I met Don Postles when I was a young intern at WKBW in Buffalo back in the early 1980s. He anchored the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts with Irv Weinstein at WKBW Channel 7.
"It's 11:00! Do you know where your children are?" Who could forget that urgent question signaling the start of the 11:00 news?
Postles has been in the news business for nearly 40 years, most of it delivered from his anchor chair in the Queen City. He moved over to WIVB in 1993 after a brief stint in Fresno, Calif.
I caught up with Don recently and invited him to share his thoughts on Chautauqua County, politics and his career.
Q: What do you think of New York as the Yogurt State?
A: We certainly aren't the Empire State anymore. I can't begin to tell you how many people I know who have moved to states that don't have an income tax, such as Florida and Texas and leave New York in the rearview mirror. The sad thing is, we continue to re-elect the same politicians, who are owned and bought by special interests and lobbyists. Don't ever be hood-winked into believing they really care about their constituents. All they care about is getting re-elected and sucking off the public trough. We see Gov. Cuomo bragging on a new commercial that the new state budget holds the line on taxes. When will we ever hear of a state budget that cuts taxes? Just wait until these public sector pensions can no longer be funded and the cities in Upstate New York are forced to go bankrupt. I hope we can find a way to make an economic renaissance someday, but I am skeptical. I also am very disappointed in the gun law called The SAFE Act. No public hearings, no debate. It was just rammed down our throats. I thought the Constitution begins with, "We the people" not "We the government." It is so, so wrong.
Q: What strikes you about Chautauqua County?
A: I love Chautauqua County. One of my first assignments in the late 70s was going to Westfield and watching the grape harvest for Welch's. I can still recall the rich aroma. My mother's maiden name was Johnson, and my great-great-grandparents came over from Sweden. I was invited to the Swedish Festival in Jamestown and learned so much more about my heritage and traditions including goat cheese. A co-worker of mine also had a summer home on Chautauqua Lake, and we were invited several times for cookouts and picnics. What a wonderful lake for boating. My first job in TV was in Dayton, Ohio, where Phil Donahue recorded his show. He loved spending his summers at the Institution, and sometimes we would go there and listen to the various speakers. It's one of my favorite places in all of Western New York.
Q: What has changed in Western New York through your 40 years of coverage?
A: When I came to Buffalo in 1976, this was the 23rd broadcasting market in the U.S. The population in the city of Buffalo was more than 635,000. Today it is under 300,000. Reporting on the closing of the steel plants in the early 80s was very painful. Watching these hard-working people losing their great-paying jobs and going home to their wives and children and pondering "now what do we do?" Many were retrained for other trades, but the new jobs never replaced the pay or benefits that they had at the steel mills.
Once I was flying from Boston to Washington, D.C., and an urban planning professor from Harvard asked me where I was from. When I said Buffalo, his response was "Buffalo is the only city in America that puts low-income housing and a Thruway on its waterfront." He said that at Harvard, they use Niagara Falls as a prime example of how not to use "urban renewal." I can understand why some people used to call us "the mistake by the lake." But finally there is a turnaround going on thanks to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. We are starting to realize what a gem our waterfront is.
Q: Do you have a favorite story that you covered?
A: I have been fortunate to have had so many wonderful assignments during my 37 years in WNY. I remember going to Los Angeles to cover the transition team for Ronald Reagan. It was at the Beverly Hills Hilton and Congressman Jack Kemp was on the team. I interviewed noted economist Milton Friedman and Casper Weinberg, who became part of the Reagan cabinet. But the highlight of that assignment was going to the men's room and meeting actor Paul Newman, of all places. But without a doubt, the highlight of my career was covering the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II. I was sent to Rome because Ann Odre of Buffalo was wounded in St. Peter's Square. I flew to Rome with her daughter, JoAnne Kenjarski. When we arrived at Santos Spiritos Hospital, Anne said, "Don Postles! Thank God someone cares about me. No one speaks English over here." Ann had a close relationship with John Paul and on several occasions took me to Rome for a private audience with the Pope.
Q: What are the biggest challenges we face as a region?
A: Everyone knows the biggest challenge is the economy and good-paying jobs. There is hope that the new medical corridor in Buffalo will lead to a high-tech, research-driven future, but it remains to be seen how many jobs it will create. We have to improve the quality of education for our children. We spend a fortune per pupil, but we are not getting much of a return on our investment overall.