Pat Collins Snow Stick ~
“My career sort of morphed into two things, okay? I cover murders, and I measure snow. I have the official Pat Collins Snow Stick. It’s the only way to officially measure snow in Washington. I’m more accurate than National Airport, you just ask people.”
A Ockershausen: This is a special day for me for a lot of reasons, which I’ll get into, but News 4 viewers know this man as the guy with the yardstick. I know them as the consummate professional, the go to guy to get the real story behind the story. The reporter that you lean into to really listen to what he has to say. He’s an official member of Our Town, a native Washingtonian, a good Catholic. There’s no such thing as a bad Catholic. He graduated from Notre Dame. He’s a Vietnam vet. Not to mention that he’s a Silver Circle winner. He has ten Emmy’s, two Clarion awards, and he’s the winner of the Chesapeake AP Award for the best featured reporter. I’d love to welcome my very good friend from Channel 4 and WRC-TV, Pat Collins.
Pat Collins: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
A Ockershausen: Did you know, Our Town started as a story about Our Town, because we did a TV show that was short lived but it was popular at the time. So, Janice says to me, why don’t we bring back some of the people and give them a view to the public of people we grew up with. And the names you’ll know, and we’re so delighted that, Pat, everybody has felt something about Our Town is on this show. And this is tour Town, ’cause you were born here.
Growing Up on H Street NE – Swampoodle – Washington DC
Pat Collins: Yeah, I love this city. I grew up on H Street NE, they call it Swampoodle.
A Ockershausen: Wonderful place though.
Pat Collins: 324 H Street NE, I grew up in the house that my grandfather had. My grandfather was an engineer on the B&O railroad.
A Ockershausen: Wow.
Pat Collins: And that’s why we live so close to Union Station. My grandfather …
A Ockershausen: Could walk to work.
Pat Collins: Could walk to work. And then my father, he went to school, and he became a doctor. And so what he did, is he set up his office on the first floor of the building, and then we lived on the second floor of two row houses. And that’s where I grew up, 324 H Street.
A Ockershausen: H …
Pat Collins: It’s a Giant Food store now. In fact, if you go to that Giant down there, and you walk into the produce section, you’ll be in my bedroom. It was H Street, you know, it’s not …
A Ockershausen: Where are Little Sisters of the Poor?
Pat Collins: They were right down the street …
A Ockershausen: Yeah, they were on H Street.
Cottage Industry: Steal Pat Collins’ 2 Watchdogs for Reward
Pat Collins: They were patients of my father, Little Sisters of the Poor. And you know, it wasn’t all that fashionable back then. It was pretty rough back in … you know, we had two watch dogs. They were stolen three times. It was sort of a cottage industry: steal the Collins’ dogs, wait an appropriate time, knock on the front door, and you get a 20 dollar reward. I mean, we bought those dogs back so many times, it was sort of funny. And then we park in the back, there was a parking lot back in the alley. I used to play in the alley.
A Ockershausen: Now they’re called rear driveways. But you and I know them as alleys.
Pat Collins: Or muse. They call them muse. They actually put homes in them, call them muse. We call them as alleys. I’d rollerskate back in there, but …
A Ockershausen: Trash.
Back When Trash Pickup was done with Burlap
Pat Collins: Oh, the trash. And how they picked up trash back then, they didn’t have those big …
A Ockershausen: They hustled about, didn’t they?
Pat Collins: They had these big burlap cloths they’d put down, and they’d dump the trash onto these burlap bags, and the men would have to hoist it up into the big trash trucks, and take …
A Ockershausen: They were hard working guys.
Pat Collins: And alleys were actually a stream of commerce in the city. You had the meat man, you had the vegetable man, you had the ice man.
A Ockershausen: Hucksters.
Food Shopping – Outdoor Markets
Pat Collins: Yes. They would walk down. You know, people don’t believe this, when I grew up, there was no Safeway, there was no Giant. You go to the market, you go to the K Street Market, you’d go to the Eastern Market, the Avenue Market.
A Ockershausen: Fresh food.
Pat Collins: And you’d go from stand to stand to stand. There’d be a dry goods store in the center of it, and that’s how you would get your food. I remember when I think they had the first Safeway open up. It was like a big deal. In Washington, people go, “Safeway, everything in one place?”
A Ockershausen: It opened up at 13th and D, where I’m from, there’s a new Safeway over there. It was a revelation. We didn’t … they called it sanitary.
Pat Collins: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: It was sanitary.
Pat Collins: Heck, we didn’t have air conditioning. Can you imagine what … we didn’t have air, we had fans.
A Ockershausen: Right.
Pat Collins: We would go to the movies, we didn’t care what was playing at the movies, we would just go there to cool off.
