I’m going to miss Ken Screven

a fixture in his community

Damn. I’m going to miss Ken Screven. Ken, who reported for decades at WRGB/CBS6, the first African-American television reporter and news anchor in the Albany market, passed away on May 18 at the age of 71.

I first met Ken back in 1979 when he was covering an arts program at Hamilton Hill in Schenectady, but he doesn’t remember that. He did remember that he interviewed me in January 1985 when we were plugging a benefit concert called Rock for Raoul, in memory of Albany cartoonist/FantaCo employee/my friend Raoul Vezina.

For a number of years, we had this nodding acquaintance. I was going to church in Albany’s Center Square and he lived literally around the corner.

I watched him on the air with his booming voice and compassionate, intelligent presence covering a wide range of stories. One of his best was The Mystery Of Screven County. this was a 3-part series he made in 1996. “Ken spent a week with a producer and a cameraman in 1996…searching for the connection to his name…to a place called ‘Screven County, Georgia’. It was a journey that took him to New York City…Maryland…Savannah Georgia…and the low lands of South Carolina. It went on to win the award of ‘Best Documentary’ from the NYS Associated Press Broadcasters Assn.”

Ken was, as the Times Union’s Chris Churchill noted, “the most recognizable black person here in one of the nation’s whitest metropolitan areas.”


It was The End Of An Era when Ken retired from WRGB after 34 years. Retirement suited him. He was outspoken on Facebook and in his Times Union blog. Since I was also on the TU platform at the time, we ended up comparing notes about audience reactions.

While some, including me, loved what he wrote, others were upset. And part of it was that he acknowledged stuff he had to endure as a black man in the sometimes parochial Capital District. Sometimes, it’s not the big stuff, it’s the little irritants that get under one’s skin. “Gee, you don’t sound black on the radio.” He wrote about being the only black kid in his class, something I could relate to.

When he reviewed the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, he noted, “Even though [James] Baldwin died in 1987, and much of his words contained in the movie reach back 50 years, the issues Baldwin talks about are still with us, raw and festering in the minds of many of Trump nation… This is a significant spotlight on an America we thought no longer existed.” His disdain for Donald J. was unapologetic.

As he noted in  The Conscience of the Newsroom for the New York State Broadcasters Association, he encountered “racism as he joined WRGB.” He insisted on “relating the humanity and heart behind the news.” Correctly, I believe, he felt “the art and craft of reporting are succumbing to the demands of the market-driven news cycle.”


Ken was often profiled. For our PBS station WMHT, he was part of the
Breaking Stereotypes | Out in Albany series. “Ken Screven, a broadcasting trailblazer, talks about life as a gay black man. Originally from New York City, he started in broadcasting in 1973… ‘When I came here I said, ‘OK, this is your authentic life. The person that you’re supposed to be. And who you are.'”

For Spectrum News: Screven Remains Active, Despite On-Air Retirement (Feb. 18, 2019). Years after his retirement from WRGB-TV after 38 years of telling stories that touched everyone, reporter Ken Screven remains a fixture in his community, from his Albany Times Union blogs to his active social media following. This Black History Month, we take an in-depth look at the trails he blazed to become the first black on-air reporter in the Capital Region.”

Chuck Miller and I had an idea for some Times Union bloggers to get together. I jokingly suggested having it at Ken Screven’s place because Ken was having some mobility problems. Chuck actually pursued it, and it was so. Twice, actually, in early 2015 and late 2016.

Talking at FPC

It may be that the last two times I talked with Ken in person were at funerals at my church. In January 2019, it was after the funeral of Bob Lamar, the former pastor of the church. While we were talking, one of the choir members said he had a voice like a Stradivarius, which was true.

Almost exactly a year later, we talked after the service for our friend Keith Barber. It was at that reception where Ken took this selfie of us, though he didn’t send it to me until a year later, with the message, “Be well.”

In February of 2022, Ken was facing “mounting medical bills.” He went from hospital to rehabilitation a couple of times. His friends started a GoFundMe campaign and raised over $33,000, crushing the goal of $25,000. I contributed, of course. But should this be the way we do health in this country?

Ken was a 2009 Citizen Action Jim Perry Progressive Leadership Award recipient and the In Our Own Voices 2018 Community Advocate honoree. In 2020 he was honored by the Albany Damien Center with its Hero Award, for his commitment to educating and advocating for the community.

But more than that, he was my friend, who died too soon.

Book: Six and Eleven by Ed Dague

Ed Dague was a consumate professional newsperson

six and eleven.ed dagueIt was a Thursday in mid-November. I was looking at some quiz and realized I had read but two books all year. So I scanned my bookshelf and picked out Six and Eleven: A Television News Anchor’s Story by Ed Dague.

I’d known who Dague was since the mid-1970. I was going to college at New Paltz, in New York State’s Mid-Hudson region. On cable, we got the stations from both New York City and Albany. I’d watch the NYC news during the week, generally WABC, Channel 7.

On Saturdays, I found myself watching this Dague guy from WRGB, Channel 6 out of Schenectady. He had such a command of the stories that I didn’t know why he was relegated to the weekends. He moved to the 6:00 and 11:00 pm weekday newscasts in 1976.

