NewsChannel 9 anchor leads a very busy life but, she says, she learned from her dad how to juggle multiple tasks
By Mary Beth Roach
It’s been said that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Local reporter and anchor Christie Casciano said it was a favorite saying of her father’s, Joe Casciano, and it’s one that she has truly embraced in her long career in the media.
That love for her work came through during a recent interview when she described her time on NewsChannel 9 and as an author, podcaster, columnist and a news commentator on a local morning radio show.
While many Central New Yorkers know the 60-year-old as an anchor and reporter on the evening newscasts on NewsChannel 9, where she has been since October 1986, Casciano also reports the news and banters with long-time friend, Rick Gary, on his morning radio program on Sunny 102. A hockey mom, she is the author of several books on the sport, a columnist for the U.S.A. Hockey Magazine and a podcaster. She co-authored a book on the history of local television with colleagues Lou Gulino and Tim Fox and another book with Gary on his therapy dog.
Moreover, she’s a wife, mother, stepmother, a daughter and a sister to four siblings. Her brother, Leonard, died unexpectedly in 2021 at the age of 63.
Her ability to balance all these roles was something she believes she learned from her father, who ran Leo’s Big M in East Syracuse for many years with his brothers, Frank and Larry.
“When I grew up, my dad was always spinning a lot of plates,” she said.
In addition to operating the grocery store, he volunteered for many local organizations and their church, and he frequently brought food to people in the area.
“I guess I didn’t know any other way to be,” she said, adding that he engrained in his six kids that whenever you get, you need to remember to give.
In addition to anchoring several evening newscasts on NewsChannel 9, Christie Casciano is an author, podcaster, columnist and a news commentator on a local morning radio show.
Her father also fostered in his daughter a love of the news. Casciano grew up watching the news with Joe, and it was at the family’s grocery store where she started to hone her microphone skills.
“In the store, we had this big, beautiful silver microphone. I was, ‘I just want to talk on that all day.’ When I became cashier, I had access to the microphone,” she said. And she admitted that some of her announcements to the customers tended to be a bit dramatic, with egg spills, for example, becoming catastrophic. But her dad took it all in stride. A butcher by trade, he used to joke, that he had six little hams, but, pointing to Casciano, would say that ‘this is the ham that could never be cured.’ He knew she was destined for a career in broadcasting.
Joe Casciano died in 1999.
Crime beat at NewsChannel 9
NewsChannel 9 was the station Casciano wanted to work at, she said. Her first opportunity to get first-hand knowledge of the world of television came while she was still in high school at Bishop Grimes.
She was one of 12 students throughout the county selected by the station for an Explorers Post it was trying to set up. She was introduced to the various aspects of the industry, but when she entered the newsroom, her decision to enter journalism solidified.
“When I went into the newsroom, I just fell in love. I just loved the feel of that newsroom. It seemed so vibrant, so alive. They’re running around, trying to meet their deadlines, they’re running across the newsrooms with tapes in their hands to stick them in the decks to put this newscast together. At that moment, I knew. I said, ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’ So I pursued that.”
And pursue it, she did!
During her senior year, she continued to write for the school newspaper, she job shadowed at NewsChannel 9 and she was accepted into the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University for the following fall. She also took some advice from the pros at the station and suggested she try radio first, where she could develop her voice and writing skills and learn to work under deadlines. As a big fan of the then-Rick and Ron Show, (Rick Gary and Ron Bee) on WOLF at the time, she seized an opportunity to meet the duo when she was a senior in high school.
Bee, the newsman at the station at the time, said OK and at 5 the next morning, Casciano was knocking on the station’s door. She would assist Bee one day a week and it led to a summer gig doing some fill-in work. While attending Newhouse, she worked at the then-WHEN Radio station, where she met Jeff Scheidecker, who would later bring her in at NewsChannel 9.
Upon graduation from Newhouse, she worked at WROC-TV in Rochester for a year. Scheidecker, then the news director at NewsChannel 9, called her, told her he was building a team at the station of local talent, young reporters who were aggressive. Knowing her work ethic from their days at WHEN, Scheidecker asked if she wanted to join them. Apparently, he didn’t need to ask twice.
She was given the crime beat and “I found my niche,” she said. “Even though I was general assignment, I covered everything, but when those opportunities came to tell those crime beat stories, that’s what I gravitated toward.”