A Ockershausen: At the Atlas.
“Air Cooled” at the Atlas
Pat Collins: Yeah, and they would advertise, “Air Cool.” They weren’t even air conditioning. I don’t know what they did, but it was cooler in there than it was outside.
A Ockershausen: They opened doors.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Turn the lights off.
A Ockershausen: But that was … the city was so young, and really growing. And one of the things that you … I don’t know how far this went with you, but you knew almost everybody had walked down H Street. You knew people, if you walked down F Street, you knew people, 13th Street. Now …
Pat Collins: Oh, you felt it like it was a small town. It was a small town, where you felt like you knew everybody. I felt like my father was sort of the Mayor of H Street.
A Ockershausen: I bet he was. Being a doctor.
Pat Collins’ Dad – The Doctor
Pat Collins: Yeah, ’cause being a doctor, he treated everybody. Rich and poor, he treated Congressmen, Republicans, Democrats, the Speaker of the … He treated the Circus when the Circus was in town!
A Ockershausen: Right.
Pat Collins: I’d have the greatest time. He’d have to close his office because the Circus had a side show back then.
A Ockershausen: Where were they, Florida Avenue? Is that where they put the Circus, on Florida Avenue?
Pat Collins: Well no, the Circus was originally, I think, out on Benning Road, it was under tents.
A Ockershausen: Yeah, that’s right.
When the Circus came to Town
Pat Collins: And they had side shows. So they had the Tattoo Lady, and the Fish Man, they had people in there that had oddities. And so he had to close his office because they’d scare the patients away. But I thought it was wonderful. I would sit down and watch them as they all came in, and they’d get examined, he’d treat them, and send them on their way.
A Ockershausen: The Circus, the Circus, the Circus. They’d parade right down the middle of Florida Avenue from the …
Pat Collins: And they’d get off the train up there …
A Ockershausen: They’d get off the train right there.
Pat Collins: Go right down Florida Avenue, off to Benning Road, and they were under a tent.
A Ockershausen: Exactly right.
Pat Collins: And then later they moved them to Uline Arena, and then well now they don’t exist at all.
A Ockershausen: Yeah, they don’t come here anymore. I guess we were young and innocent at the time, not knowing what was coming, but things were gonna change dramatically. But it was great to grow up in the city. You’re a city guy. You went to school, you probably went to Blessed … not Blessed. What’s that school on New York Avenue?
Pat Collins: Well no, I tell where I went to school. First I went to Kindergarten at St. Francis, DeSales. But I ended up going to Elementary School at a place called Campus School, which is out in Brookland.
A Ockershausen: How’d you get to Brookand? Street car.
Campus School – Brookland
Pat Collins: Street car. We had street cars back when street cars weren’t all that cool. You know, there’s a reason they took street cars out of this city, you know. They’re not very efficient. You know, when it snows, the street cars don’t go anywhere. And then kids, I wouldn’t say I was one of them, they would sometimes get behind the street car and pull the cable, and it wouldn’t go anywhere. Then the conductor would have to get out, they’d have to reattach the cable, and it was sort of like a little game of cat and mouse.
A Ockershausen: Great story.
Pat Collins: But what terrible thing. I don’t know those people who would do that, but apparently … Any rate, I would take the street car out to Campus School. My father was associated with Catholic University, it was attached to Catholic University.
A Ockershausen: And where’d you go to high school, St. John?
Pat Collins: Oh no.
A Ockershausen: Oh, you became a Cadet?
Pat Collins: My father was a doctor. He treated the Jesuits, okay. He was a doctor for their football team. And when I was a little guy, he would take me to their games and I would …
A Ockershausen: St. Johns?
St. John’s College High School
Pat Collins: No, Gonzaga. He was Gonzaga’s doctor. But, when it came time to go to high school, he wouldn’t let me apply to Gonzaga. Because he went to St. Johns, okay. My brother went to St. Johns, and back then there was a blood hatred between those two schools.
A Ockershausen: Oh, it was awful. I know that.
Pat Collins: It was … you know, Hatfields and McCoys, he didn’t even … I could have spit and hit Gonzaga from my house, but I had to go way across town to St. Johns on Military Road, because that’s what … He was a pretty strong father.
A Ockershausen: You had to wear uniforms, though.
Pat Collins: Oh yeah, but the uniforms were good. Because once you learn how to work the uniform, no more street car, you could hitchhike. Back in those days, you put on a uniform, everybody likes a uniform. You could hitchhike all the way home, all the way up. Hit …
A Ockershausen: You were not a threat in a uniform.
Pat Collins: Oh, not at all. People would always pick you up, they would always pick you up. Now today, I wouldn’t hitchhike down the street, but back then hitchhiking …
A Ockershausen: Natural way.
