WBAY at 70: News leaders

Longtime news director Tom McCarey and assignment manager Jim Dillon reflect on their growth with the station
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 5:45 AM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - On the eve of WBAY-TV’s milestone anniversary, going on the air 70 years ago on March 17, 1953, we’re looking back at the station’s history. Jason Zimmerman sat down with two people who helped make Action 2 News the news leader in Northeast Wisconsin, former news director Tom McCarey and assignment manager Jim Dillon.

Both of these men started working at WBAY-TV in the early age of television news, but unlike many who passed through the doors of WBAY, Jim Dillon stayed his entire career and Tom McCarey left only briefly for a stint in Milwaukee.

It was in 1965. as a junior in high school, that Tom McCarey walked into WBAY -- a station that had been on the air for barely a decade.

“I worked in the production department, sat up sets, ran TelePrompTer, ran studio camera, did just about everything back then. For a 17-year-old it was quite an experience, seeing already legends of BAY at work, Al Samson, Bobby Nelson, so it was a golden period,” McCarey recalls.

Just a few years after McCarey’s hiring, Dillon came on board almost in the same manner.

“I had no idea what the business was like. I had no idea what I was doing, but I learned over the years,” Dillon says.

Dillon, or J.D., as most people would call him at the station, started out as a rewrite person for the 10 p.m. news. After learning to shoot with a film camera, he was promoted to reporter which led to some memorable moment.

“I got to meet Ronald Reagan at the back door of this building. He walked in, we did an interview, he had a rally up in the auditorium, and I went on to cover presidential candidate -- Ford was the president at the time -- then Hubert Humphrey, Morris Udall, Jimmy Carter, all of these people I met on the road.”

J.D. and McCarey would work together through the years. McCarey held many of the same positions, working his way up from photographer to producer and eventually news director in 1983.

While he would leave to pursue an opportunity in Milwaukee, McCarey came back to WBAY in 1990, once again as news director, before retiring in 2014.

“Someone told me once that it’s less than 1% of news directors stay at any one station longer than ten years, so very fortunate. We had great people. We had great management. Great support from corporate, my general manager Don Carmichael and I think it showed in the product we put on the air each day,” McCarey says.

According to Dillon, what separates WBAY is its coverage of big stories.

His biggest was an investigation into the death of two migrant workers in Outagamie County back in the 1980′s.

“It turns out that they shut the power off, the utility shut the power off during the winter moratorium, which was highly illegal and they got caught at it, and we did the story that brought the utility down and got them fined. I always look back to that story because without that, without us stepping in and caring, nobody would have cared,” Dillon says.

Both Dillon and McCarey tell me they’re happily retired but often miss the TV news business and the people who give WBAY that local connection.

“You get a guy like Bill Jartz, who grew up in the area, or George Graphos who grew up in upper Michigan, or Chuck Ramsay, these are local people, and I think our viewers know that, that they recognize them, and now we got a whole new group, with Jeff and Sarah, and Chris Roth and Brad. Brad is local. You’re local now. So I think that’s a big part of our success,” McCarey says.

I will point out that McCarey was the news director who hired me back in 2000 -- and many of the old-timers still in the newsroom. He was tough but always had very good news judgment.