Exclusive: Cameron Swayze Discusses Leaving WCBS 880

After spending 22 years on the air at WCBS-AM, as we recently reported, legendary weekend morning anchor John Cameron Swayze Junior retired.

FishbowlNY made contact with Swayze (known to WCBS listeners simply as Cameron Swayze) for his exclusive comments since the retirement last month.

While it’s true that Swayze decided to walk away when his home in Westchester went on the market, he said that made it the right time in his life for a “new adventure.”

But Swayze was not cavalier with his decision.

“Radio is what I do and have done for 40 years and I have loved it with a passion.”

Once he made peace with the choice, he says doing the final broadcast was no problem.

“I tend not to look back,” Swayze says.

The veteran anchor won’t miss having to hear the alarm clock go off at 1 a.m. or “trying to survive a trip down the West Side Highway at 2 a.m navigating safely through the clutter of manic and stoned drivers.”

Swayze, during an incomparable career as street reporter, foreign correspondent, and of course, anchor, covered everything from disasters to combat.

But, 9/11 is unfortunately the most memorable.  

Former WCBS 880 program/news director Frank Raphael called Swayze at home to anchor as part of the station’s continuing coverage. The only problem–the city was already in a lockdown.

“By talking my way past police at the Broadway Bridge in Riverdale, I managed to make it to the studio,” Swayze recalls. “Driving down an almost deserted Broadway, I heard the howl of a low-flying plane and looked up to see an F-16.”

That is one image he’d like to forget but likely won’t. Instead, Swayze wants to remember the friendships he built over the years at WCBS.

“It is fashionable among some radio veterans to disparage the current state of radio news, but I am not one of them,” Swayze admits.

He complimented station management, led by news director Tim Scheld, general manager Steve Swenson, and assistant news director Rob Sanchez.

“880 is the best of the lot and provide a valuable service to millions. … Like all of radio during the current economic environment, it has had to evolve to survive,” Swayze says.

The veteran anchor thanked the legions of listeners, especially from his WCBS days, who’ve offered positive feedback.

Recognized as a master storyteller with writing and delivery, he related one such critique—in his typical Swayze style.

While at a gas station not long ago near his Westchester home, a woman overheard him talking to the owner.

“Before I could pull away from the pump, she ran to the window, leaned in, and said she loved to hear me on the radio,” Swayze remembers. “I got a lot of that response and no one can say they don’t get a psychic lift from it.”

Swayze also holds a special place in his heart for the next generation of broadcasters.

“I have enjoyed seeing bright and dedicated young people come into the business and hope that in some small way I have contributed to their development,” Swayze says.

Swayze had broadcasting in his blood. He is the son of pioneering NBC News anchor John Cameron Swayze. He says it took time for his father (who passed away in 1995) to warm up to Junior following in his footsteps.

“Unwilling to trade on his name, I used an on-air alias for the first seven years I was in the business.”

Now, Swayze puts the perfect bow on his amazing career.

“When you do an hour and it goes well, you come out of the studio on wings and saying to yourself, ‘God, I love this job. I’d rather be here doing this, than anywhere else on earth,’ Swayze reflects. “When your work buoys you up like that, what more could you ask? Nothing.”

Photo Credit: Ted David/NY Broadcasting History Board