Tom Scanlan, who spent 39 of his 50 years in the broadcast industry in Michigan and is a former president of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters (MAB), died June 1 in Tucson, Ariz. He was 76 years old.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1940, Scanlan enjoyed a long career in the broadcast television industry that was sparked as a five-year-old, when his father took him into a New York restaurant and was instantly transfixed by a prizefight on a 7” screen on a TV above the door. At the age of 14, with $100 borrowed from his dad, he went into business installing TV antennas in his Cleveland neighborhood.
In 1966, he graduated from Michigan State University on an Air Force Scholarship, which carried with it a four-year active duty commitment. Scanlan was assigned to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) and served as the commanding officer for nine television and radio stations in Turkey and Germany. While in Germany, he organized a campaign to raise funds to broadcast the moon landing of Apollo 11; at the time, the military broadcasting network received their programming via 16mm, black and white film two to six months after it was first seen in the U.S.
Scanlan arranged for a microwave interconnection to Eurovision and paid for it with the money raised. He was able to bring the overseas community seven days of live, real-time broadcasts of the landing, and surrounding events to his audience. This event was the first live, overseas satellite television broadcast to military
families and demonstrated the need for live transmissions of this kind. His pioneering endeavor lead to appropriation of the necessary funds to launch satellite circuits for live broadcasts, a system that remains in place today.
Leaving active duty in 1973, Tom’s career included serving as owner and general manager of eight full-power commercial TV stations over the next years while maintaining a career as an active reservist until retiring in 2000 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Of the stations he owned, WBKB-TV in Alpena; WBKP-TV in Calumet; and WBUP-TV in Marquette/Ishpeming; were brand new sign-ons, serving new areas in northern Michigan. He also bought and managed WGTU-TV and WGTQ-TV in Traverse City and served as GM of four stations in Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina.
In an NAB blog post announcing Scanlon’s death, the association noted, “He loved telecommunications infrastructure and would stop at any and all microwave transmission tower, AT&T tower or radio/TV transmitter. He was also a train buff and collected antique locks.”
Scanlan was inducted into the Michigan Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2013, he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Tom is survived by wife Sue, of Copper Falls, Mich., and Tucson; son Thomas Jeffrey (Monique) and daughter Jessica Claire (Bryan Ramsey), and grandchildren Rowan Ramsey, Nathan Scanlan and Nova Ramsey.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Together with Sue, Tom Scanlan built a legacy of television excellence in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. The MAB Foundation has set up a scholarship/education fund in Tom’s name for those wishing to honor him. Under special instructions on the form please include Tom Scanlan’s name. To donate, click here.