Pat Collins: Was a way to get around the city.
A Ockershausen: Now, in high school, you then decided to go to a non-Jesuit college.
Pat Collins: I went to, well, my father was a very strict father, did I mention that?
A Ockershausen: Yeah. The doctor.
College – University of Notre Dame
Pat Collins: And my father had a rule. He says, “Pat, you can go to any Catholic college you can get into.” Okay? So I looked at Notre Dame, and I got into Notre Dame, and I went to Notre Dame because it was the furthest Catholic college away from him, and so that’s where I went. And he dropped me off out there my Freshman year, and then …
A Ockershausen: In South Bend.
Pat Collins: In South Bend. And then he came back when I graduated. Those were the two times he came out to see me, and that was okay with me.
A Ockershausen: Tough guy, right?
Pat Collins: He was a tough guy, he was a very good doctor.
A Ockershausen: Was he a Washingtonian native also? Was he?
Pat Collins: Oh yeah, he grew up on that 324 H Street. Remember, my grandfather was a B&O engineer.
A Ockershausen: That’s right, he was a railroad man.
Pat Collins: We haven’t … there’s a lot of railroad love in my family. We haven’t gone very far. You know, we’d still, had it not been for the riots, we’d still be on H Street.
Capital Transit – Street Car
A Ockershausen: I tell people the story about my grandmother, got remarried, ’cause her husband died, to a street car conductor with Capital Transit, and he would take me all over town, we never paid for one thing. He had a pass, a special pass, to ride the street car. And that car, you name it, we went everywhere. What a wonderful … Remember the open cars in Glen Echo with the air blowing through them?
Pat Collins: Oh yeah, that was a ride car. Just getting to Glen Echo was a sort of a treat in and of itself.
A Ockershausen: Wasn’t it, right?
Pat Collins: Yeah, but, I have to remind you, you know, there was a time when you could get on a DC transit street car or bus and get the transfer.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Pat Collins: And then you could hop off the back, hand that transfer to another person, and they get on. So you could get maybe three or four rides out of that one little fare. I’ve known that to happen as well. And I don’t know who would do something like that, but I don’t think you could do that today.
A Ockershausen: You can’t do it on Metro, but we used to do it on street cars all the time. Same thing with the Path, in the past you’d put it out back . . .
Pat Collins: Or hand it out through the window.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely. It was a wonderful item. And read when you’re there. Pat, these are great stories, I want to hear more of them. And then I’m gonna talk to you about your career once you’ve finished Notre Dame. This is Our Town, it’s Andy Ockershausen talking to Pat Collins.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town.
A Ockershausen: It’s Our Town, with Andy Ockershausen and a delightful, delightful Pat Collins. We’re finding so much about Our Town that we know and that we share with him, and that is his dad was a doctor. His dad made house calls. Pat, that doesn’t happen today. You say house call, people think you’re crazy.
Harden and Weaver in the Morning
Pat Collins: That’s right. It’s hard to even get a plumber to come to your house now, and you gotta pay them up front to even get them on your street. But he made house calls. He would … That’s how I learned a lot about the city and got to spend a lot of time with my father, because he was a busy man. He had a 1946 Plymouth Coup, and he would have his office hours in the morning, then he’d have lunch, he’d go to the hospital, make his rounds.
A Ockershausen: And he’d listen to Harden and Weaver in the morning too.
Pat Collins: In the morning we had this little Zenith white transistor radio, and it had a little wire stand, and every morning at breakfast he’d have MAL radio on the radio, and we’d listen to Harden and Weaver. MAL was the boss station in Washington for years and years and years. In fact, it’s the only station I think we listened to with all the DJs, and it had the Redskins, and they had a damn good news department here.
A Ockershausen: Oh my god.
Pat Collins: They had real reporters doing real news. It’s incredible, it was really something to hear, and of course that’s gone.
A Ockershausen: We had the real Larry Krebs, too.
Pat Collins: That’s right.
A Ockershausen: That ran … We don’t know what he did, but he was always available.
Pat Collins: Yeah, well he was Washington’s first real on-air police reporter, I think, Larry was.
Pat Collins Owes His Start in Journalism to his Sister
A Ockershausen: Exactly. Anyway, so Pat, so that’s educating the city, but why did you turn to broadcasting? Did you study it in school? Did you just learn it by being you?
Pat Collins: No. You blame it on my sister. I was in high school, and I was …
A Ockershausen: At St. Johns.
Pat Collins: At St. Johns. And I was a sophomore. And you know, you had to do those book reports each summer.
A Ockershausen: Oh yeah.
