Bill Jorgensen anchored 10 p.m. newscasts at New York's WNEW/5 and...

Bill Jorgensen anchored 10 p.m. newscasts at New York's WNEW/5 and WPIX/11. Credit: PIX 11

Bill Jorgensen, the inaugural anchor of New York's first 10 p.m. news broadcast — WNYW/5's “The 10 O'Clock News” — has died, his daughter Rebekah Jorgensen announced on Facebook last week.

“It's with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of my dad, 96-year-old broadcast news anchor and journalist, Bill Jorgensen yesterday [March 13],” she posted. “I grew up knowing him, behind the scenes, as a man deeply committed to finding the story that put people and their rights in danger.”

Jorgensen, who retired from TV decades ago, was a key figure in a brand-new idea — the 10 p.m. news, on a so-called “independent” station that was unaffiliated with one of the three major networks. Ch. 5 (then WNEW) was the flagship station of Metromedia, which had emerged from the ashes of the defunct DuMont TV network in the '50s. The station was owned by John Kluge — at one time the richest man in the U.S. — who had no inclination to play by the established rules set by the major networks, in part because he knew he had to draw audiences away from their popular 10 p.m. shows.

Bill Jorgensen  anchoring Ch. 5's "The 10 O'Clock News."

Bill Jorgensen  anchoring Ch. 5's "The 10 O'Clock News." Credit: FOX 5

Enter “The 10 O'Clock News,” with its memorable tagline that's still used today (“It's 10 p.m. — do you know where your children are?”) and a self-described guerrilla news operation that hounded public officials on the streets, and covered robberies, shootouts and civic mayhem with a zeal unmatched by the relatively staid network “O&Os” (owned and operated stations).

The newscast launched March 13, 1967, with an anchor from a smaller-market TV (Cleveland) who took his mission seriously, even if (on occasion) the broadcast did not. He was a monochromatic figure set against a Technicolor background.

Victor Neufeld, a "20/20" producer who earlier worked on "The 10" — called the broadcast “the most intense local news operation in history. It was in-your-face, hard-driving.” The staff included anchors who would go on to succeed Jorgensen (Bill McCreary, John Roland), as well as commentators Dr. Martin Abend,  Roland Evans and Robert Novak, Dr. Joyce Brothers, Rona Barrett and Stewart Klein, who covered both sports and Broadway openings. A promotional ad from the time headlined, “The news is no laughing matter,” included a tight headshot of a scowling Jorgensen.

Neufeld described Jorgensen — a voice-of-God presenter who signed off each broadcast with “This is Bill Jorgensen, thanking you for your time, this time, until next time” — as a “wonderful anchor who was very intense.” In an email, Ted Kavanau, an architect of “The 10 O'Clock News,” called Jorgensen “an exceptionally talented man, though very moody in personality. For all those years we were in frequent conflict during a tumultuous time in the newsroom.” 

A 2004 Newsday story reported that “Jorgensen had it written into his contract that he was the only one who could use a TelePrompTer, and this meant that when he was debriefing a reporter on set, the reporter would have to constantly look at his notes. By contract, Jorgenson would always look steadily into the camera, projecting an air of power and confidence.” The story added, he “was feared by some, despised by others. 'Beloved' is a word rarely ascribed to him. "

Jorgensen abruptly left Ch. 5 after 13 years — no reason given by either him or the station — then joined WPIX/11's 7:30 and 10 p.m. broadcasts in 1979. Not long after, WPIX launched a three-anchor national broadcast called the Independent Network News. Jorgensen was paired with Pat Harper, another legendary New York TV news figure. There was friction from the outset, and a famous fight ensued:

In late July 1981, just before Harper was set to travel to England to cover the royal wedding of Diana and Prince Charles, she and Jorgensen went to a party at the Turtle Bay Tavern on Manhattan's East Side. TV Guide later reported that Harper and Jorgensen had “conceived a lively dislike for each other when they were paired as INN anchors,” and while at the party, “this dislike erupted into a nasty exchange.”

Indeed, Newsday TV critic Marvin Kitman (who served as Ch. 5's TV critic for a time) reported that Jorgensen had said to her, “I don't know where you got the idea that I dislike you.” Harper responded, “that's OK — I hate you.” She then threw her drink in his face. TV Guide reported that “a punch” was also thrown by one of the combatants. The fracas (naturally) made headlines. 

Jorgensen was off the broadcast by 1983 — once again, no reason given by either party — while Jorgensen told a reporter, “I still don't know what I want to do for the rest of my life, but I certainly want it to be fun and profitable and involved in good journalism.”

In a separate LinkedIn post, his daughter said her father “first started as the news announcer for the Armed Forces Radio Network (COMMAR) on Guam, covering military trials and the return of peace to the Pacific.” She wrote that after returning to the states he had stints in radio and TV, including Cleveland's WKYC/3. Before coming to New York, he was an anchor for Cleveland's WEWS/5. After retiring, she wrote, “he moved to the mountains of North Carolina, bringing him again to the rural outdoor beauty he always loved.”

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