JONAS CHANEY, middle, with WPXI-TV anchors David Johnson and Peggy Finnegan. Chaney, who began at WPXI in 1985, retired on Oct. 30. (Photo by J.L. Martello)
by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
A fellow broadcast journalist, after spending three years in the Pittsburgh television market, told—warned—Jonas Chaney not to go to Pittsburgh. “You’ll never make it work,” Chaney recalled the guy saying to him, as it was “hard for African Americans” to make progress on TV in Pittsburgh.
It’s a good thing Chaney let the advice go in one ear and out the other.
In 1985, Chaney decided to take the leap from television news in Indianapolis, where he had been the talk of the town by providing his station with exclusive stories and interviews, to television sports in Pittsburgh on WPXI-TV (Channel 11).
Thirty-four years later, it’s safe to say that Chaney made it in Pittsburgh.
“I don’t know where the time has gone,” Chaney told the New Pittsburgh Courier on Oct. 30, during a retirement party held for the veteran anchor at the WPXI offices. “It seems like just yesterday that I was hired as a full-time sports reporter for ‘PXI. I came here in 1985 and I thought I’d stay a couple years…who knew?”
Chaney, 68, was on the air a few hours before his retirement party, hosting his final “Impact” show segment which aired following the noon newscast. That was the last time Chaney will be seen in an official capacity working for WPXI.
After the show, Chaney moved from the studio to the break room, where he was met by more than 75 friends, family and WPXI staff that showered him with compliments, a video tribute, a custom-made cake, and plenty of reminiscing.
Legendary WPXI news and sports anchor Dee Thompson told the Courier that Chaney had the perfect ingredients to succeed in Pittsburgh. “I think it’s the fact that he’s credible, he’s honest, people trust him, and that’s what’s important, people have to trust you,” Thompson said. “They have a lot of doubts about people in the media and what they’re like, but Chaney’s a trustworthy person, always lives up to what he’s done.”
Chaney may be known to the masses as a television anchor/reporter, but he has another professional love: acting. Chaney has starred in many plays thanks to his affiliation with award-winning playwright Mark Clayton Southers, who also founded Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company. Chaney has also written and produced numerous mini-documentaries for various nonprofits in the area.
“I’m grateful that I was able to do all those things while working here (at WPXI) instead of being stifled in just one particular subject,” Chaney said. “I was really able to spread my wings.”
Chaney spent many years as public affairs director for WPXI, a position that is not always found at television stations these days. He received two national AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) American Scene awards for best documentary; “Biking Through Black History” in 2007; and “Here’s To Life,” in 2008. “Here’s To Life” was an African American History History Special which examined the new wellness philosophy of inner-city students by focusing on their immediate goals for long-range success.
More recently, you may have associated Chaney with his two community affairs shows on WPXI, “Talking Pittsburgh” and “Impact.” “Impact” focuses on organizations and leaders in minority communities, while “Talking Pittsburgh” showcases the work of local nonprofits.
Chaney told the Courier that one of his most memorable community-based efforts was “The Healthy Black Family Project,” where, about 10 years ago, Chaney led the way in getting local Black barber shops to push Black men to get prostate exams.
And it worked.
“There was a phobia about it,” Chaney said of Black men going to the doctor for an exam, or even discussing prostate cancer. But the push by Chaney and others on television “changed the attitude of a lot of people.”
Chaney’s connection to the Pittsburgh community is palpable—from the countless local African Americans who’ve appeared on his WPXI shows, to his emceeing of local events, to his appearances in plays. He calls the Pittsburgh people, “down to earth.” The people here remind him of the people from his hometown, Chicago. “People are genuine and they’re very sincere about their causes,” he said. “Overall, I’d say it’s been a win-win situation from a professional standpoint, from a spiritual standpoint, from an emotional standpoint. I love this city.”
But Chaney may have never had the chance to fall in love with Pittsburgh if he would have followed the “advice” of that person who told—warned—him back in 1985 not to take a job in Pittsburgh.
“I can understand why it didn’t work for him,” Chaney said of the unnamed journalist, who, after three years, returned to work in Indianapolis. “But my personality was completely different (than his)—laid back, personable, willing to listen, ask questions, and show empathy. Utilizing those principles helped me to survive here.”
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