Pat Collins: You had to read five books and then write reports. So my sister had a date with this guy, and I’m sitting on the front porch. This is in the summer down outside of Annapolis.
A Ockershausen: On H Street?
Pat Collins: No, this is outside of Annapolis.
A Ockershausen: Okay.
Pat Collins: We would spend one month a year outside Annapolis, at a place called Bay Ridge.
A Ockershausen: Oh, we know it quite well.
High School Sports – Washington Daily News
Pat Collins: So anyway, I’m sitting there on the front porch writing my book report. And my sister was never ready on-time. And so this guy comes in, and I’m writing the reports, laboring over the reports, and he’s looking over my shoulder. He says, “You know, you’re a pretty good writer.” And I said, “Yeah, we’ll you’re just trying to suck up to my sister.” And so he said, “How would you like to cover high school sports for the Washington Daily News?” Now the Daily News was the Scripps-Howard tabloid paper.
A Ockershausen: Great paper.
Pat Collins: Oh, it was a wonderful little paper. And I said, “Sure, I’d like to do it.” Well it turns out, he was George Clifford. He was the sports columnist for the Washington Daily News. And so when I went back to school that Fall, he got me a job covering high school sports. I was like 15 years old. And then I had a sports column, high school sports column when I was 17. And I edited three pages of sports with the Daily News.
A Ockershausen: And they printed it.
Pat Collins: Oh, it was in the paper, every Saturday, it was part of the Scholastic Sports Association.
A Ockershausen: High school sports.
Pat Collins Founded The Whisper – Notre Dame Campus Newspaper
Pat Collins: Yeah. And I had the column and everything else. And so my father looked at me, and he said, “You know, I don’t want you to be a reporter, because I think reporters are really nothing but a bunch of drunks, deadbeats, and drifters.” ‘Cause, you know, he treated a lot of reporters, and you know, he was pretty much right on the money. So I said, “Dad, I’m gonna go off to college, I’m gonna major in biology, and I’m going to be a doctor just like you.” Now this is back in the sixties. So I go off to college, I’m a major in biology, I’m there for about three months, and with my own money, I started my own underground newspaper called The Whisper. And so we started …
A Ockershausen: On campus?
Pat Collins: On campus. Yeah, at Notre Dame. It was back in the sixties, we were sort of rebellious, as you can be at Notre Dame, and then I had this heart to heart talk with him, after my Freshman year, “Dad, I just can’t do this.” So I changed my major to English. And then I …
A Ockershausen: Wise man.
Pat Collins: Yeah. I never took journalism course out there. They didn’t have journalism … That’s sort of a waste of time, but that’s for another show on another day.
A Ockershausen: Right.
Pat Collins: So, I started working at the Daily News off and on through high school, and then after I graduated, I mean off and on through college, and then after I graduated from college until I went into the Army. And then I went in the Army, and I did two years in the army, came back to the Daily News. The Daily News folded, it was bought by the Star. I worked for the Star for a year, and then all the sudden …
A Ockershausen: Still doing high school sports?
The Washington Star – Crime and Courts Beat
Pat Collins: Oh no, I moved, once I graduated from high school they moved me to the city desk.
A Ockershausen: Oh, I got it.
Pat Collins: And I started covering crime, and courts, and …
A Ockershausen: Well George Solomon worked at the News. Was he there when you were there?
Pat Collins: Yeah, he was the sports columnist, and then he became the sports editor at the Washington Post.
A Ockershausen: Correct.
Pat Collins: He left and went to the Post. Andy Beyer worked at the . . .
A Ockershausen: They had good people.
Pat Collins: Oh, they had some of the best writers. They had Mo Siegel.
You know, I learned to write from theses grizzled old reporters at the Daily News. I didn’t learn to write at school, I learned to write from these reporters who would throw copy back at me, make me do it again, and again, and again, until I could get it right. And they were very good. And they took really good care.
A Ockershausen: Good thing, absolutely.
Pat Collins: So I had … in fact, if the Daily News was still publishing, you know, I’m not a job jumper. If the Daily News was still publishing I’d probably still be there. But, it folded. I went to the Star, had a chance to go to the Post, in one of those big decision times, or the Star. I chose the Star, because when you’re at the Daily News, you’re like David. You know, just one of you. And then there was the Post, and it was a big, big paper. And you’d go out on a story, and the Post would have three reporters, and you’d be there by yourself. And you’d look over and say, “Why do they need three reporters to cover this damn story? I’m here by myself. I’m still gonna beat their ass.” And so, I just couldn’t bring myself to work at the Post. So I went to the Star, and then one day …
A Ockershausen: Were you still on Pennsylvania Avenue, or in the new building?
Pat Collins: No, when I went to the Star, it was over on … it wasn’t Pennsylvania, it was over in Southeast, it was right off the freeway.
