Sunday, July 2, 2017

Van, Jerry, Pete and John; 'News Scene''; The Terrible, The Sensational, Tragic/Happy 1970's Bay Area; Patty Hearst; Jonestown; Milk Moscone Murders; A Personal Reflection and Look Back; 415 Media

Image result for kgo news anchors 1970's  IT DIDN'T MATER THAT ...IF It Bleeds, It Leads...or that "Happy Talk" invaded your TV Screen. Big deal, you watched. You had to watch. It was part of the nightly regimen. And guess what? It was highly entertaining TV News smack dab in the Bay Area with a Circle7 to boot.

I grew up in the 70's in the Bay Area; Oakland, to be precise. It was both some exciting and happy times; tragic too. "News Scene" (that's what they called it) was a BIG, huge, news program --a cultural news center icon based in San Francisco at 277 Golden Gate Ave smack dab in the Tenderloin. Across the street, the "Studio Café" where once and a while you could catch Peter Giddings wolfing down an enormous omelet --it was a little Hollywood scene because the KGO news guys were BIG STARS!

I was a bright-eyed 14 year-old --the year was 1976. Van Amburg might as well have been Lee Majors. Jerry Jensen, Van's sidekick, could have been James Brolin. Giddings and his famous polka-dot ties were perfect fodder for both Jerry and Van's critique. We shouldn't leave out the playboy sports anchor, John O'Reilly. Like I said, these guys were big. And everyone watched them because plain and simple they were interesting, colorful characters.

"News Scene" was more than just a newscast. It was theatre. The Bay Area's Summer Stock and hundreds of thousands of people watching on any given night. It was riveting TV. It was compelling too because the central characters seemed to be a part of your life. YOUR life. It wasn't just Giddings' ties; his ski reports; his "Little People" Fishing segments and the always encompassing "Letter from Home"; that was only a part of it. Sure, Giddings may have been an asshole but he made the weather fun and enjoyable to watch. Pre-Internet, Pete's big, black, Sharpie illustrating an impending storm was appointment TV. A low-pressure system with a "lots of rain" made for compelling observation and when it was a huge storm, watch out for Giddings. Time to "batten down the hatches."

Related imageImage result for Patty HearstVan Amburg was the quarterback of this newscast powerhouse. Van, even when the stories were chock full of tragedy and shock, made it OK to watch. I'll never forget the Patty Hearst kidnapping/saga ...circa 1974 and its dramatic ending in '76 when she was convicted of bank robbery even though she got F. Lee Bailey to defend her. Like everyone else, Van Amburg was shock and awed. He took it almost personally. We all did because we, courtesy Van and the News Scene guys, were there describing all of it from beginning to end. My introduction to "Cinque" and "Steven Weed" was courtesy Van Amburg and the Channel 7 newscasts. And Nancy Ling Perry, Bill and Emily Harris, "Cujo", "Tania" --70's images and stories I'll never forget with the assistance of the KGO news people and staff. The images may have been gruesome and overblown at the time but they were real and there on your TV screen and Van Amburg tried to explain it all. Most of the time, he delivered.

Related image*On the late afternoon of Saturday, November 18th, 1978, the first horrible news was dispatched from Jonestown, Guyana that a mass suicide/murder had occurred --KGO-TV broke into regularly scheduled programming. Amburg described a terrible scene and warned viewers that "very troubling news" was about to be broadcast. On the ensuing Monday night, when the tragedy was in full view and the news made it out, Van described the cryptic scene and video. It was chilling, horrible, unspeakable. And yet, you watched. You had to.

Image result for Van Amburg Milk Moscone murders KGO youtube*Only two weeks later, San Francisco was still in shock from the Guyana massacre, when another tragedy shook the city was the Monday after Thanksgiving ...on a blue and sunny day...Supervisor Dan White had shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and Sup. Harvey Milk, the city's first openly gay politician. 

I don't want to make it seem that these were the only events but they stand out in my memory the way they were covered in the No Internet/No Social Media --and KGO's vivid reporting from its anchors and reporters is something I'll never forget.

Van Amburg --there isn't anything quite like him these days. It's not to minimize the performance of today's pros but most of them don't come close in their craft.

When Jerry Jensen died, only Amburg could deliver something like this. It was very difficult and somber and you see the emotion. We lost a member of the family.

And when Van has left us, the same feeling exists. 1976 and '78 was a long time ago but still feels like yesterday. I will never forget those moments in time nor the very special newscasts that brought it all over the airwaves and into our living room.

Image result for jerry jensen kgo


  1. I was just 8 in 1976 (at least til Christmas Eve Day); but as early as 3 years old, it was impossible not to notice Van the News Man. Amburg was an incredible news anchor leading strong reporters.

    Yes, Giddings did take himself too seriously at times. But especially during the storms of 1982, 83, 86, 92, 93, & 95, you had better pay attention to Pete. Impressively detailed. And of course, because most of every calendar's weekends were sunny, Giddings turned into Mr. "Go Do It!". When his tenure at KGO ended, the rough exterior took a blow. In Reno and at KION in Monterey-Salinas, he seemed appreciative that he can show the work he loved doing. Very impressed that he came back to the Silicon Valley and is making his weather money online (

    As for the Sports side, because Amburg used to be a sports anchor, it was only natural for Van to be tougher on his sportscasters. John O'Reilly didn't last as long as we thought he did. When ABC launched Monday Night Football that since 2006-07 has stay near-exclusively on ESPN, O'Reilly made it clear through his tone that he didn't care about NFL games running so long. Little did he know. O'Reilly left before 1976, and here are some names that will grab a few memory-strong blog readers' attention: Tom Janis (later worked at KNTV), Don Sanchez (stayed at KGO a long time and did some anchoring plus a lot of feature reports), Jim Celania (remember the 'I'll give him 6 weeks' ad? Celania did last past 6 weeks, but only about a year or two before Amburg had enough), Martin Wyatt (he had two stays as Circle 7's sports anchor; it seemed like he was the one that pushed the right buttons the most with Van the News Man), and there may have been more than the 5 aforementioned names.