Channel 6 had a woman on sports named Liz Bishop, who is now the lead anchor at the station. If memory serves, the “weather girl”, a term they may still have used, was Linda Jackson, who later, as Linda Jackson-Chalmers, became a respected educator.

Eight years later…

Anyway, I started reading the book, which I had gotten for my birthday in March 2011, a couple months after it was published. I realized that I had read chapters from it before, but not the whole thing. I finished it in one read and thought I’d review it in due course.

Three days later, Ed Dague died at the age of 76. That rather weirded me out. It wasn’t that I was shocked. He had retired in 2003 when a painful and progressive form of arthritis forced him to stop working.

The book, written in a series of short chapters, relayed his great antipathy toward his brutal father. Ed was an engineering student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in part because that’s the only major his dad would pay for. He eventually segued into local radio, eventually landing at WRGB.

But he wasn’t just an anchor. He was the chief political reporter, and he had a thirst for all of the nuances of state and local government. In 1982, he was the only broadcast reporter to interview Albany mayor Erastus Corning in his hospital room.

In July of 1984, Dague left WRGB, the top-rated evening news in the market, to become the Managing Editor and Anchor for WNYT, Channel 13. Fairly soon, WNYT became the region’s top-rated news station.

Local news’ decline

ed dague.nysbhof
In the book, Dague is direct in his criticism of the dumbing down of local news. Covering fires and accidents are easy. Discussing the nuance of what a particular piece of legislation might mean is far more complex.

Ed was rather pointed in his assessment of a few former colleagues. His antipathy towards religion clashed sometimes with some of his more devout colleagues, and he mentions them by name.

Watch Ed Dague talk about the book when it first came out. And coverage of 9/11. Listen to his former co-anchor Chris Jansing talked about him shortly after he died.

The one thing about the book that is obvious is that he wrote the chapters not necessarily in order. Occasionally, there’s a bit of repetition. Also, there’s a couple of typos. I mention this only because I had wanted to contact him about this. I imagine it probably bugged him a little.

Ed Dague came to my church in the fall of 1993. I must have impressed him enough that he invited me to stop by to see a broadcast. By the time I took him up on the offer, I suspect he had forgotten.

Still, I hung out with him from about 8 pm until the end of the 11 pm news on April 18, 1994. I remember that he’d heard that Richard Nixon was sick – he’d die four days later. He said to someone, “Is he dead?” It was not a matter of spite but of newsworthiness.
Somewhere, I have a transcript of that night’s broadcast.

Ed Dague was one of the smartest, most self-aware people I had ever met. No doubt he was the best newscaster from this market. He was inducted into the NYS Broadcasters Hall of Game in 2007.

I loved his blog. Here’s when he hosted Answers Please. And did the weather.

Nostalgic for good old days of local news on TV

Tell local Sinclair stations and their advertisers know that you are boycotting both as long as the “must-carry” material appears on their news broadcasts

Liz Bishop, near the lower right, in front of the CBS 6 logo
When I was growing up, occasionally there would be an editorial produced by the general manager of a television station to discuss a vital issue of the day, such as whether to build a new bridge.

The words he said – it was virtually always a he – came from that local broadcaster, someone who lived in your community, not NYC or LA or DC, and had greater potential for trust and accountability. The editorial was well labeled and set apart in the local news broadcast, usually at the very end.

The Federal Communications Commission was very concerned about any one company having too much dominance in any local marketplace or nationally, and it had strict limits on radio and television station acquisition.

That was then. In August 2017, The Guardian ran a story This is Sinclair, ‘the most dangerous US company you’ve never heard of’. Michael Copps, the George W Bush-appointed former chairman of the FCC, said those words.

So did John Oliver, host of HBO’s weekly satirical show Last Week Tonight, when he introduced an 18-minute segment on Sinclair in July 2017, as he noted the dreadful “must carry” requirement the company has been imposing on its 173 local news stations across the country to “parrot right-wing propaganda” and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

The current regime’s FCC has aided Sinclair’s expansion. Jared Kushner, son-in-law-in-chief, said back in December 2016, “We struck deal with Sinclair for straighter coverage.”

Now, the broadcast group’s proposed merger with Tribune Media is in the spotlight. If this unprecedented-in-size agreement is approved, it will have control of local TV stations reaching 72% of the country, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, the nation’s three largest media markets. “The FCC chair Ajit Pai — who single-highhandedly has sought to kill Net Neutrality — is under investigation by the FCC’s inspector general for greasing the wheels for Sinclair.

What has caught the nation’s attention recently is this viral video put together by Deadspin “showing news anchors all over the country forced by Sinclair to parrot the same canned scripts attacking their own profession.”

It was heartbreaking to see Liz Bishop, the longtime anchor of WRGB, Channel 6 in Schenectady, NY, one of the oldest stations in the country, on the Deadspin video. It appears that their contracts make it too expensive to quit. It is difficult for staff to fight their overlords.

What to do? Write to the FCC and members of Congress, opposing the Sinclair/Tribune merger. Write to your local Sinclair stations and let them and their advertisers know that you are boycotting both as long as the “must-carry” material appears on their news broadcasts. Lessee, what else?

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