Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We don’t usually have enough foresight to figure out when we’ll hit a particularly appropriate week for a particular Site of the Week tour. For the most part, we just kind of keep churning through our trips in order, usually lagging about a year behind real time. (And now, we might get more of a chance to catch up that we expected…)
But this week, it kind of lines up nicely in an eerie sort of way: at this strange, empty, lonely moment, we find ourselves in the March 2019 folder of our archives, on a gray western Pennsylvania morning when we pulled up in downtown McKeesport for a visit to the building that had been the home of the McKeesport Daily News until the last day of 2015, when that venerable local paper ceased publication.
After more than a century of newspapering in this building, it’s started to get a new life as the “Tube City Center” (McKeesport was a center of steel pipe production back in its heyday), home to several community groups and journalism organizations. But at least when we stopped in a year ago, much of the building was still home to old pressroom ghosts and lots and lots of really cool Art Deco.
The main lobby is almost untouched from the days when Daily News customers stopped by to pay for subscriptions or place classified ads. Today, it’s home to a satellite newsroom of the Mon Valley Independent, a new daily paper that’s trying to fill the void left behind when the Scaife family shut down the Daily News and several other area papers. The Independent reporters get to work in front of that awesome neon-trimmed clock map, which flashes important cities in each time zone across America, with a big star for McKeesport, the hub of the universe as far as McKeesport is concerned.
One floor up, the old newsroom of the Daily News had been emptied, save for that metal railing that once separated the reporters’ desks from the rest of civilization. The main newsroom fed into a warren of smaller offices, leading back to the old darkroom and photo department, left largely untouched four years later.
The old Daily News executive offices are here, too, with all the wood paneling and fancy desks that showed just how important (and lucrative) it was to be the publisher of a small-city newspaper.
The production process for the Daily News wound its way through all three floors of the building, from the press room at (and below) ground level to the mailroom (where there were still bundles of old Daily News issues from 2014 and 2015 to be found), upstairs to the composing room that took up most of the third floor. Why put the composing room up here? Because when this building was new, the composers needed all the natural light they could get as they squinted over all that tiny metal type to get it all in order.
Imagine what a busy place this must have been back in the day, with the Linotype machines noisily clattering out lines of lead type to be locked into plates along with artwork and ads.
Those plates all traveled down to the pressroom on a vertical conveyor that ran down three floors, and that must have been a sight to see!
(And do you know why the floor of the composing room is made entirely of hardwood blocks? Because if you dropped hot lead on them, they wouldn’t set the place on fire. Or at least that’s the way I recall the story…)
So let’s go back down to the other side of the second floor, into what used to be the office for the society pages (or was it sports?), which is where we find the radio hook to this week’s installment.
Before there was a Tube City Center, there was Tube City Online, a local online news site founded by onetime Daily News reporter and longtime Mon Valley booster Jason Togyer. (It publishes local news as the Tube City Almanac, and took on the mantle of publishing local death notices after the Daily News folded.)
It now operates from here in the Center, as does its affiliated webcaster, WMCK.fm, which has a growing roster of local programming all emanating from a one-room studio up here on the second floor. (Full disclosure: it’s also an affiliate of “The Tragical History Tour,” the all-Beatles show hosted by Mrs. Fybush – tune in Saturday nights at 6!)
There’s some cool history on the shelves here in the WMCK studio/office, too – including, fittingly, a press plate from the last issue of the Daily News, complete with a front-page photo of this very building. (And WMCK’s name is itself a nod to Mon Valley history – WMCK was the original callsign of McKeesport’s AM 1360, which was later famous as top-40 WIXZ and is today hanging on as WGBN.
Thanks to Jason Togyer for the tour!
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Next week: Las Vegas, April 2019