Through her work on the crime beat over the years, she said she has met many victims and has learned some of the tips to preventing crimes. Over time, it has evolved into the “On the Lookout” feature, which has helped area local enforcement officials close 500 cases. Casciano credits the viewers for the program’s success, “using their eyes and ears to make a difference in getting people off the streets.”
In addition to her anchoring duties, Casciano still goes out and reports on stories.
“I think that being an anchor, it’s really important that you have to stay engaged and you have to stay connected to the community. It’s very easy to just sit on that desk and become disconnected and just become a script reader, and that’s the worst thing. If you’re not connected to your community, how can you honestly sit up on that desk and feel comfortable about it?” she said.
Her work over the years has garnered her many awards and accolades, but two of the most prestigious have to be a regional Emmy nomination and in May of 2015, a regional Edward R. Murrow award in 2016 for the series “Heroin: Too Close to Home” that she did with former NewsChannel 9 staffer Tammy Palmer.
It was on the crime beat where she met her husband, John Burns, who has since retired from the Syracuse Police Department. The couple has been married 27 years. They are the proud parents of Joey, 26, and Sophia, a junior in college. The kids would take up their mom’s interest in skating and they have played on both the high school level. Joey also played travel hockey for the Syracuse Blazers, and Sophia continues to play in college.
Over the years, Casciano has taken her love of the sport and her experience as a hockey mom and turned it into several sideline enterprises.
Most recently, she’s become a podcaster with two other hockey parents and friends, Mike Bonelli, a hockey coach who is involving in developing youth hockey programs, and Lee M.J. Elias, a hockey entrepreneur and author. Called “Our Kids Play Hockey” on Apple Podcasts, the program came about due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“With the pandemic, all the rinks were closed and we’re going through withdrawals,” she said.
So, the three friends decided to put together the podcast.
“Every week we talk about everything about hockey, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “Hockey parents are finding us and just finding comfort in three sane hockey parents.”
She has penned several books on hockey. “The Puck Hog, Haunted Hockey in Lake Placid” and her newest book, “When Hockey Stops,” were illustrated by her sister, Rose Mary Casciano Moziak.
A third book, titled “My Kids Play Hockey,” is a culmination of columns she writes for U.S.A. Hockey Magazine. She described it as a “parent guide on how to get through hockey with sanity and try to save some money; what you need to focus on.”
Casciano’s book “When Hockey Stops,” which she wrote with Elias, is due out in February. This, too, was a result of the pandemic. She believes that we are all learning lessons about what happens when everything stops, when “all the things you love to do are taken away from you,” she said. The book tells the story of a young hockey player who gets sidelined after an injury and he finds out that there are other ways to identify himself outside sports, she explained. It’s about resiliency and “all the sports lessons you want your kids to learn,” she said.
‘Rock of the newsroom’
In her television career, she has covered a wide range of stories, some tragic, like the one early on in her career, covering a fire on the city’s south side in which children perished. While she was live on the air, the children’s bodies were being taken out of the house with the mother witnessing it, she explained. “The scream — it stays with you,” she said somberly.
But there are some exhilarating ones, as well. She recently told the story about Zac Lois, a Syracuse city schoolteacher, a former Green Beret and a member of Task Force Pineapple, who worked to get many, including his combat interpreter and his family, out of Afghanistan. The interpreter was on the Taliban’s death list, Casciano reported, but Lois and other vets were able to engineer their rescue. The family is now settling in Syracuse.
Instead of worrying about if they are going to live, he is able to plan for his children’s future, she said.
And at least one had her, well, not walking on air, but flying in air. In August, 1997, she was able to ride along with U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds in one of their F-16s when they were in Syracuse in an air show, and pulled 9G’s, she exclaimed.
Her co-anchor at NewsChannel 9, Jeff Kulikowsy, is like her in that they are both news junkies, she said. The pair has good chemistry and she added that the newscast is a great collaboration with members of the team coming from different perspectives.
“We have younger reporters who see things so differently than I do,” she said. “I think it’s a good representation of what our community wants to see.”
One of her newer co-workers, Iris St. Meran, came to NewsChannel9 from another local news station in March of 2021. While she had known Casciano previously, having worked with her at several community events, St. Meran has found her to be very welcoming and helpful and a mentoring influence.
“She’s the rock of the newsroom,” St. Meran said.
That newsroom has been non-stop since the pandemic, Casciano said. “The pandemic, protests, so many things. So many polarizing issues. I feel like we really haven’t had a breather yet. It’s a wild ride and there are no guardrails.”
