KDKA for 29 years

July 12, 1934 -- Sept. 12, 2007

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Behind the scenes at KDKA-TV, Ray Tannehill nicknamed Jennifer Antkowiak "my Polish princess." He and the late Patti Burns sometimes teased meteorologist Bob Kudzma.

While co-workers remember Mr. Tannehill for his keen sense of humor, to Pittsburgh viewers he was simply a reliable, trustworthy presence on their TV for 29 years.

Mr. Tannehill, a native of New Brighton, died in his sleep of a heart attack Wednesday at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 73.

His son, Jeff Tannehill, said a minor stroke in 1991 that kept him off of KDKA for five weeks revealed his father had an enlarged heart. Family members believe it contributed to the fatal attack.

"He was a helluva newscaster," Mr. Kudzma said. "He really went after a story and you know if he said it, it was absolutely true. But he also had a great sense of humor. During commercial breaks, we would kid each other all the time. But when it came to serious news, he'd get serious about it."

The intensely private Mr. Tannehill turned down interview requests when he retired from KDKA in July 1999, but on his last noon news broadcast, sitting beside Ms. Antkowiak, he thanked his colleagues, including videographers, assignment editors and TelePrompTer operators, before acknowledging viewers for their support when he had his stroke, which he called, "a little bump in the road."

"It's been a great ride for me," Mr. Tannehill said of his years as a broadcast journalist. "It's been my pleasure to have you along for a major part of it."

Mr. Tannehill graduated from New Brighton High School in 1952 and worked briefly for the FBI, taking fingerprints. He attended Geneva College for a couple of years before a two-year stint in the Army and the beginning of his broadcasting career. He started out working in radio in Youngstown, Ohio, then moved on to Cleveland, where he also did color commentary for Browns games.

Mr. Tannehill first worked in TV in San Francisco. After seven years there, he joined Pittsburgh's WIIC (now WPXI) in 1970, anchoring newscasts alongside Adam Lynch.

"I always thought Ray was relatively guarded and did not give up himself easily until he was sure he was comfortable with whomever it was, when he became convinced you were on his side," Mr. Lynch said. "We loved being together and working together. He respected me and I respected him."

Within just a few weeks of being dropped by WIIC in 1976, Mr. Tannehill was hired by KDKA, initially as a "special projects correspondent," but he went on to anchor the station's most prominent newscasts, sitting beside TV news legends Bill Burns and Patti Burns.

Mr. Tannehill was even mentioned in a Marvel Comics book, Star Brand, set in Pittsburgh. In 1986, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported a character in the comic book turned on his TV and remarked, "Eleven p.m.! Wonder what ol' Ray Tannehill has to say for himself tonight?"

Ms. Antkowiak remembered Mr. Tannehill, whom she called "the dean," for his teasing interplay with Patti Burns that was directed at Mr. Kudzma, who earned the nickname "the nerd." She also recalled a frequent declaration he'd make in the middle of the newsroom.

"All these women and there's no coffee in the coffee pot," Ms. Antkowiak remembered Mr. Tannehill saying playfully. "We would all look at him, but someone would get up and get him coffee. Stacy [Smith] would even say, 'What would happen if I did that?' We'd say, 'Don't try it, this is only for Ray.' "

KDKA reporter Mary Robb Jackson worked with Mr. Tannehill when she was on the studio crew at Channel 11 and later when she became a reporter at KDKA. She called him "the consummate gentleman," but also said he had a wicked sense of humor.

"He and Patti together," she said, "I don't think any viewer realized how unbelievably funny they could be. But Ray was always a very private man, very private about his family."

Ms. Jackson said Mr. Tannehill never drew attention to himself, but she recalled hearing about his generosity, possibly from Patti Burns.

"There was a Christmas story on the news about a mother and her children who didn't have groceries or Christmas presents, and he went out and bought gift certificates and groceries and all sorts of things and just anonymously left them at their doorstep," she said. "I have a feeling Ray did a lot of things like that no one knew about."

On KDKA's 6 p.m. newscast last night, Ms. Brown and Mr. Smith led the station's remembrances with Ms. Brown saying, "He taught all of us and made us feel very professional as well."

In 1988, Mr. Tannehill spent 10 days in the Soviet Union for a series of reports that aired in May sweeps that year. He was on vacation in 1994, when USAir Flight 427 crashed. He was dining at a New Brighton restaurant when he learned about the crash and drove to the crash site and began reporting.

Aviva Radbord, KDKA's public affairs producer and weekend assignment editor, said Mr. Tannehill had a great sense of the local community. She remembered working with him on "Atomic Veterans: A Time Bomb?" a sweeps feature in February 1982 about people exposed to atomic testing. Ms. Radbord said the report won an award from the American Legion.

When Ms. Antkowiak left WPXI to join KDKA, Mr. Tannehill was one of the first people to welcome her to KDKA, both in the newsroom and on the air.

"I was doing a report, and I went on the set with him and Patti and I'm sitting there and he put his hand on my hand at the end of my report and said, 'Thank you very much, and we want to welcome you and we're happy to have you as part of our KDKA family.' Viewers to this day remember that. I was the new kid on the block and because Ray accepted me, they accepted me. I believe that wholeheartedly."

In addition to son Jeff, of Sugar Land, Texas, Mr. Tannehill is survived by his wife, Catherine; a daughter, Kimberly Toloumu of Santa Fe; and two grandchildren.

A private funeral will be held today in Santa Fe.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.


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