A Ockershausen: The new building.
Pat Collins: That was one of the dumb moves the Star made. You know, they moved … it’s an afternoon paper, they relied a lot on street sales, and …
A Ockershausen: They couldn’tt make it.
Pat Collins: Well then they moved to a place where they couldn’t get their circulation trucks downtown. And so, it was like they might as well have been on an island. That was one of the bad mistakes they had. But any rate …
A Ockershausen: So true.
From The Washington Star to Channel 9
Pat Collins: I got a call one day from Channel 9, because a guy, Mike Buchanan, a very good TV reporter, decided he wanted to go out and cover the President, and wanted to get out of covered crime for Channel 9. They called me up to do sort of an audition. They set me down on the set, take off your glasses, look this way, look that way, read this, read that. It was sort of like a television physical. They did everything but a full frontal, I think. But any rate, so they call me up, and the guy there offered me a job. And you know, at the time, I didn’t even have a TV, because I lived on the Hill, our house got burglarized, and we lost everything we had.
A Ockershausen: Were you married at the time?
Pat Collins: Oh yeah, I was married. I was married, and my wife, Emily, she was working, I was working, and our house got burgled, and we lost everything that had a plug on it. So we lost our TV, the iron, you know, the lights, everything. So the guy says, “What do you think of our news show?” And I said, “I think it’s the best damn news show I’ve ever seen.” So he offered me a job, and I went up there, and I was just awful on television when I started. I was just awful. You know … his name was Jim Snyder, he was a brilliant man.
A Ockershausen: What a great guy.
Pat Collins: Fantastic man. One of the best news directors ever, in the history of television. Not just Washington television, in the history of television.
A Ockershausen: They had the cast of characters, too.
Pat Collins: Oh, it was a wonderful place to work. Maureen Bunyan, Gordon Peterson, Max Robinson, Warner Wolf, Louis Allen, and I can go on, and on, and on, but Snyder was a bright guy, and Snyder gave a lot of people their first job in television. Think about that. He gave Gordon Peterson his first job in television, plucked him out of radio. Warner Wolf, first job in television.
A Ockershausen: He recognized the talent.
Pat Collins: Andrea Mitchell, he brought her down, she was in radio in Philadelphia, brought her down to cover Marvin Mandel. First big television job. My first television job. He had a real eye for people who would succeed on television. Glenn Brenner, he picked …
A Ockershausen: Oh yeah, from Philly.
Pat Collins: Yeah. Dusted him off, they fired Glenn Brenner in Philadelphia, ’cause he talked too fast. They fired Glenn Brenner, how do you fire Glenn Brenner? I mean, I don’t know what that guy who did that is doing today, but he’s probably working at Payless.
A Ockershausen: Roger Clipp. Anyway, but a Philly guy.
Pat Collins: Great guy, very smart guy.
A Ockershausen: He was born to be a Philly guy.
Pat Collins | His First Day at Channel 9
Pat Collins: So, any rate, I go in to Snyder, it’s my first day. He says, “Pat, we’re not gonna put you on the air until we think you’re ready and you think you’re ready.” So when did you think I’d go on the air?
A Ockershausen: The next day.
Pat Collins: Five o’clock that night I was on the air. And …
A Ockershausen: What was your beat?
Pat Collins: Crime, I was covering crime, because Buchanan had wanted to cover the President, and they needed a crime reporter.
A Ockershausen: Okay.
Pat Collins: And I was covering crime over at the Star, and at the Daily News. I mean, that’s what I did most of the time.
A Ockershausen: Was Sid Epstein at the Star when you were there?
Pat Collins: Oh yeah, he was the managing editor.
A Ockershausen: Yeah? The names, great names.
Pat Collins: Yeah, nice guy.
A Ockershausen: They were good journalists, too.
Pat Collins: Charlie Seib and Sid Epstein. I think Sid is … one was a Metro editor, and one was the managing editor.
A Ockershausen: Right.
Pat Collins: But they were great guys, great guys.
A Ockershausen: They were real newspaper guys.
Pat Collins: Oh yeah, real roll up the sleeves newspaper guys, back when they had paper, and we wrote on the …
A Ockershausen: Remember that Eleni, the columnist?
Pat Collins: Sure.
A Ockershausen: She’s from Northeast, from Florida Avenue, too. Did you know that?
Pat Collins: Yeah, well Florida Avenue produced a lot of people.
A Ockershausen: I grew up with her family. Local people.
Pat Collins: Oh yeah.
A Ockershausen: But you’re at 9, and your on the air. You’re with this cast of thousands of talented people.
