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Monday, May 7, 2012

Wayne Shannon Is Dead -- What's It All Mean?

Posted By on Mon, May 7, 2012 at 1:59 PM

Former Bay Area television fixture Wayne Shannon's catchphrase used to be "What's it all mean?" It was, on most days, a thought-provoking, witty conclusion to an equally witty and thought-provoking news commentary.

It comes off a bit differently now, however. Shannon's decomposing body was discovered by a pair of Northern Idaho hunters on April 28. A revolver was beneath his corpse, and a thermos of unidentified liquid lay nearby. Authorities believe Shannon had been dead for months; his body had been hit with at least one dusting of snow. It is believed that he took his own life.

Wayne Shannon dead and forgotten in the wilds of Northern Idaho -- for months. What does it all mean? 

For his friends, family, and former colleagues, that's a question that just can't be answered. For those of us who merely knew Shannon through his brief, sardonic commentaries at the tail end of KRON news reports from 1982 to 1988, however, it feels a bit like the unceremonious end of an era.

KRON is now a station so stripped-down from its former NBC-affiliate glory days it makes IKEA furniture resemble an Eames chair. There's no room for someone like Shannon now -- hell, they don't even have room for a damn cameraman.

Of course, Shannon felt anachronistic even 25 years ago. He was a rotund, walrus-like man with a taste for striped ties and earth tones. He sported a salt-and-pepper helmet-like hairstyle and a mustache that, to put it gently, went out of style after 1945. When he delivered his op-ed pieces, he'd lean toward the camera on one elbow and cock his head; this felt like a guy in a bar telling you what's what.

But, here's the thing -- it worked. When Shannon came out in favor of dumping nuclear waste into the ocean, viewers called and complained. But these people were apparently immune to sarcasm: Shannon's rationale was that someone had to be in favor of dumping putrid, nuclear waste in the sea, because, you know, we're doing it. Glancing back at a number of Shannon's clips today, I'm struck by how well they've aged. He had a comedian's timing, a journalist's drive, and a satirist's bile.

He would never, never, never be hired by any news station today. A goofy fat guy with funny hair and a bad mustache and a sophisticated sense of humor is not what people are clamoring to see. But a rapping weatherman? That's different.

In 2006, writer Edward Champion penned a blog entry about how his inability to find any trace of Wayne Shannon-related material online demonstrated the failings of the Internet. Intriguingly, Champion's own article arguably disproved his thesis -- the comments section became a clearinghouse of information posted by friends and colleagues of Shannon's -- and, eventually, Shannon himself.

Over the past six years, Shannon's children contacted him via that article. Shannon learned there are people out there who appreciated his work -- and he provided Champion with the definitive video archive of his life in broadcasting. And, sadly, Shannon's family used that article's comments section to announce the 63-year-old's death and allow well-wishers to weigh in.

What a strange, sad, poignant situation. What's it all mean?

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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