Social media is playing a huge role in the industry these days. While Casciano said she sees its purpose and its advantages, it also has its disadvantages.
Deadlines are much faster now, with the need to post on Twitter, Facebook and the web, she explained.
“I’m very cautious. I’d rather be right than be first. I’m more comfortable taking the extra time to vet your sources, to thoroughly check something out before you put it out there as factual. I think that chips away at your credibility. We also don’t have enough time to work on stories as I wish we did,” she said.
And as the workplace can become tumultuous at times, the past two years have been turbulent for Casciano’s personal life as well. She had two hip surgeries in 2019, her husband battled health issues and her brother died.
But just like her main character in “When Hockey Stopped,” she’s resilient.
“You can’t get overwhelmed by everything that’s happening all around you,” she said.
She tries to incorporate breaks into her life, spending most of her down time with her husband, her kids, her mom, Mary, 97, and her dog, Duke.
“I’ll take my dog for a walk just to turn everything off, just to unplug. You’ve got to have some mental flossing every day to deal with all the stress,” she pointed out.
And she has plenty planned for her viewers on NewsChannel 9. She is currently working on her “Remarkable Women of Central New York” special, slated to air in April, and wants to do more in-depth series.
“Looking at issues that are really impacting our community and digging a little deeper and helping our community become better, stronger, more aware of issues that we need to bring to light,” she said.
In short, she plans to continue doing what she loves to do with a mind toward giving back to her hometown area. ❖
Christie Casciano On the Losses of Her Brother, Colleague Rod Wood
Christie Casciano has lost two significant people in her life within the past few months: local news icon Rod Wood, with whom she shared the anchor desk at NewsChannel 9 for about seven years, and her brother, Leonard Casciano, who died unexpectedly in May at the age of 63. She draws strength from the memories she has of them. —Mary Beth Roach
Q: What was it about Rod Wood that made him so special to so many?
A: So many things. I think what everybody loved about Rod was that he wanted to know you beyond your first and last name. Rod was that he always wanted to connect with everyone in some way, make them feel comfortable. He always made everyone feel so comfortable around him, which isn’t always easy, especially when you’re someone on TV. And I think that’s a very unique gift that he had, his ability to make everyone feel important, no matter who you were.
Q: You had a friendship that extended beyond the newsroom.
A: We had a lot of laughs at night. Working the night shift is difficult. We would do fun things to just keep our energy level up. He loved the energy of the newsroom and he brought a lot of energy to all of us. Whenever I think of him, I just smile, because I think of all the fun moments that we had.
Q: He had a special relationship with your family, your kids?
A: When they were born, he made sure to give them gifts. He would come over unannounced frequently, which we loved, especially if he had a new vehicle or motorcycle. They’d come running out ‘Uncle Rod,’ ‘Uncle Rod,’ and for years they really thought he was their uncle. They didn’t know he wasn’t a blood relative until they were teenagers. And he would share stories about his own children with me, too. He loved talking about his children, all five of them. And his dedication to his wife, too, Nanette. He just really loved his family. I’m so glad I got to know him on that level other than just sitting on an anchor desk with him.
Q: What would you say are some of the most important lessons you may have learned from him?
A: There are a lot of them. His favorite saying was “prior planning prevents poor performance.” He was all about making sure that before you went on the set, you’d erase everything that might have happened that day, get it out of your mind and just concentrate on the news, delivering the news as clearly, concisely and the best you possibly could do. That was really important to him. And, just watching him anchor. Every story mattered to him, no matter what, which I think is an important lesson. Before he would go on the air, he would read his copy out loud to make sure that it sounded good to the ear. We would often collaborate on stories before the newscast to make sure that the stories not only made sense but also sounded good to the ear.
Q: What are some of the favorite memories of your brother?
A: Christmas was one of his favorite times of year. His best friend would be Santa Claus. He would decorate his truck like Santa’s sleigh and the two of them would load up on toys and go into some of the poorest neighborhoods in Syracuse and hand out toys. It just brought him so much happiness. I was so proud of him to be my big brother. He always looked out for all of us. There were five girls and one boy. He didn’t always have the easiest time growing up with five girls.
It’s very heartbreaking for me to deal with one loss after the other. I just draw strength from the wonderful memories I have of each of the two wonderful men that were in my life. I feel grateful for having had the opportunity with Rod and be his friend and grateful to have a brother like Leonard was.