On Working at Channel 9
Pat Collins: Right. And there you are, sitting on the set. You know, it’s a little intimidating, ’cause those cameras. I mean, you look at those big cameras, and it was like looking down the barrel of some big cannon. And you’re starting … and then you say to yourself, man, if I screw up, somebody’s gonna come back from the shadows with this big hook, and drag my ass right off the set, and I’ll be embarrassed, and I’ll be too scared to even go back and see my wife.
A Ockershausen: And what would your father think?
Pat Collins: Oh, my father would slap me. He would’ve slapped me just being there in the first place. But you know, I found out, with my father, and most parents, parents are very resilient. So …
A Ockershausen: They come back.
Pat Collins: Yeah, once your kids decide what they’re gonna do, and they hit their career path, even though he wanted me to be a doctor, and somewhere it’s written if you’re a doctor, your son has to be a doctor, he got used to me being a reporter. So I think he was okay with it after a while. It all worked out.
A Ockershausen: Well you were a celebrity, my god. You’re in with the celebrities, appearing at a powerhouse TV station.
Pat Collins: Yeah, but we don’t … we didn’t really feel …
A Ockershausen: I know.
Pat Collins: Like we were celebrities. I mean, you couldn’t, they would cut you no slack at Channel 9. Nobody with a big head worked at Channel 9, because it was a pretty rough place to work back in there. People would throw things at each other, make practical jokes on each other. We would have water pistol fights back there. We had a great time covering the news. Now we were serious …
A Ockershausen: Was Louis Allen still there? Or had he gone to 7?
Pat Collins: No, he came from 7. Snyder got him away, pried him away from 7, to be the weather man over at Channel 9. Louis Allen, because he did those little Washington Gas Light sponsor. Yeah, he put those little doodles up there.
A Ockershausen: The doodle.
Pat Collins: And then he brought in Gordon Barnes after that, he had Hilton Cafferle.
A Ockershausen: Oh God.
Pat Collins: Then on, and on, and on.
A Ockershausen: Well we grew up in Channel 7, because that was owned by our Star newspaper, you know that.
Pat Collins: That’s right, yeah.
A Ockershausen: WMAL. But we were part of the city, as Channel 9 was, and it was still a great camaraderie we had with Channel 9. Like Ernie Baur was a dear friend back then. He’s still around, and we see each other, and everybody got along with the other stations. Now I know you got along with Mike Buchanan, even when you left.
Pat Collins: Well yeah, I mean we were rivals, but we were still friends.
A Ockershausen: Right.
Pat Collins: And you know, once, it’s sort of like once the day is over, and the newscasts are done, we’d all meet, pretty much at the same bar.
A Ockershausen: The Dancing Crab.
Pat Collins: And rehash the day’s events. I mean, there was a healthy rivalry, which was good for the city. It’s always good to have a rivalry in the news business, because the people who watch the news, they’re the beneficiaries of that. But after that was over, the day was done, we were still friends, we’d managed to be friends. And we still work that way pretty much.
A Ockershausen: Now where did you go from 9? You didn’t go immediately …
Pat Collins: Oh, wow, no. I worked for 9 for seven years. And then I left Channel 9.
A Ockershausen: Right. You left the city, too, didn’t you?
Channel 9 Strike Leader
Pat Collins: Yeah. Well I led a little strike over at Channel 9, which didn’t endear me to the management, and it wasn’t about the talent, it was about for the writers, three writers and two production assistants. It was over twenty-five thousand dollars. We had the number one station in the city, and we had the lowest paid writers and production assistants. And so Gordon Peterson was the shop steward, and he came to me and said, “Pat, I want to take my dear father to Ireland. I just want to do this trip. Can you just handle this negotiation for me?” I said, “Sure, Gordon.” I didn’t think there would be much to it. So Channel 9 at that point was owned by Detroit Evening News, not the Post. Post were good owners.
Detroit Evening News comes in, they bring in this lawyer. I think he was from Texas. And he was a Franklin Mint version of a man. I think when he sat at a table, his feet didn’t touch the ground. And he looked across the table at me, said, “Collins, you can go out for ten days, ten months, or ten years. I’m not giving you ten cents more.” So I looked at him, he looked at me, and we hit the streets at four o’clock. And we were out for three or four days, we eventually got the twenty-five thousand dollars, and everybody went back to work and everybody was happy. But then when my contract came up, they offered me a raise of I think $7.12, which I thought was a little bit low. So, any rate, I got lucky, I had three stations in Chicago who wanted to hire me. They got in the back and forth, and back and forth, and I got this one offer from WLS, I just could not refuse.
A Ockershausen: Oh, a power station.
Chicago – WLS
Pat Collins: And so I went to Chicago, I packed everything up, my wife, three kids.
