wayneshannon

Remembering Wayne Shannon (1948-2012)

In September 2006, I wrote an essay about a local television commentator by the name of Wayne Shannon. Shannon appeared frequently on KRON 4 Evening News, in the San Francisco Bay Area where I grew up, in the 1980s. I was to learn later that Shannon had an illustrious career, with stints in Philadelphia and Detroit. I wondered why there was no online record of a man who had touched millions, a man who was a little ahead of his time with his acerbic television commentaries. Two decades later, there had been something about Shannon’s approach that had caked its way into my noggin. Was it his common sense arguments? His acid barbs? I remember that he had been so funny that even the guys behind the camera couldn’t suppress their laughter. Yet nobody had thought to memorialize him or write about him or upload video clips so that future people could see what he was all about.

I was able to piece together some information, learning that Shannon had left KRON in 1988 when news director Herb Dudnick became tired of his commentaries and after Wayne had tried to negotiate a new deal unsuccessfully with the appropriate brass. I learned that he had a stint on CNBC. But there was no real luck with the San Francisco Chronicle archives. Richard Grayson was kind enough to check LexisNexis, but that only went back to 1990. Shannon had been supremely popular in the San Francisco Bay Area, but he represented someone who had needlessly slipped through the cracks — the victim of being professionally active during an era that, from the vantage point of the last five years, allows some of its more localized and esoteric figures to slip.

So I put up my post and discovered that I wasn’t the only one searching for Wayne Shannon. There were a few emails and comments. And then Wayne Shannon himself showed up, leaving a comment (partially quoted below):

Hi Edward:

Wayne Shannon here. About once a year I get on the web and type in my name and see what I do/do not get.

And there you were. Thanks for remembering me at all, web failure or not.

My privacy continues to be paramount in my life, so, unfortunately, the email address above no longer exists. Sorry about that, but I’m not inclined to divulge the one I use these days.

An entry that had started from a single question turned into a veritable Wayne Shannon party. Other people named Wayne Shannon showed up, including an Atlanta-based arborist who wrote, “I am still around. You didn’t search hard enough.” But soon more people from Wayne’s life appeared, all of them remembering Wayne fondly. Wayne showed up intermittently. And I opened up another thread for Wayne to talk with his fans.

Wayne and I began corresponding. He graciously offered to send me a DVD featuring some of his clips (or as he called it “hatest grits”), and I said, yes, absolutely, send it my way. I’d love to see it.

My partner and I watched all the clips in one sitting. We couldn’t stop. It was absolutely clear that Wayne Shannon was a television talent, somewhere between consumer crusader and comedian, who was decades ahead of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. He took on auto manufacturers over epic ten part segments (and I would later learn that Michael Moore would pilfer some of Shannon’s comedic approach with Roger & Me). He would assemble homages and parodies to popular movies on the local evening news during a time in which such experimentation was unthinkable. (But in an age in which The Daily Show pours out a steady stream of satirical graphics, this is now commonplace.)

What happened to Wayne Shannon? The biggest question I had was why this man had stopped.

My partner and I did some additional research and made sure that Wayne got a Wikipedia page. We made sure some of the clips found their way onto YouTube.

I asked Wayne if he would appear on The Bat Segundo Show. He agreed. You can listen to our conversation here.

He threw himself into his work, recording commentaries at a flurrious rate to keep what remained of his family together.

He had been through a brutal, an especially brutal divorce.

His kids had been taken away from him. His soon-to-be ex-wife demonstrated no quarter.

He suffered from low self-esteem for most of his life.

I learned all this from the interview. Listening to the conversation now, after hours of wrapping my head around a world without Wayne Shannon, I’m not only condemning myself for my journalistic detachment. I’m wondering if I should have done more. Wayne was crying at the end of the interview because I had dredged up terrible personal revelations. And I quickly put an end to our talk. Who the hell was I to push further? What good was this nostalgia? My efforts to tell the world about Wayne Shannon? Wasn’t the man in enough pain?

But Wayne and I still emailed. Wayne thanked me for “what will likely be my last interview.” He insisted that Wayne-Bo, the personality he had created for his commentaries, was dead.

I sent Wayne information on how to pitch NPR. I tried to persuade him to get on Twitter. I insisted that he needed to write. It was not the time for goodbye, but a time for revival. Surely there were other tapes of Wayne’s segments. We could get the entire video collection up somewhere.

No, Wayne reported back to me. The disc I had was all that remained. “It took me months to pile through boxes and boxes of old tapes,” Wayne wrote back to me. “You got the best of what was available…and some of that — as you have doubtless noticed — is well below par.”

Wayne was needlessly self-deprecatory to the end.

