Looking back: Maureen McFadden documents her start at WNDU

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - It's a bittersweet week as our own Maureen McFadden winds down her fantastic 40-year career at WNDU.

All this week on NewsCenter 16 at 6, Terry McFadden will be looking back at Mo's four fantastic decades on the air.

On Monday night, we kicked the week off with a look at how Mo got her start and almost left the hometown she loves.

"It's the spring of 1979. You're a second-semester senior at St. Mary's College, you don't have a job offer, and something happens," Terry begins.

"Just by accident, I needed an elective, and someone I was in class with said, 'Hey, there's a telecom class over at Notre Dame, and it's supposed to be a lot of fun. You get to go to the TV station,'" Mo recalled.

That television station was the original WNDU Studios, situated in a small building just east of the Hesburgh Library. Coincidentally, the library was built on what was once Vetville, the married student housing complex, where Mo was born.

"I went in there and I thought, 'Gosh, I can write and do this,'" Mo said. "I guess I didn't realize all the writing that was involved."

Her instructor was former WNDU News Director Harry Kevorkian, then the vice president of the station. Kevorkian approached Mo toward the end of the semester with a simple question: What are you going to do?

"And I said, 'I'm not sure. I might go to law school. I've applied to a couple of little PR jobs,'" Mo recalled. "And he goes, 'Well, I like your writing. Could you work free for the summer in our newsroom?' I said, 'Yeah, I'm from South Bend. I can do that.'"

So, this recent college graduate went without a paycheck for months but did earn something much more valuable: experience, and the respect of management.

So, when WNDU's two radio stations abandoned their automated formats, Mo was there.

"When U93 went live in the fall, I was offered the job as the morning drive radio news anchor," Mo said.

"Right place, right time," Terry said.

"Exactly."

"And in another twist of fate, you met your future husband there."

"I did. Even though we graduated the same year, he from Notre Dame and I from St. Mary's, we didn't know one another, and his first job out of Notre Dame was the morning drive DJ on U93 when it went live, so he likes to say I was his news girl."

And it didn't take long before TV News Director Mike Collins wanted to make Mo his "news girl."

"He kept saying to me, 'Why don't you try reporting, why don't you try TV?'" Mo said. "And I said, 'No, I like radio, I like coming in with my rollers in my hair. I had no makeup and not having to worry and I was very comfortable in radio. I really liked it – I liked the audience, I liked the people who called in. I didn't like the hours, because I came in about a quarter to 4 in the morning and I did that for about two years. One day, he just came in and said, 'Someone called in sick, I'm sending you out on a story for TV.' And I said, 'Really?' And he said, 'Yep, you're going.'"

Where was she going? To interview jazz legend Dave Brubek, who was doing a show in South Bend.

Mo called her radio partner, Jim, who was now her boyfriend.

"I told him what I was going to do, and he was in one of the Notre Dame jazz bands, and he was so jealous and he said, 'I can't believe you get to do it.' So, I went down and I was terrified because he was a legend and he was the sweetest man I ever interviewed," Mo said. "I got back and I wrote the story and found out it wasn't really that much different from radio. You put in your sound bites, describe the scene and you've got the video to go along with it. So, that was my first story. And after that, I was really hooked."

Mo spent a year reporting for TV before being promoted to weekend anchor.

In 1984, main anchor Cathy Ray left WNDU for a job in Providence, Rhode Island, opening the door for Mo. Less than five years after taking an unpaid summer job at WNDU, Maureen McFadden was now the station's main anchor.

"So it was pretty quick, especially for those days," she said.

"Was it daunting to make it up the ladder so quickly?" Terry asked.

"It seemed like I had made a natural progression from radio to reporting to weekend anchoring. Maybe I was too young and too stupid to be scared of it. But I really did enjoy it."

"And what many people may not realize is that, in those early years, you almost left South Bend."

"I did almost leave South Bend."

"Talk about that."

"Well, I had a couple of good offers. Probably the biggest one I had was from CNN."

Mo was not looking for another job, but other stations were looking at her.

In the case of CNN, "my male co-anchor at the time sent a tape that I happen to be in a few clips of," Mo said. "Well, they offered to fly me to Atlanta. And so, I did, and they put me through a set test and a writing test, and that very day Ted Turner's news director offered me a job for headline news."

Mo said she needed a day or two to think about and flew back to South Bend.

CNN's news director called the next day.

"And said, 'What are you going to do?' And I said I'm not sure yet," Mo remembered. "And he said, 'What are you not sure of? You're in South Bend.' And I said there are a lot of things. My family's here and I didn't think I was quite ready. So, in the long run, they were going to bump up the salary a little bit and find Jim a job, but I just said no. Jim and I were getting serious at the time and I decided I did not want to hopscotch around the country if we were going to have a family. And that's one of the things people don't realize about this business: Once you start moving, you keep moving. So, I made the decision to say no."

"And, obviously, it's a decision you don't regret?" Terry asked.

"I don't regret it at all. My kids ask me that sometimes when I talk about the bigger places that offered me jobs. I don't know if I'd have three sons, amazing sons. I don't want to start crying, but we were here with mom and dad when they got older and needed our help, and I wouldn't trade that for anything."

Tuesday at 6, Terry will highlight some of Mo's greatest accomplishments – and make no mistake, there have been many.

It turns out that decision to stay in South Bend was great for Michiana and Mo.