A Ockershausen: And it was the number one news station in Chicago.
Pat Collins: It’s a hell of a station, it’s a great station. WLS, I had a great time there. Had a great time there. My wife, not so much. My wife’s from Philadelphia, big family, seven kids. Chicago was as far west as she …
A Ockershausen: She’d never been west before.
Pat Collins: No, no. She had … people from Philadelphia don’t leave Philadelphia. Moving in Philadelphia, moving out is when they move down the block, okay? That’s what happens. So any rate, when my time was up, my contract was up in Philadelphia, I came back here, and I had a choice between either working at 4 or working at Channel 7. It was back and forth, back and forth again.
A Ockershausen: Not 9, though.
Pat Collins: No, I couldn’t go back to 9.
A Ockershausen: I understand.
Pat Collins: Because, you know, once you cut that tie, you can’t …
A Ockershausen: You can’t do it, right.
Pat Collins: No, I just couldn’t do it.
A Ockershausen: So you, you had an easy choice, 4 or 7.
Back to Our Town – Channel 7
Pat Collins: Oh, at first I was very fortunate that I was still wanted back here, and so it was 4, 7, 4, 7. And was right down to the bitter end, and then I got this call from 7, and they said, “Well, we have one more thing we want to add to the package.” And I said, “What’s that?” And they said, “Well, you want to know what’s behind curtain number three?” And I said, “Sure.” And they said, “It’s a brand new car.” And I said, “You’re kidding me.” So they gave me a brand new car. It was a … well it was a car of my choice. And I chose a Mustang 5.0 Convertible. ‘Cause Mustang had just come out with the convertible, and the 5.0 was a fast car.
A Ockershausen: Wow.
Mustang 5.0 Convertible
Pat Collins: It was black on black, in black, with a power anth, the only white thing in that car was me. And I loved that car. I loved that car. And I’m a little materialist. So that’s what swayed me to go to Channel 7. And I worked there for three years.
A Ockershausen: You were there for three …
Pat Collins: Three years, three years.
A Ockershausen: Was Paul Berry there then?
Pat Collins: Yes. Seven On Your Side, Paul Berry. And then they fired me at Channel 7.
A Ockershausen: What?
Pat Collins: Yeah, I made too much money, so they fired me. And, so I was out of work, but only out of work for maybe two, three hours. And then 4 offered me a job, so I eventually ended up at 4, where I probably should have gone first. But who knows. But I got to keep the car. Now I got to tell you about the car. Can I tell you about the car?
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Yes.
Pat Collins: ‘Cause then I have to. So, I’m driving the car, love this car, you know. If it … and I was a car enthusiast. And so one day I come back from the beach, and I open the passenger’s door, and it falls off. So I don’t know what’s going on. So I crawl across the console, I open up the other door, and it falls off. So now I got two doors and they’re both fallen off the car. So I had to get rope and tie the two doors together. Now the top’s down, fortunately. And then drive it to a body shop to get them welded back on. ‘Cause it turns out this was sort of a chop-top car, that’s when Mustang came back. They didn’t put it in production, so they sent it to a place that chop-topped it, and the doors were too heavy.
A Ockershausen: Added on, added on.
Pat Collins: Yeah, whatever. But I got it welded back on, and I kept the car for a while, and then that was that. So here I am, I’ve been to 4 …
A Ockershausen: But at 4 again, how long have you been at 4? Twenty years?
Channel 4 – 31 years
Pat Collins: Oh no, I’m in my 31st year at Channel 4.
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: Oh wow.
A Ockershausen: No way.
Pat Collins: Oh yeah.
A Ockershausen: You’re not that old!
Pat Collins: Yeah, I know.
A Ockershausen: You look that old, but you’re not.
Pat Collins: Yeah I know. I have a good surgeon.
A Ockershausen: This is … you got me laughing, Pat, ’cause you’re a great, great storyteller. This is Our Town, Andy Ockershausen, and we’re talking to Pat Collins about the most wonderful part of his life, being born in Our Town. We’ll be right back.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen. Brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
A Ockershausen: Andy Ockershausen, having a delightful conversation with Pat Collins, who’s been in television forever. I had no idea, Pat, you’re young looking, you’re healthy, you’re happy. And you still do a great job. I know you handle the murders, but you also handle the most important thing we deal with in the nation’s capital, that’s snowfall.
Pat Collins: Right, I’ve been in the business now going on 45 years or something. My career …
A Ockershausen: I can’t believe that.
Pat Collins Snow Stick
Pat Collins: My career sort of morphed into two things, okay? I cover murders, and I measure snow. I have the official Pat Collins snow stick. It’s the only way to officially measure snow in Washington. I’m more accurate than National Airport, you just ask people.
