Even if you didn’t recognize the voice that should be familiar to anyone with a TV set in the New York City area, you’d still instantly know that Chuck Scarborough is a consummate newsman—simultaneously sonorous, serious, patient, comforting, and factual, the kind of guy you’d need to tell you things such as a president has resigned and another has been shot, or hijacked airliners have crashed into two of the tallest buildings downtown, or NATO has turned Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya into a no-fly zone. From 1974 to today, Scarborough, a 31-time Emmy winner, has been a part of that scene.
“My father was a highly decorated B-17 pilot in the Second World War,” the Pittsburgh native recalls. “I grew up being regaled by dad of his exciting adventures in World War II. It was a very stimulating time for a child.” Hooked on aviation as soon as he could walk, Scarborough started on plastic models. “They were all World War II-era aircraft, P-51s, P-47s,” he says. “From plastic models I eventually graduated to control-line models, the kind where you fly it in a dizzying circle doing stunts.”
After graduating high school at 17 Scarborough joined the Air Force, but instead of flying he babysat an Atlas missile. He took flight lessons in his spare time, but really concentrated on graduating from the University of Southern Mississippi.
His first break came at WDAM radio in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, on the 3 to 11 p.m. shift. “That is basically the shift for my entire working life. My mornings and early afternoons are free.” And he took advantage of it, finishing his dual instruction in an Aeronca taildragger.
“It was a great incentive if you got your private license,” Scarborough says. “In those days the GI bill would cover 90 percent of the cost of the commercial rating.” He got that ticket, too, and a job at WGBA Atlanta. “Then I had the money to be able to afford nonstop flying lessons,” he says. “When I was in Atlanta the only airplane I ever owned I bought from my favorite uncle, who was a dive-bomber pilot in World War II—the first all-metal Mooney Mk 21. He had developed a heart issue and sold it to his nephew.” With it he could fly to remote locations and take along camera crews. “It gave me a leg up,” he says. And his certificate also gave him entrée to a lot of exciting flying.
“I’ve flown on rescue missions with the pararescue guys, and all sorts of aviation-related stories in the course of my reporting career. Everything from hot air balloons to hot fighters,” Scarborough says. “I’ve done feature reports on the Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels. One thing I can brag about is I never hurled.”
But he won’t brag about the damage that the September 11, 2001, hijackers inflicted on fliers.
“In the immediate aftermath of the attacks Americans had plenty to be angry about,” he says. “For pilots, there was a small additional reason for rage. We lost the simple joy of catching a glimpse of an airliner in flight. That moment of wonder that never quite goes away for anybody who loves aviation was corrupted—tainted by hints of menace and foreboding in the graceful sweep of the wings and moan of the turbofans. In the smoldering landscape of 9/11’s lost and ruined lives it is a small thing. But it is always there.”