(WFRV) – The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation has announced the 2022 Local Broadcast Legends honorees, and one of them you know quite well.
Local 5’s Tom Zalaski is a 2022 Local Broadcast Legend and will be honored this summer. Below is a statement written by Local 5’s Michele McCormack that was submitted before the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, nominating Zalaski for this incredible honor.
Tom Zalaski has been the narrator of life in Northeast Wisconsin for 42 years. He has been the lead nightly television news anchor of a remarkable 70,000 newscasts and counting. Through the triumphs and tragedies, Tom has been the one invited into our homes every night to share the day’s news. Tom was there when our nation was attacked on 9/11. He was there as we elected new presidents, governors, and local leaders. He was there as we celebrated some spectacular Packers’ Super Bowl wins. And most recently, Tom has been the calm, commanding presence to help guide us through a pandemic.
His influence on local news in Wisconsin and the country is immeasurable given the countless young journalists he has mentored over the decades. “Z” as he’s affectionately known doesn’t look at himself as a “newscaster.” Rather, he sees himself as a father, grandfather, and active member of the community. He has dedicated himself to Veterans’ causes. Most notably, the Pearly Gates Veterans Ride which established an annual scholarship for Veterans and their dependents to continue their education. As Benefit Chairman Jeff Fonferek noted “Tom is an awesome perfectionist who goes out of his way to make sure the ceremony goes off each year without a hitch. Personally, he helped me when my best friend passed away. I have known him more than 30 years. He has a heart of gold.”
A journalist with an impeccable reputation for achieving the highest standard and goals of broadcasting, Tom has reported from several political conventions for both WBAY where he began his career in Green Bay at 25 years old, and at WFRV where then Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan famously broke through the secret service line to talk with “Z.”
For Tom, no job is too big or too small as his team saw with the Packers’ Super Bowl 31 win. Back in the day, you had to run the videotapes from the photographer on the sideline all the way to the news truck in the parking lot. Tom decided to take on the job himself. Tom has also demonstrated the discipline to keep the subjects of his story in focus. He is a man who works in the public eye but never wanted to steal the spotlight from a deserving person or group. As host of the region’s weekly public affairs show of record called “Newsmaker Sunday,” Tom established a reputation for discussing political, public safety, and community issues in a fair and balanced manner that seeks to enlighten rather than hype. Former Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna who was interviewed often during his 24-year tenure says he always felt Tom cared deeply about what he was saying. “He has a way of asking sometimes tough questions without you feeling like he was putting you on the spot or trying to catch you off guard,” recalled Hanna. “I believe that comes from his genuine love and concern for the people of Northeast Wisconsin. That sincerity is at the core of who Tom is, not only as a broadcaster, but as a person.”
Tom is always ready to share his knowledge about the news business and his other passions including music and fundraising. Tom spent many years talking on the radio station WAPL giving history lessons on legendary rock bands. He has penned several books to help the public get a better understanding of how the media works. “Z” is a caring co-worker. He always brings homemade chocolate chip cookies to the newsroom on Mondays to get the staff in the right frame of mind for the week ahead. Longtime WFRV Meteorologist Dave Miller says “Z” was cool under pressure and set the tone if the unexpected happened during live newscasts. “Tom’s sense of humor during the commercial break would keep the atmosphere less tense,” Miller recently recalled. “This would allow everyone to focus back on the remainder of the newscast.”
Legendary anchor Erin Davisson and his co-anchor, say he was an expert class in journalism. “His deep knowledge of the region’s history and issues allows him to deftly handle a range of issues,” says Davisson. “While his friendly, professional style has made him a household name, and practically part of the family for generations of viewers.” Tom is a literal bridge between generations of journalists and plays a key role in guiding young producers, reporters, and photographers. He is their first impression of an industry that is highly demanding. Yet, Tom is always there with some solid advice, a joke, or his catchphrase “Big Time” that gets everyone smiling.
Viewers have come to rely on Tom’s sure and steady voice to guide them through the area’s most trying stories but to also celebrate as host of the annual Appleton Christmas and Flag Day Parades and the Northeast Wisconsin July 4th fireworks celebrations. An early riser and advocate of physical fitness, Tom takes a lead role in WFRV’s parent company Founders Day celebrations through community outreach. Just last June, he was up at dawn for a food drive for Paul’s Pantry. It was a first-time summertime food drive. Tom and the team hauled in a truck full of food and thousands in monetary donations.
“Z” possesses a cool factor. He is an accomplished guitarist who tore it up for viewers during a recent anniversary bash in the parking lot of Local 5. As longtime viewer, Geno Rousseau who “Z” has helped with a free military luncheon each year put it “Tom is a guy who is always upbeat and always will give you the time of day. His celebrity status has never gone to his head, and he remains a down-to-earth guy.” Most importantly, Tom is a gentleman journalist. Everyone who encounters “Z” feels as if they have been recognized, respected, and better for the experience.
What you see is what you get. On-air or off. Tom Zalaski has given much to the profession, the community and most importantly the people he meets every day. We know Tom’s family is what is most important to him, and we are so lucky he has made the viewers of Northeast Wisconsin feel like family all these years.
In the summer of 2021, former Local 5 anchor Erin Davisson was also inducted as a Local Broadcast Legend.