You might have heard that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News have parted ways. What you might not have heard was for time in the mid-1970’s Bill O’Reilly worked for a time at WNEP-TV.
In 2001, Times’ columnist Joseph X. Flannery, wrote about the O’Reilly and his recently published book “The O’Reilly Factor.” In the book, O’Reilly wrote about his time working at WNEP. O’Reilly started working for the Fox News Channel in 1996. Prior to working at Fox News, O’Reilly worked for CBS News, ABC News and Inside Edition.
Here is Flannery’s article –
Author’s start in NEPA was tad scary – by Joseph X. Flannery – Scranton Times – February 3, 2001
Bill O’Reilly, one of the newest stars in television news and author of a runaway best seller, is lucky he left Scranton in one piece after a nine-month stint at WNEP-TV in 1975.
And who is this person?
Mr. O’Reilly presides over the popular 3-year-old news program, “The O’Reilly Factor,” on the Fox News Channel.
In addition to running what is the fastest-growing news show in America, Mr. O’Reilly wrote a book — also called “The O’Reilly Factor” — and it has been on national best-seller lists for months. Even now it’s second on the New York Times nonfiction list.
In that book, Mr. O’Reilly told of the role that Scranton played in his career.
But before I get to that, I should let you know how he wound up in Scranton in the first place.
Born in New York City, he grew up in Levittown, where he said he spent “most of his time playing sports and annoying teachers.”
He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and became a teacher. Despite having “a corrupt dictator as a principal,” he said he liked teaching. “I felt I helped some students and kept the rest awake,” he wrote in his book.
However, he didn’t like the salary that teachers earned. He wrote: “Poverty was one of the few things Jesus and I had in common.”
So he went to Boston University and earned a master’s degree in broadcast journalism. It was then that he headed for Scranton, seeking a job with WNEP.
He wrote in his book: “After driving down from Boston for the interview, I appeared in the station manager’s office wearing a powder-blue sports jacket and double-knit slacks. Add the mid-1970s hairstyle, and all six-feet-four of me looked like a barker at a strip club.”
He was interviewed by Tommy Shelbourne, the manager. Because of his eagerness to get the job, he agreed to a salary of $150 a week, which, after taxes, gave him take-home pay of about $475 a month. After paying $250 a month for an apartment, that left him with just $225 a month and the need to buy a new wardrobe to make him look like a serious newsman.
Mr. O’Reilly complained to Mr. Shelbourne about his financial problems. He said he did reporting, the weather and other assignments and liked the job, but was about to become homeless.
Mr. Shelbourne came up with an idea. He said he would pay him an extra $20 a week to write clever lines for a Saturday night program, “Uncle Ted’s Ghoul School,” which preceded and followed a horror movie.
However, “Uncle Ted,” played by the late Edwin Raub of Dallas, had always done his own stuff and didn’t like the idea of a youngster fresh out of college writing material for him. Uncle Ted was a true World War II hero who mixed magic tricks, funny costumes and his own idea of funny chatter while presiding over live shows in the early days of local television.
Mr. O’Reilly wrote in his book that he and Mr. Raub had “creative differences.” He added that “60-year-old Ted loved the sauce, and I’m not talking Chef Boyardee here.”
Mr. O’Reilly wrote that when Uncle Ted “mangled” some of his best one-liners, he was upset.
Admitting it might have been “a tad inappropriate,” he decided to strike back at Uncle Ted on a night that “Dracula’s Daughter” was the movie of the night. He asked a funeral director if he would loan the station a casket in return for an on-the-air plug.
Mr. O’Reilly wanted Uncle Ted to emerge from the casket like a vampire before he introduced the movie.
However, Uncle Ted refused to get into the casket, so Mr. O’Reilly called the manager, who directed him to go along with the novel opening scene.
What Uncle Ted didn’t know was that the casket locked from the outside, so when the time came for him to open the lid and emerge, the lid refused to budge.
Uncle Ted began yelling and the casket rocked back and forth on television.
Then the film started, so viewers did not see the casket open.
Mr. O’Reilly wrote: “When the coffin lid was unlocked, he stormed off the set, vowing to kill me when I least expected it. I replaced him as emcee, explaining to the amazed audience that he had accidentally been exposed to some garlic but would return next week.”
Uncle Ted returned to the show the next Saturday night, but Mr. O’Brien didn’t. He was hired by a station in Dallas, Texas, and was on his way to a very successful career in television news.
Mr. O’Reilly, who started his 20-year career here, has worked in television in various cities and countries, has his popular Fox Network show, has a novel called “Those Who Trespass” in a second printing, and is working on a second novel at his home on Long Island.
Uncle Ted died in 1998 at the age of 76.