    Yep on all the 1970s stories above. About Hearst, she's been a widow for a few years now. As for Bailey, the results should have been reversed. Hearst was brainwashed in 1974, but Simpson did commit those double murders in 1994. It is a summary of Bailey's crazy but often successful law career.

    Jonestown? Remember when Congresswoman Speier was Congressman Leo Ryan's aid. Speier is still haunted by those memories almost 40 years later, and while today's political climate has no Jim Jones' cyanide poisoning or David Karesh's explosive compound, I don't blame her if she feels as if she is taking on yet another less lethal but more dangerous cult in today's so-called presidency. Speier's concerns about CA & the US reflect at how scared many of us are for our well beings and our freedoms.

    The still ongoing political career of Senator Dianne Feinstein did begin in the 1960s through San Francisco city activitism, but it took the worst assassination moment in Bay Area history for Feinstein's career to take off for good. Not exactly how one wants to find permanent success, but credit Feinstein for showing something that not all CA Democrats show - perspective. The Senator probably looked at Amburg's coverage during the beginning of her Mayoral term when she needed to remember certain details on what to do with Twinkie Dan White.

    Who knows what would have happened if there were deeper hi-tech during KGO-TV's News Scene years?

    And now up in the heavens, Van Amburg is likely catching up with Jerry Jensen through whatever cocktail they often chose. We salute one of the greatest local news anchors not just the Bay & CA, but the entire country ever knew. Even the WABC, KABC, and WSN anchors had to pay attention to what Van Amburg was doing.

  2. Even more important- wasn't Van in one of those Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry movies?. Van did it all.

  3. Beautifully written Rich. It captures that era and its important, singular news people who were part of our lives and living rooms and Van was the linchpin of it all. Little did we know all these years later how rare he was- the combination of keen intellect, conscientious professionalism, an excellent on air presentation and ability to project the right delivery and mood depending on the story being reported, all wrapped in an amazingly rich, textured voice that came to be as symbolic, comforting, and familiar as Herb Caen's column or the Golden Gate Bridge.

    3:56pm also hits the nail on the head in their post. I recall Pete and Van at least twice a year debating about whether we gained or lost an hour in real life as we changed the clocks for either daylight savings or standard time. Pete would bring out a big model clock and remind us it was that "time" again. It was a fun, brief interlude, yet they were serious and genuine in their "debate", not phony or pandering.

    I wish Van would have stuck around longer in some media capacity rather than "vanishing" in 1986. But he lived as he chose the last 30 years. I hope he knew how much he was appreciated.

  4. I still recall that Jerry Jensen used to end his portion of each newscast with what I think was known as a "news bright" which was a pleasant, often funny final comment no matter how bad the news had been. Of course there were exceptions when such a comment would have been inappropriate and he knew when not to make them. To this day I remember him with great admiration and respect.

  5. Darrin in Rohnert ParkJuly 2, 2017 at 7:25 PM

    I miss Van. I really do.

  6. All of us over 10 at the time remember pretty much the same. We didn't watch Van in our house, too sleazy.

  7. 3:56's references to Pete Giddings' "Go do it!," reminds me of how wildly different technology made television, today.

    I was in the Art Department, on a Friday afternoon, when one of the art associates asked if Pete had declared it a "Go do it" weekend. In those days, they had to manually assemble the "slides" to be used in that night's broadcast.

    Pete Giddings did get a lot of criticism about over-sized ego. But, my father, a pilot who knew a lot about weather, said he was the most accurate he'd ever seen on television. He would also do anything for kids' groups. As mentioned, he had the Little Peoples' Fishing program. He would, also, move mountains to accommodate colleagues who asked him to make presentations at their kids' schools.

  8. Far more interesting from an historical perspective was how Jerry Jensen had to stay closeted, publicly. comments?

    1. Maybe because in those days it was about reporting the news and not being the news? The late weatherman (I don't think he was a meteorologist like Pete- Lord help the person who dared call Pete a "weatherman")Captain Mike Ambrose in San Diego was never out publicly but EVERYONE knew he was gay. When his alcoholism finally killed him, people speculated he had AIDS. Which also what some speculate about Jerry Jensen, especially given the fact that Jerry died in 1984.

      There were 2 other KGO reporters, Terry Beirn and Paul Wynne, who did die from AIDS.

  9. I'm 56...and remember those days well. But I don't blame today's crop of anchors/reporters for the lack of bonding with viewers.

    Too many channels/electronic devices make it impossible for ANYONE to be loyally watched and remembered.

    If there was YouTube, NetFlix, DirectTV, iPads and iPhones back in those days, Van/Dennis Richmond/Dave McElhatton and the rest of these "Golden Oldies" would've been ignored--just like today's news people.

    Today's talent is doing just fine--given the times we're in.

  10. The background graphics on news scene was the best. My favorite was "Fraud and a 3 dollar bill

  11. I heard the ktvu investigation report on peoples temple. I remember the relatives losing their minds trying to find out what happened to their family in Guyana before we found out. Then the shooting at City Hall.