A Legendary Eyewitness News Anchor from Buffalo, New York Dies – December 26th, 2017 – at Age 87
A Commentary by Doug Draper, one of probably millions of people across Western New York and Southern Ontario who grew up watching Irv Weinstein on Eyewitness News
Posted December 30th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
“It’s 11 o’clock. Do you know where your children are?”
“Topping tonight’s Eyewitness News, a three alarm fire guts a warehouse in Buffalo and another fatal shooting rocks the city’s west side. … Don’t touch your dial.”
They were the kind of lines that Irv Weinstein turn into clichés over his more than three decades long reign as the king of local television news anchors in Western New York and in a good part of the Greater Golden Horseshoe of Ontario, and, by sheer force and the snap, crackle and pop of his on-air persona, made the old (pre-Cable TV) Channel 7’s Eyewitness News the top-rated newscast in Buffalo, New York area right up to the time of his retirement in 1998.
Mike Myers, a former Saturday Night Live cast member who went on to star in those Wayne’s World and Austin Powers movies, once shared the following memory of growing up with his friends in the Toronto area, watching Irv Weinteins’ broadcasts from across the lake – “We developed a drinking game,” he wrote. “Everyone had to take a sip of Molson’s Export ever time Irv Weinstein said ‘arson is suspected’ or ‘the suspect died later of multiple gun-shot wounds’.”
Around the time Irv was signing off his last newscast – exactly 19 years ago this December 31st – I was fortunate enough to know some reporters and editors at The Buffalo News who respected my work enough to invite me to write the odd ‘View from Canada’ column for the newspaper.
Irv’s departure from the airwaves generated an enormous amount of commentary about his success as a news anchor and all the wonderful things he had done for Buffalo, and here I was going to the editor of the newspaper’s Viewpoint Page with a proposal to write a bit of a counterpoint.
I explained to the editor that I wasn’t going to dismiss all the good that Irv Weinstein had done, but I was going to make a case that – however unintentionally – he wasn’t necessarily the greatest ambassador in the world for the city either.
I could see the worried look on the editor’s face as I went on to explain that many of the people I knew who lived outside of Buffalo and viewed it as “gutted out” or “crime ridden” city had two things in common.
They had never spent as much time as I had coming to Buffalo and experiencing the great theatres and museums or the historic neighbourhoods and architecture and outdoor festivals or to find out how friendly most of the people were when you passed them on the street. And they spent decades watching a steady diet of stories about violent gun crimes and three alarm fires with Irv at the anchor desk on Eyewitness News.
The editor was usually pretty good about going ahead with my column ideas, however edgy they might be, but he said the paper had just gotten through enduring the wrath of readers over something else it published and didn’t need to stir again with a critique on Irv who, after all, was an icon for many in the city.
I accepted the editor’s decision and still do, just as I continue to stand by my view that, as rough a time as the Buffalo area was going through in the 1980s and 90s with the loss of thousands of good-paying industrial jobs, those Eyewitness newscasts were way over the top when it came to the amount of time they focused on murder and mayhem versus stories about people working to make the city better.
But as much as I liked the city, I didn’t live in the city and there is no way I could feel the same connection to Irv Weinstein as people who did.
In a commentary published in The Buffalo News this December 28th, 2017, one of the newspaper’s writers Sean Kist, described Irv Weinstein’s presence on the air and the impact he had on his viewers, most notably those who lived in the city during his years at Eyewitness News this way –
“Weinstein was all wonderful tough guy attitude, each hard consonant in his speech like a jab, even his body language akin to the way a boxer moves across the ring, shoulders pushing forward, talking about crime and fires and weather with that faint sense of grim, that’s-the-kind-of-world-we-live-in camaraderie rippling through his voice. …”
“He stuck around Buffalo for a long time, until everyone began to fully appreciate just how extraordinary he was, why he mattered so much, an awareness that now rises as both a wistful farewell and a tribute upon his passing.
“In an era when so much was homogenized, a time when Buffalo was plummeting because jobs were leaving and panicky civic leaders kept making reflexive decisions about demolition and parking lots and highways and downtown malls in an upside-down attempt to make Buffalo more like cities that were supposedly succeeding, the reality is there was always one true hope, a lesson learned recently only after decades of pain. …”
“Weinstein was … as true to himself as the Rockpile, as a glazed doughnut from Freddies, as the industrial torches you saw burning near the smokestacks every night. It is why he brought mesmerized fans to the television even in southern Ontario, because he was beautifully abrupt in style, chopping a path across the airwaves when the rest of the world wanted polyester voices to match polyester suits.”
In the two decades since Irv Weinstein signed off the air for the final time, the people of Buffalo have done a remarkable job of reinventing and reinvigorating their city and it is hard to imagine that tough-guy style and those relentless sounds and images of police sirens and flames lighting up the night that topped virtually every Eyewitness newscast resonating as well today.
But then when was the last time you saw anyone come on the air at 11 p.m. and ask parents if they know where their children are?
Maybe, just maybe, Irv was the best news anchor Buffalo could have for those times.
Just as Britain needed Winston Churchill to help it through the darkest hours of the Second World War, Buffalo needed Irv Weinstein to help it through some of its darkest years when torches went out at the industries that generated so much of the city’s prosperity before he came along.
To watch a few clips of Irv Weinstein on Eyewitness News, click on the screen below –
.To read Buffalo News journalist Sean Kirst’s December 28th, 2017 commentary on Irv Weinstein, click on – http://buffalonews.com/2017/12/28/sean-kirst-an-attempt-to-explain-irv-weinstein-to-our-kids/ .
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