What I didn’t count on was that Wayne’s children would discover him on the Web — thanks to my page. He was able to send all of the information that chronicled and collected his life to his kids, including the “surprisingly accurate bio” on Wikipedia that my partner and I had assembled.

For a long time, he wondered if his children had been figments of his imagination.

For a while, I thought Wayne had been a figment of my imagination.

This was not the case.

* * *

The last time we contacted each other was a few years ago. His health was going. He said he was in pain. But he was cracking jokes to the end. He said that he was packing up his computer. That he was going offline for good. Well, wait just a goddam minute.

The last words he wrote: “Write like you’ve got less time than you think you have. It worked for me.”

I tried emailing Wayne back. The email bounced. I tried the phone number I had. It was disconnected.

I never heard from him again.

And then on May 1, 2012, I learned from his son that he had passed away.

* * *

It started with a question. Basic curiosity. Is there some marginalized figure who isn’t getting his due? Someone who Google can’t pick up?

Sometimes the difference between remembering and forgetting someone is what gives that person a new reason to live.

I miss Wayne Shannon.

[5/3/12 UPDATE: More information here. Wayne appears to have taken his own life. I’m utterly gutted about this.]

[5/4/12 UPDATE: For this unfamiliar with Wayne’s work, I have assembled a video tribute, featuring 21 videos from throughout Shannon’s career.]

[5/6/12 UPDATE: A new Tumblr, Wayne Shannon: What’s It All Mean?, has been started, featuring Shannon’s many commentaries.]

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24 Comments

  1. Whats it all mean ?

    Thank you for sharing – Wayne Bo was a really cool guy, I know why he dropped off the scene –
    So sad – thank you for taking such a huge interest in him, as did Rupert Murdock
    You both saw the talent – the wink, the moustach – lol , thank you

  2. I had never heard of Wayne Shannon until I ran across your article link in a Twitter feed. Thank you for bringing him to my attention. His contributions are indeed worth noting, and I hope you capture the essence of more pioneers before we lose them forever in death and the media abyss.

  3. Thanks for your efforts to give Wayne Shannon a “web presence.” From the videos and interview, he was indeed ahead of his time.

    One wonders how many other people in his field and other fields whose careers and contributions preceded the Web and who no one has championed (pun, sorry) remain non-web persons, their unique talents and accomplishments unacknowledged online.

    RIP Wayne. You did a mitzvah here.

  4. My favorite Wayne Shannon Quote:
    “That’s the thing with wackos, sometimes they’re in charge.”

  5. Jahoney@gmail.com May 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Wayne Shannon, RIP, was NOT “enormously popular” in the SF Bay Area. Critics and many viewers blasted his lame Oliver Hardy mustach-twisting shtick, and his writing was dreadful.

  6. Compared to Will Rogers by Leah Garchik, beloved by many of his friends and coworkers decades later (many of whom have been in touch with me in the past 24 hours)? Yeah, not loved, not popular at all.

  7. Sharon Trentino May 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    I had the pleasure of working with Wayne at KRON way back when. I always thought he was great. That was around the time his daughter, Tierney, was born. I remember he said they named her after Gene Tierney.

    I think I might even have a copy of his book around here somewhere. It was a collection of some of his essays. His segment at the end of the news was a good way to leave them laughing. (and yes, we in the studio laughed too.)

  8. Wayne was brilliant. He did a hilarious piece about TV news audition tapes that is must-see TV for anyone in broadcast news, or anyone who thinks they want to get in. If someone has it or has a link to it, I hope they’ll post it here!

  9. I worked with Wayne from day one at CNBC. Funny, sharp, quick, bright, self-detracting, lonely. These all sum up a man who brought a new perspective to so many everyday things. I am proud to have called him a friend and was terribly saddened to learn today of his untimely death. RIP Wayne-Bo. You’re finally home.

  10. Unfortunately I did not meet Wayne as he was let go from CNBC a mere 4 days after I started but boy, did those phone lines light up when he went off the air. Wish we could have met. RIP Wayne. You had quite a reputation in the hallowed CNBC halls.

  11. Edward,

    Thanks so much for writing and sharing about Wayne. We discussed your threads, and I know he enjoyed finding your inquiry into his life…Wayne was humble, but I’m sure the recognition of his work felt good. Take care. We will all miss Wayne.

    Dave

  12. I remember as a young news associate at CNBC, writing one of Wayne’s tease to his story. It was “one potato, two potato,three potato, four…wayne shannon will be right back with some more.”.

    RIP Wayne…Judy Walker

  13. I remember sharing a “pod” in the early days of CNBC with Wayne. He was so funny, and on target, an unusual addition to our mostly dry business news. What a great mind. So sorry to hear of the sadness that followed our time together.

