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Award-winning WCPO reporter Tom McKee retires after 40 years covering the Tri-State

9 On Your Side bids fond farewell
Posted at 12:35 PM, Dec 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-21 20:08:27-05

CINCINNATI  — The 9 On Your Side newsroom won’t be the same without Tom McKee.

When the station’s senior news reporter retired after his Friday assignment, the 67-year-old McKee left a legacy of four decades of top news reporting in which he became the station’s senior and most respected "man on the street."

WATCH Tom McKee reflect on his career with Tanya O'Rourke in the video player above.

McKee’s has been an award-winning career, beginning at age 22 in 1974 under the tutelage of legendary news director Al Schottelkotte. McKee has brought Tri-Staters some of the region’s biggest news stories over the years, including the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire and The Who concert tragedy.

McKee has been a mainstay of the station’s politics coverage, winning one of three national Walter Cronkite Awards in 2013. The other winners were ABC correspondents Jonathan Karl and Martha Raddatz.

WATCH Tom McKee being interviewed about gunman's takeover of WCPO newsroom in 1980:

At the age of 29, McKee was thrust into a dramatic, life-or-death news story when a gunman named James Hoskins took him and eight other WCPO employees hostage in the newsroom on Oct. 15, 1980. Hoskins told the hostages he had killed his girlfriend and he came to the newsroom to make an on-air statement decrying the treatment of the poor and to have a shootout with police.

Hoskins ended up releasing the hostages and killing himself. Schottelkotte cited McKee, the senior news editor at the time, along with reporter Elaine Green, who interviewed Hoskins during the ordeal, for their calm and cool-headed response in helping defuse the dangerous situation.

McKee won a regional Emmy for breaking news coverage of the Queen City Barrel fire in lower Price Hill on Aug. 19, 2004. It was one of the largest fires in Cincinnati history and took more than a full day to extinguish.

WATCH McKee's report on the Queen City Barrel fire:

McKee's pride and joy, his award-winning, nearly yearlong "Democracy 2012" project, involved traveling the Tri-State asking voters what questions they had for candidates, then posing those questions to the candidates in sit-down interviews. McKee’s series of 60 programs included interviews with presidential candidates and most every Tri-State candidate running for significant national, statewide, county or city office.

The Cronkite judges were impressed with McKee's extensive field work. "He did something different to bring citizens into the conversation in a very real way," the judges said.

WATCH McKee's entry that won Cronkite Award:

McKee has gone on the road to cover major national stories like Hurricane Katrina, the deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University and the fires that ravaged the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, area.

The fact that he actually covered a story on the last day of his 40-year career here comes as no surprise to his colleagues, who admire him not only for talent but for his hard work.

He never turned down an assignment, even when it meant standing out in a snowstorm next to I-71.

Throughout his career, McKee prided himself on being first and factual and was known for being prepared to take on any assignment. He has also served as a mentor and example to generations of young reporters at WCPO.

“There are so many superlative adjectives to describe Tom: talented, dedicated, driven, well-connected, smart, passionate, loyal, adaptable, flexible, joyful, appreciative,” said Chip Mahaney, 9 On Your Side news director.

“In the years I’ve known Tom, I have seen him put forth some of our best work. No one comes to this newsroom every day better prepared to have the great adventure that journalism and field reporting promises. I have seen him help so many others, with story tips, phone numbers, pitches, encouragement and good cheer. I have seen Tom take leadership and service opportunities in this newsroom, and in our industry, thanks largely to his work with SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists).”

A sense of humor? McKee has that, too. A great singing voice? Uh, not so much. Here's the duet of McKee and WCPO's Julie O'Neill at a morning news meeting this week:

McKee grew up in Maumee, Ohio, outside Toledo, and graduated from Ohio University, where he was a member of the marching band. He and his wife Claudia live in Sycamore Township.

McKee said he may keep his hand in the TV news business, doing occasional projects for 9 On Your Side.

Congratulations, Tom!