Seven years into his tenure as coanchor of the 6 p.m. news on WBZ-TV, Tony Pepper said that among cities, Boston is a choice place for television reporting.
“Visit New York or Los Angeles. Against a backdrop like that, there’s something special about the Boston area,” he told the Globe in June 1981. “The end result is that Boston is a superior market for quality news. I can’t name one that’s better.”
Much of his time at WBZ was spent delivering the news while sitting next to Jack Williams, who had arrived in spring 1975 after Tom Ellis, Mr. Pepper’s first coanchor, moved to New York.
“He was a very good reporter, fast on his feet,” Williams recalled. “He’d been around and we both had worked at a lot of stations. That means a lot when somebody knows what he’s doing.”
Mr. Pepper, who had a successful run as a radio talk show cohost on WRKO-AM after leaving WBZ, died last Tuesday of complications from diabetes and heart disease. He was 79 and lived in the Waban village in Newton.
“He was a good ad-libber. That really helped, too,” Williams said. “Both of us had the gift for gab, and Tony was very good at that, and not intimidated by live TV or being somewhere in the field.”
When the two teamed up at WBZ, “it just clicked. We worked well together and the ratings went up big time,” Williams said.
He added that they benefited from a ratings boost provided by the ballplayers in Fenway Park. WBZ broadcast that fall’s World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, which lasted seven games and was considered one of the most thrilling fall classics ever.
“So we had numbers leading into our late newscast that were astronomical,” Williams said. “I think at the time we were the most watched newscast in the country.”
Mr. Pepper, Williams added, brought to his broadcasts a personal rapport that was apparent when he was on the streets reporting, and encountered viewers. Williams recalled a day when they were in the North End and “an older lady came up and patted him on the face, a gesture of hello. He had an immediate contact that way.”
In a statement, WBZ said that “Tony was a wonderful person and a passionate anchor who was a large part of WBZ-TV’s efforts in serving the community. Our hearts and prayers are with the Pepper family during this difficult time.”
Before he was courted by WBZ, Mr. Pepper had worked in radio and television in his home state of California, and as an anchorman in Denver, and he knew the value of the broadcasters who sit behind the desk during high-profile news shows.
“We’re the noodles in a good lasagna,” Mr. Pepper told the Globe in 1974, four months after arriving at WBZ. “We may be the best part.”
When his first coanchor Ellis, a Texas native, suggested that “the most successful anchormen are those from the South, the Southwest, the Southeast, the West, and the Midwest,” Mr. Pepper added: “Where are we from? The simple answer is . . . humanity.”
‘Both of us had the gift for gab, and Tony was very good at that, and not intimidated by live TV or being somewhere in the field.’
Mr. Pepper grew up in Long Beach, Calif., a son of Paul Pepper and the former Lucille Hazard.
At 17, he enlisted in the Navy and served in Asia as a photojournalist. After being discharged, he went to Santa Barbara City College in California, from which he graduated with an associate’s degree. While still in school he began his broadcasting career working nights at KDB in Santa Barbara, which over the years had broadcast on AM and FM.
He moved to KOVR-TV in Sacramento, where according to his family he was news director and a sportscaster covering the Bay Area’s Major League Baseball and NFL teams. Mr. Pepper also hosted a daytime talk show and interviewed celebrities in the arts. Moving to Denver, he became the evening news anchor on weekdays.
In summer 1974, Mr. Pepper was 35 when he joined Ellis to coanchor WBZ’s hourlong 6 p.m. news, and 30-minute newscast at 11 p.m.
When WBZ announced seven years later that he would leave the anchor desk, Mr. Pepper told the Globe that “eventually time runs out. I’d prefer to stay here in the Boston area, and if it were possible, I would stay. I have deep roots here.”
The following year, he teamed with Janet Jeghelian for a talk radio program on WRKO-AM, where he stayed for two years, until September 1984. Mr. Pepper said there were advantages to returning to radio, where his broadcast career began.
“The biggest difference is that I’m using my mind,” he told the Globe in December 1982. “We’re weightier, more philosophical on radio. Since we’re talk radio, there’s an interaction with the audience that you don’t get with television. We can call around the world and get a story instantaneously. There’s no space for that on television.”
And, he added, “I’m not weighted down by makeup.”
Mr. Pepper’s first marriage ended in divorce. In 1987, David Pepper, his 21-year-old son from his first marriage, was a student at the University of Vermont when he and two other men died in a single-car crash.
For 36 years, Mr. Pepper and Dorothy Butler were a couple, and they married in 2000.
“Tony was a renaissance man,” she said. “He could do anything. He could cook a gourmet meal, he could fix your car — there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. I adored him. He was my reason for being.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Pepper leaves his daughter, Deborah of Milton; two brothers, Ross and Pete, both of San Luis Obispo, Calif.; and a sister, Penny Lionello of Carpinteria, Calif.
Family and friends will gather to celebrate Mr. Pepper’s life at 2 p.m. April 21 in Brelundi Ristorante in Waltham.
Mr. Pepper “was my best friend, my soul mate,” his wife said. “He was my entire world.”
He also had talents that were never on display during his broadcast career, she added. He designed a pendant for her of two wolves looking at moonstone and had a jeweler cast it in gold. “He called me his she-wolf,” she said.
Even though he spent years as an anchorman, Mr. Pepper carried more than just fond memories of the skills he honed while rising in the news business.
“I came here as a reporter. The fact that I anchor the news, that’s just a development in my career,” told the Globe in 1981, when news broke that he would leave WBZ. “Basically, I am a reporter, and maybe that is what I should do before I leave: show people what I was trained to do.”
Recalling his media beginnings as an apprentice, helping put together newsprint pages before they were sent to the presses, he added that he retained a talent that was never necessary on an anchor desk. “I started as a printer’s devil at a newspaper in Santa Cruz,” he said, “and I can read print upside down and backwards almost as fast as I can right side up.”Bryan Marquard
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.