By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
Frank Sernak was calm, cool, collected. He was suave and debonair. He was a gentleman and a gentle man. He had a shy but winning smile. That collection of memories becomes my lasting image of him.
Mr. Sernak, news director and newsreader at CHOW Radio for many years, died Sunday, December 2, aged 83.
In the Blizzard of ‘77, he and a few other employees were holed up in the station on Forks Road, isolated from everyone yet in touch – over the airwaves and by telephone – with thousands of listeners. Throughout the weekend ordeal, his voice became a steadying, calming, comforting influence during some worrisome, even frightening, hours for many.
He is also remembered for a selfless community spirit that made him part of local events especially in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a dignified master of ceremonies for several Rose Festival coronation balls, a Rose Festival parade commentator and host for Welland Winter Carnival events. This volunteerism also applied to various Port Colborne activities, likely elsewhere as well.
In the early 1970s, we covered a high profile court case in Welland, he for the station and I for the newspaper. I was impressed by his meticulous note taking and then his concise, factual on-air reports. His authoritative coverage of elections, whether municipal, provincial or federal, gave a respected professionalism to the local station that was “1470” on the AM dial.
Dave Scott, who worked with Mr. Sernak at CHOW in two stints, 1966-1970 and 1972-1974, was effusive in his praise for him.
“He cared about the community, and he cared about the people. He loved the Niagara Peninsula, he loved his hometown, he loved his neighbourhood, ” Scott said in a telephone interview from Ottawa.
Sports director at the radio station, Scott worked closely with Mr. Sernak and considered himself fortunate to do so.
“He was just a tremendous guy, I had a lot of respect for him. He was a fabulous newsman. I learned a lot from him, his technique, the way he interviewed people. He was like a mentor in a lot of ways.”
Scott, 74, worked in radio in Ottawa for many years. He did play-by-play of Ottawa Senators games for about 15 years, and the Ottawa 67’s until just recently when he retired. He was in radio more than 50 years.
He always enjoyed listening to Mr. Sernak’s newscasts: “Frank read a newscast like few could…He had that mellow-sounding voice. His voice was authoritative and at the same time it was smooth. Just a great voice for radio, distinctive.”
He had no doubt Mr. Sernak could have gone on to a larger market had he wanted, but his choice was to stay “a small market guy.”
One of his qualities was modesty, Scott said. “I don’t think he knew how good he was. A lot of guys in this business have egos. Frank never had one of those. He was a real pro, a class act. ”
Many were the comments on social media as news of Mr. Sernak’s passing got around town. Here’s a small sampling:
“Back in the day, he was our answer to Irv Weinstein.” – Perry Orosz.
“Apart from being the consummate pro that he was, Frank was also one of the kindest, warmest and most nurturing individuals one could ever hope to meet. He not only provided knowledgeable, insightful professional advice over the years, he was an amazing friend.” – George Duma (journalist).
“He was a community-minded spirit who gave tirelessly of his time with many events across Niagara. Whenever he could lend a helping hand Frank was there. God bless you, Frank.” – Claire Masswohl.
“My parents always listened to Frank!” – Karen Wallace.
“Frank was a great guy. Always gracious and kind, and willing to talk. ” – Russ Findlay (posting from the Philippines)
“An institution!” – Stanley Szymkow.
(Lasting Image is a recurring feature on the blog. Some others in the series: Ivan Zecchini: His Countenance Glowed From Wide-Eyed Appreciation, July 18, 2018; Steve Krar: Neighbourhood Nostalgia Buff, Visionary Leader, July 11, 2018; Keith Hornibrook: Opening Doors to Addictions Recovery In Dignity, July 11, 2018; Mother Alba Puglia: Tireless Trailblazer, June 18, 2018; Don Murray: A Small Part of Local History, June 6, 2018; Martin Walsh: One Of Our Finest, March 2, 2018; Michael Santone: A Barber of King Street, January 23, 2018; Ed Tymkow: Minister of Hospitality, April 6, 2017; Jimmy Roberto: September 11, 2015; Frank Addario: February 24, 2014.)