One like no other

“No pretentions, just solutions,” read the headline on an article in this newspaper when Wayne Van Dine retired in May 2003 from a stellar broadcasting career in and around Pittsburgh.

He was best known and respected for his “Ask Wayne” segments on KDKA-TV newscasts, where he’d take on consumer problems and find solutions, but Van Dine spent about a decade in Steubenville and Weirton, at WEIR-AM and WSTV-AM and then WSTV-TV in the 1960s.

He started broadcasting at age 16 in his hometown of Kitanning as a result of a prank he pulled in a call to the station. He was given a job when he called to apologize.

From there, he worked for nearly 50 years as a broadcaster and a man of humility, honor and substance, who cared deeply for journalism and for the people who came to him for help. So honorable was he that a blooper in a live window commercial on WSTV-TV that could have ended his broadcasting career in the 1960s was turned around into a promotional tool. Indeed, rather than boast about successes, Van Dine included in his retirement story an anecdote about his first weathercast, substituting for local legendary weatherman Marshall Fatkin. It went fine, except Van Dine forgot to put on a microphone before heading out onto the set. There was reverent talk about being mentored by Steubenville and Pittsburgh broadcasting legend Red Donley at WSTV.

Van Dine’s career and craft continued to improve and in 1969, he was off to WIIC-TV in Pittsburgh (now WPXI-TV), and in 1979 to KDKA-TV, where he developed the consumer protection stories. But, “Ask Wayne” wasn’t about “gotcha” journalism or making the people in the businesses sweat. “I was not there to villainize anyone,” he said. Reporters who make a career out of appearing to go for the throat, he said, “take themselves too seriously. People are smart. They know when something is not right. They know when you start to take yourself too seriously.”

Van Dine said various news directors during his career wanted him to brag about his successes more, (such as the time when he helped capture a wanted man), but he says that’s not what he worked for. Indeed, when getting him to launch into tales of “Ask Wayne” for his retirement story, he said it was “being Wayne Van Dine, whatever that is.”

Fellow Pittsburgh broadcasters spent the past few days reflecting on Van Dine’s humility and fun personality, his professional-level golf game and his deep talent on the guitar.

He said when he retired that he would walk away from TV forever, and he did. He resisted calls to do local public speeches, but he was still a cheerleader for good reporting, sending e-mails to local reporters when he figured they did good work.

He drew a massive audience share on the radio at WSTV in the early 1960s, covered hard news, was a thorn in the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s side, but never did he accept the mantle “legend.” He was humbled by the pages of coverage his retirement drew in Kitanning as well as Steubenville and Weirton.

And his presence, though gone from the airwaves for nearly a dozen years now, is still missed, because there may be other consumer reporters, but there was only one unassuming, wise and caring Wayne Van Dine.