  14. Dana Eugene Creasy May 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Echoing Ted and Alex, Wayne-Bo was one of “us” – the CNBC Originals – and an original himself, no less. I always thought he reminded me of Jack Kemp, only heavier and a lot more funny. His wit and wisdom in his commentaries were timeless and said a lot about the man. He was a good friend, always willing to lend an ear, and a genuine pleasure to talk to. I recall when he left the network and said he was heading home to Seattle, it was a sad occasion. Unfortunately, I lost touch with him over the years, which is regrettable. His passing is noted with much sorrow.

  15. Brilliant — watched & appreciated everything about
    Since I was a kid- Huge influence — you are so spot on!!
    Great work–We can only wonder why, in the end..

  16. I toured with Wayne in Vietnam 69′-70. I would bump into him about every ten years. I lost him three or four times.
    He played one of the Fathers in the Fantasticks that toured for two and a half months all over Vietnam. Where the civilian entertainers couldn’t go. We as GI could. Wayne was funny and a fine actor. I tried to get in touch with him for the last 6 months with no luck. He will be missed. Rest in Peace my friend and brother.
    Rick

  17. […] blog post about Shannon may be read here. According to Wikipedia, “Shannon was born in Spokane, Washington but moved soon after to […]

  18. HI IT IS MY GREAT PLEASURE TO SAY THAT WAYNE WAS MY UNCLE, BUT MORE THEN THAT HE WAS ALSO A FRIEND.HIS WIT, KINDNESS AND GOOD NATURE ALWAYS LEFT YOU FEELING GOOD AND WITH A SMILE ON YOUR FACE.HIS GENEROSITY TO OTHERS WAS ALWAYS PRESENT.TO SAY HE WAS A ONE OF A KIND WOULD BE A HUGE UNDERSTATEMENT.THOSE OF YOU WHO KNEW HIM KNOW WHAT I MEAN.HE SUFFERED MANY HEART ACHE’S OVER THE YEARS BUT ALWAYS SEEMED TO BE ABLE TO FIND HUMOR TO SHARE WITH OTHERS. WAYNE YOU WILL BE MISSED AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR ADVISE TO ME WHEN I WENT THROUGH MY HEART BREAKING DIVORCE. YOUR ADVICE AND EXPERIENCE WAS A BIG PART IN ME GETTING THROUGH IT AND MOVING ON WITH MY LIFE. I WILL NEVER FORGET YOU UNCLE WAYNE I HOPE YOU REST IN PEACE.

  19. Louis de la Torre May 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm

    I worked with Mr. Shannon while he was at KRON.

    On or off the air, he was one to be admired.

    Louis de la Torre (retired KRON photo-journalist.)

  20. Thanks to Wayne for keeping little kids out of harm’s way by getting those “magic nails” toys off the market.

  21. I just saw the notice of his death in the local news. I liked him when he was here in the Bay Area – his acerbic humor appealed to me then. This was a great article and a tribute to him – it’s such a shame that he did not value himself more, and that he took his own life…so sad!

  22. Gail Higgins Garcelon September 17, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Wayne was born one day before I was born. Our mother’s were roommates at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, WA. Years later the Schetzles moved to Moses Lake, WA and Wayne and I were classmates. He was the class clown – we even had a first year teacher who had a nervous breakdown and “retired” the year Wayne was in the class. He was a funny guy, a fantastic person and a great friend. The last time we saw him was at our 40th reunion in 2006 and the last correspondence was in 2011. He was suffering greatly at that time from the effects of Vietnam and Agent Orange, while tending to his mother’s needs in her final days. I feel he was waiting for her to die, so he could then ease his own pain. He is missed by many.

  23. Terry Trask Skeesick September 17, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    what wonderful memories I have of Wayne, his humor, his compassion and his very unique approach to life. In many ways we all (Moses Lake Class of 66) grew up together and have kept a strong bond even if we had not seen one another as frequently as we would have liked. I will remember is witty personality and his sharp tongue, our class has lost a treasure and a friend. He is now in a brighter place! Until we meet again!

  24. I was way too young to know Wayne Shannon the commentator, but he came to Portland in the mid 1990s. While trying to find himself as a part-time reporter at KOIN-TV, he also served as an adjunct journalism professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., teaching broadcast writing.

    In college I had been given the chance to work TV extensively in a very small town station. When he told the class he had won Emmy awards, no one believed him until we came in one day and he had six statues lined up at the front of the room. No one questioned his qualifications from that day.

    Certainly self-depricating as described, he was quick to instill confidence and a kind word to those of us in the classroom who wanted to get into the business. While I never made TV news a career, I certainly will always remember the confidence he had in many. Sorry to hear of his passing and the circumstances. No life should end that way.

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