A Ockershausen: I know you are, absolutely.
Pat Collins: And you know how we deal with snow. Snow in Washington, for some reason, we just have a hard time dealing with snow. It’s almost like nuclear waste. It comes down, everybody freezes. Oh my god, it’s snowing! Let me run to the grocery store, let me get that toilet paper, let me get the bread, I’m gonna hunker down until it melts. You know, Marion Barry, God bless him, he had a snow plan …
A Ockershausen: He was great to cover, him.
Mayor Marion Barry’s Snow Plan
Pat Collins: Oh, I’d love to cover him. But he had a snow plan, and you could describe it in one word. You know what his snow plan was for Washington? Spring. He said God brought it, and God’s gonna take it away. But we just have had our problems dealing with snow, and we still do. But I think you have to have a sense of humor.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Pat Collins: And in a way, I think snow’s sort of a blessing, because in our fast-paced world, with all the tweets and the iPhones and computers, and we’re racing from place to place, snow causes us to pause. Just a little bit. And maybe it … we can talk to each other, and spend a little bit more time with each other. And in a way I think snow just gives us that moment of …
A Ockershausen: It covers, it hides a lot of sins around the city, it covers them up.
Pat Collins: And it’s equal opportunity. Everybody gets the snow, and everybody deals with it in their own special way. And also, it makes the city beautiful, and it muffles the noise, it’s peaceful, and people actually go and meet their neighbors, ’cause they’re out there helping each other shovel, and in a way snow is a little respite for us.
A Ockershausen: I agree with that. I agree with it.
Pat Collins: And so I’m proud of my little official Pat Collins Snow Stick. And I’m happy that people tune in to watch me measure.
A Ockershausen: I recall many days in Northeast Washington, you’d get a quarter to shovel off the sidewalks and the driveway. We didn’t have any driveway, nobody had a car.
Pat Collins: No, the side … but where are those kids today?
A Ockershausen: Sidewalk.
Pat Collins: ‘Cause I’m still shoveling mine.
A Ockershausen: For a quarter!
Pat Collins: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: I would come over here, and I’d cover maybe fifty yards for a quarter. And lucky to get it.
Pat Collins: I remember the blizzard we had a couple years ago. I actually paid somebody. I paid somebody ’cause I couldn’t shovel that. I mean, we had a lot of snow. It was too much. But I can handle the little ones, but not the … we almost had a foot and a half of snow, I couldn’t do that.
A Ockershausen: Pat Collins, you are such a treasure to Our Town, and so important to us in so many ways. Us, I consider myself audience, as well as been an observer of the scene for a long time, Pat, since 1950 anyway. And to see you grow up here has been a great revelation to me how great it is. And to see you, you know you were working and doing things when, god bless him, Larry Krebs is running around in the middle of the night. Nobody knew what Larry did. Nobody knew where he lived, but he was always available. That doesn’t happen anymore, Pat.
Pat Collins: Well, it’s a different city. There are different requirements. But it’s still a wonderful city. My father used to call Washington the City of Magnificent Distances. Because there are so many people from so many other places.
A Ockershausen: Oh God, isn’t it great?
Pat Collins: Who come to Washington to make a living, to make a career, and to make a home for themselves, and it really is a tremendous asset to our community, and our city. It’s just a great place to live and work.
A Ockershausen: It’s a great town, that’s why we call it Our Town, Pat. And that’s why you’re such a big part of it, and we’re so, so glad that you can share this with our audiences. We told you, we’re gonna have a hundred Pat Collins around town. Like Paul Berry, and his story about Vietnam and the things he did that were a revelation to us, ’cause sitting right here, and listening to you is a revelation to me. I didn’t know about Notre Dame, I didn’t know you were a … we call St. Johns boys “Mailmen”. In the gray suits.
Pat Collins: Johnny Mops is another thing. But we did okay, so.
A Ockershausen: What a great town!
Pat Collins: Oh, it’s a wonderful town. Just a wonderful town.
A Ockershausen: Pat, this has been a wonderful, wonderful … I could go on with you for hours and hours. Good luck to … you’re lucky to be on Channel 4, has wonderful people. And they envelop you, we see that. They adore you, and it shows. And it’s a great show, and a great station, and we just can’t thank you enough for being with us, Pat Collins.
Pat Collins: It’s great to be here. Keep watching, I need all the help I can get.
A Ockershausen: This Andy Ockershausen, this is Our Town, a delightful conversation with Pat Collins.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, Season 2. Presented by GEICO, our hometown favorite, with your host Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions. See us on Facebook, or visit our website at OurTownDC.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director, and WMAL radio in Washington, DC, for hosting our podcast. And thanks to GEICO: 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.