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Stories Of Fatherhood: WCBS 880′s Irene Cornell

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Irene Cornell has been a reporter at WCBS for 40 years, and she still...
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WCBS 880′s Irene Cornell remembers her father, Cameron Cornell.

______________________________

My father, Cameron Cornell, was a newsman.

He gave me his enduring love for the news business, through good times and bad – and he certainly had both.

Every time he lost a job, I remember him saying, “This is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

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When I was growing up, our family’s “home entertainment center” was the dining room table. We would all sit around that table and talk about the stories my dad had written that day. It was always very exciting. We never had a television set in our home, even when my dad anchored the first TV news show in New York, on the old Dumont network. He thought television was the vast wasteland. When I wanted to see his show, or Davey Crockett, I had to go to a neighbor’s house.

My dad started out working for newspapers. After growing up on a ranch in Oklahoma, his dream was to “Go West young man,” and he did. We lived in Sacramento, Bakersfield, Pasadena and Los Angeles while he worked at newspapers, and then at KNX News in L.A.

We left Los Angeles when my father got the big TV job (Years later, I found myself back in the City of Angels when I covered the O.J. Simpson trial. I wandered the hallways asking the old timers if they remembered Cameron Cornell.  Some did).

We headed out across the country in a brand new yellow Studebaker that my parents won in a song contest. Their song, a beautiful ballad entitled “Only the Wind Can Cry”, came in second to “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter…and Make Believe it Came from You,” which is why you’ve never heard my parents’ song. The contest winner got played on the radio, we got the car. But we were delighted to have wheels. That Studebaker carried us to New York with a trailer on the back, carrying my mothers grand piano, with my sisters and I and a few pet parakeets in the back seat.

That New York stay lasted about 4 years, until Dumont folded, and we headed south, to Savannah, GA. My dad had a job there as news director at WSGA Radio. Life was quite a dream there, we lived on a small island and swam with porpoises, until the day that a deep-throat police source tipped my dad to a shocking murder in a wealthy and very powerful Savannah family.

The murder had been covered up by the local newspaper, which ran the death in the obituary column as a suicide. That family happened to own the newspaper, the tv station and the radio station where my dad thought he ran the news department.

He reported the murder, and the phone rang.

My father was told, “Put that on the air one more time, Cornell, and you’re finished.”

“But I was hired as the News Director,” protested my father.

He reported the murder one more time, and was fired.

But my father always landed on his feet. We moved back to New York, with my dad hired on as News Director at WMCA Radio. That’s where I came in. I was ready for my second year of college and looking for a job. He brought me into the business as the first-ever copy girl at the station. There were no other women working in the newsroom. I ripped wire copy for the likes of Bert Knapp and Dave Leeds, and began learning my trade. I would work at what I’d grown up with and get my education at Hunter College Night School.

When I was “laid off” after 8 years of street reporting experience at WMCA (my father was long gone from there), I said to myself, “Surely, this is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

And of course, it was. Within two weeks, I was hired again – as the only woman working in the newsroom at WCBS Radio.

The years have gone by in a flash. Brand new street reporters tell me, “I listened to you as a kid.” I love it. I still look forward to each day of reporting the stories I’ve covered on the radio, and discussing the news of the day around the dining room table – with my now grown children and my 11-year-old grandson. We often say, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

I do carry my father’s spirit around with me. I aim to be as joyful and creative and courageous as he was. When I listen to the tapes from his old radio days, I realize that I have a way to go, and much still to learn. But to my amazement, I also find, I sound like him.

Thanks for everything, Cameron Cornell.

Your daughter,

Irene.

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