December 10, 2013
Duluth News Tribune
Gregarious weatherman McKenna connected with viewers
By Christa Lawler
One of the region’s early TV and radio personalities, known for his casual and conversational manner, died Sunday of natural causes.
Jack McKenna was 91.
“He was larger than life,” Mike Simonson of Wisconsin Public Radio said.
“He was meant for TV and radio. Jack could do weather like nobody else,” Simonson said. “He’d talk to you. He connected. He had fun with it. He made remarks that were silly, but never stupid. People loved Jack McKenna. He was their weatherman.”
McKenna was a weatherman at WDIO-TV in the 1960s and 1970s and worked at KBJR-TV in the 1980s. He also was Captain Q, host of an afternoon children’s program that included his co-star Angus, a parrot. He also was Professor Fantastic, host of late-night horror shows on WDIO.
“Jack was a giant in the local broadcast industry,” said Dennis Anderson, former longtime anchor at WDIO-TV. “His name was truly synonymous with the golden age of radio and TV in Duluth and Superior. He could be shy and reserved in person if he didn’t know you. But put him in a (studio) and he could let himself go.”
Anderson, friends with McKenna for 50 years, said he spent two hours with him in his nursing home room a couple of months ago, reminiscing, telling stories and sharing “a whole lot of laughter.”
“For a while on that day, I think Jack actually forgot he was sick,” Anderson said.
Friend and former colleague Lew Martin remembered McKenna’s popularity with children and how they wanted to be in the live studio audience for his program.
“We’d have bleachers in there for the kids and they’d sign up maybe a year ahead of time,” he said. “He did a lot of the kids’ shows and he did a really good job doing them.”
Martin said he tried to see McKenna at least once a month.
“He was always a good friend to have,” he said. “He had a real good sense of humor.”
McKenna was known for the commercials he did in the middle of the weather forecast. For instance, a table with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken would be rolled onto the set.
“Everybody talked about how good he made the chicken look,” said Kerry Kvasager, McKenna’s granddaughter. “Everybody knew him, young and old. He was loved by lots of people. I still get comments about how funny he was.”
After he retired, McKenna joined the cast of “Radio Superior,” an old-timey show that recreates the headlines from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s — complete with big band sounds and commercials.
McKenna graduated from Denfeld High School in 1940 and served as a meteorologist in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, according to Denfeld’s Hunter Hall of Fame.
His son, Cubby McKenna, said it was his father’s deep roots in the area that kept pulling him back.
“He always loved the Northland. He was born and raised here, and that’s why he kept coming back,” Cubby McKenna said, adding that his father’s fame never seemed like a big deal growing up.
“That’s just how we grew up, he was dad and he was on TV,” Cubby McKenna recalled. “We didn’t realize how popular he really was until he left Channel 10 …Tons of people showed up to get his autograph.”
Friday’s “Final Edition” will be dedicated to remembering McKenna. The program airs at 6 p.m. on KUWS-FM (91.3). Services will be held in the summer, according to Northland’s NewsCenter.