The Entertainment Chuckwagon: A Tribute to Joe DeNardo, Pt. I

Joe-Denardo-Cal-4Back in 1969, the Monroeville Mall opened, which allowed Pittsburghers to shop at 125 retailers and ice skate in a tropical setting in the “Ice Palace.” They could watch Marshall Matt Dillion (James Arness) keep the peace in Dodge City on their new color television sets with new episodes of the hit western “Gunsmoke” during prime time on KDKA, and they could satisfy their appetites by purchasing a dinner box for only 60 cents at any one of 16 Pittsburgh Kentucky Fried Chicken locations.

It was this year when Joe DeNardo began his run as meteorologist on WTAE where, for the next 35 years until his retirement in 2005, he was known as a reliable source of an accurate weather forecast. He was more than a meteorologist, though. He was a trusted friend Pittsburghers invited into their homes via their television sets.

There were three channels—11, 2, and 4. No weather channel, no internet, no apps on cell phones—no cell phones. If you had a golf game planned and you didn’t want to be swinging at hail stones instead of golf balls, if you had a romantic picnic planned for you and your sweetie and you didn’t want to be drenched with rain, if you were facing a commute in wintery conditions or didn’t want to be up to your bellbottoms shoveling snow, your local television weatherman was the one to count on. Starting in 1969, for many Pittsburghers, that man was Joe DeNardo.

DeNardo’s Pittsburgh weather forecasting career actually began back in in 1957 at KDKA. But in 1968, he decided to leave.

In a November 22, 1968 interview with Press TV and Radio editor Vince Leonard, DeNardo explained (1) why he and KDKA were parting ways: “Well, there are so many forecasters associated with KDKA that I have no control over disassociating them with my weather service.”

But another career opportunity was just around the corner, thanks to Paul Long, a friend and colleague from the KDKA days, where they first met in 1960. Long was hired by WTAE just a few months before DeNardo in 1969.

After hiring Long, WTAE General Manager John Conomikes sought his advice. Long recalled this discussion in an archival interview:

Conomikes asked me what ideas I had, and I said ‘I’d like to see your weatherman be Joe DeNardo. I think he could be had now,’ or words to that effect. And he said, ‘We’ve been talking to him, and he’s playing hard to get.’ And I gave him some more tips on how to tie the rope around DeNardo and drag him in here feet first.

Of course, Conomikes eventually did sign DeNardo.

“DeNardo’s the name. Weather is his game!” touted a February 24, 1970 ad in The Pittsburgh Press, featuring a smiling DeNardo in a suit holding both an umbrella and a tennis racket. “And DeNardo makes it a pretty accurate game. Oh, once in a while he carries an umbrella to his tennis match, but most of the time he’s right on the button with the most accurate forecasts in town.”

The duo of Paul Long and Joe DeNardo became a hit. Both were familiar and beloved faces in local Pittsburgh television news. Long stayed with WTAE until his retirement in 1994 and passed away in 2002 at the age of 86.

DeNardo and Long also liked to play practical jokes on each other. As DeNardo recalled in an archival WTAE interview, one involved Long’s habit of leaving his keys in his car after he parked.

One night, (2) DeNardo hid Long’s car by moving it from WTAE’s lower lot, where Long had parked it, to the upper lot. Later after the 11pm newscast was done, DeNardo found Long in the lower parking lot, looking for his car. DeNardo said to Long, “You leave the keys in it all the time. It had to happen sooner or later.” DeNardo suggested Long look in the lower lot. While he did, DeNardo quickly drove and parked the car where Long had originally parked it. Long returned, saw the car, said “I’ll be a son-of-a-. . .,” got in, and drove home.

TO BE CONTINUED…

For more of our Joe DeNardo tribute please check out September’s issue of Pennsylvania Bridges.

Sources consulted for this piece:

(1) news.google.com/newspapers?id=nYE0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=CJYEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7288%2C3570870

(2) old.post-gazette.com/obituaries/20020713longobit0713p2.asp

Story by Chuck Brutz for Pennsylvania Bridges