Tom Scanlan

The MAB is sad to pass along the news that former Board President Tom Scanlan passed away June 1 in Tucson, Arizona. He was 76 years old.

Scanlan worked in the broadcast industry for nearly 50 years, 39 of which were spent in the state of Michigan.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1940, he first saw television as a five-year-old when his dad took him into a New York City restaurant and he was instantly transfixed by a prizefight on a 7” screen on a TV above the door. At 14-years-old, with $100 borrowed from his dad, he went into business installing TV antennas in his 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 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.).

Tom Scanlan speaking at GLBC (year unknown).

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.

Tom and Sue Scanlan

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 (Alpena), WBKP-TV (Calumet) and WBUP-TV (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 general manager of four other stations in Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina.

Tom was a lifetime Rotarian, President of Michigan Association of Broadcasters and President of the Keweenaw Economic Development Association. He was on the Miscowaubik Club Board of Directors and an active supporter of Michigan Tech Hockey. He enjoyed hockey, travel and big bowls of ice cream with family. He relished the chance to watch local news from around the US, with feeds he orchestrated via various satellite providers. 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, MI and Tucson AZ, son Thomas Jeffrey (Monique) and daughter Jessica Claire (Bryan Ramsey), and grandchildren Rowan Ramsey, Nathan Scanlan and Nova Ramsey.

(Update 6/13/17): A memorial service will be held Friday July 14, 2017 at the Eagle Harbor Community Hall, Eagle Harbor, Michigan (in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula).

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.

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