Duluth TV Personality Jack McKenna Dies At Age 91

We received word from KUWS radio’s Mike Simonson, on the Radio Superior Facebook page, that longtime Twin Ports radio and TV personality Jack McKenna died Sunday, Dec. 8 at age 91.

Jack McKenna does a weathercast at WDIO-TV in 1977, the same year he was chosen favorite TV personality by Twin Ports residents. (News Tribune file photo)

McKenna spent time as a weathercaster at WDIO-TV in the 1960s and 1970s, took some jobs elsewhere in the country and returned to Duluth as a weathercaster and news host at KBJR-TV in the 1980s.

He played the character “Captain Q” on a Duluth children’s TV show, and the News Tribune files report that he also played “Professor Fantastic” on a late-night horror movie show on WDIO.

McKenna also was an alumnus of Denfeld High School, and a good recap of his career can be found on their website.

Jack McKenna portrays the kids TV show character “Captain Q” in the early 1960s. (News Tribune file photo)

In more recent years, McKenna took part in the Radio Superior vintage radio program on KUWS.

I talked with him briefly a few weeks ago when writing an obituary for fellow Duluth TV veteran Dick Wallack. McKenna had had health issues in recent years, but his mind was sharp when we discussed the time he and Wallack spent working together.

Jack McKenna in 1970. (News Tribune file photo)

Several video clips of McKenna exist on YouTube, including….

McKenna as part of the WDIO news team in a 1973 newscast (I’ve included two of the five clips below – the ones that feature McKenna most prominently; find the rest here):

McKenna giving the weather on a 1986 KBJR newscast:

McKenna giving the weather on a KBJR newscast with Barbara Reyelts in 1988:

McKenna in character as Captain Q (this clip starts with footage of Ray Paulsen as Mr. Toot; Captain Q comes in the second half):

There aren’t many Twin Ports TV pioneers left… share your memories of Jack McKenna and other early Duluth TV personalities by posting a comment.

22 Responses

  1. Dennjs Claveau

    What I remember best about Jack as the Weather Man must have been in the 50s when the set for the weather looked like a ranger station on top of a steel girder tower. The camera would pan upward as it ascended to the top of the tower and there was Jack ready to do the weather. He always had some clever glib remark. He was and still is my favorite weather man.
    Now he will always get the forecast right.

  2. Cub McKenna

    Thanks to all for the kind wonderful comments. His obit should be in the Duluth paper this Sunday the 15th and the Superior paper either Friday or next week. And of course on line. Due to the winter weather being so unpredictable (right dad?) his funeral will be in early summer. Thanks again!

  3. Very sorry to hear about Jack’s passing. Condolences to his family. I knew Marge McKenna first, when she and I worked at Plaza Penny’s in the late ’50s. Then later I got to know Jack quite well when we were both part of the local media. He might have been the most “natural” television personality Duluth has ever produced. It’s anecdotal, but I believe I’ve heard that he had a shot at, or almost had a shot at, being the weatherman on NBC’s “Today” show. His family probably can corroborate that.

  4. Tansey

    Is there a reason why there is no family listed other than Cubby? Nor time of services, not anywhere to send a card or leave a remembrance-

    1. Andrew

      As reported in the story, the family is planning to hold a memorial service next summer. We assume that when arrangements are made, an obituary / service notice will be published.

      1. cubby

        As of today the funeral/mass is scheduled for June 7th at Holy Assumption Church in South Superior. As Andrew mentioned a notice will be put in the papers as the date draws near.

  5. Rick Anderson

    I worked with Jack McKenna at WDIO from in the 70’s. I was a Director and we shared an office. I loved to tease him about his Captain Q days and the fact that I had won a pitch back game from him in the 50’s when he worked at WDSM. We had a great relationship and he was always gracious and fun loving. In truth, there will never be another Jack McKenna. Fade to black.

  6. Matt Matasich

    What a legend ! I see by the denfeld page, that Jack was an air force meteorologist during WW2 stationed in England, soldiers of that era were extremely modest, but I wonder if he had any input on the D-Day invasion weather forecast?

  7. Jim Clute, Sr.

    Having been born and raised in Duluth, I remember them all. Jack McKenna, Dennis Anderson, and Marsh Nelson. I moved away in the early 1980’s and remember the gang still on the airwaves. A great bunch they were. Jack was an extra special person/weatherman/comedian and actor. Duluth lost a very good friend. God bless you Jack.
    Jim Clute

  8. Ralph R Doty

    I worked with Jack, Ray Paulson and Lew Martin on KUWS-FM. Now, Lew – who is, I beieve 93 – survives. What a wonderful trio!!


  9. Danny Wright

    I was fortunate enough to know Jack when I worked at WDIO in the early seventies. He was a very quiet shy man who didnt talk much off the air. We had offices next to each other and he would call me in occasionally to ask about what I was doing and how my family was. A gracious,kind,caring man. He was a wonderful performer. Rest in peace Captain Q.

  10. Kathy J

    Jack and his family were our family’s best friends. Memories of summer vacations at the lake are some of the best memories I have. If I remember correctly, he was on the radio, too, in the early 60’s. Iknow that Mom, Dad, Marge and the whole gang met him at those pearly gates, and all of heaven will be chuckling at his antics. Rest in peace, dear Jack.

  11. Gerry Burke

    I remember Jack as a little boy watching him on tv when we lived in Duluth on 2000 woodland ave.up to 1964 when we moved to california. My mom and dad Juanita and Bob Burke were good friends with Jack and his wife and I was thrilled to meet a tv star when he came to the house….nobody could do the weather like Jack…..and now mom and dad and Jack are back together and they could use a good weatherman like Jack in heaven…RIP JACK

  12. Lois Ness

    I was sad to hear that Jack McKenna died. I remember all the above comments. My mom and I looked forward to his weather. He was very humorous. Miss the old TV days.

  13. Gordy

    Jack McKenna was a pilllar for early television in the northland. His relaxed manner of communicating with the viewer was second to none. He was gifted with a special talent to connect with viewers and listeners. News,weather,commercials,radio – he could do it all. Watched him for years and enjoyed his sense of humor. Perhaps my favorite Jack McKenna character was the Captain “Q” Children’s Show. I believe it ran in the late ’50’s-early ’60’s. He played an old,bearded ship’s captain. The Capt.Q Show was aired right after school and kids loved this show and looked forward to it everyday. I once drew a portait of the Captain and he showed it on the Capt.Q Show. I was so proud and felt ten feet tall. He connected with kids. I also recall a banner on the wall or someplace in the ship Captain’s wheelhouse on the set that read- “SS Golden Rule”- which meant- “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” Jack McKenna, as Capt.Q, emphasized this rule everyday on the show. And,I believe at that time many kids took the rule to heart. A great rule for all,for all times. It’s truly a sad day with his passing, but also a time to reflect on his time and talents he gave us here in the northland. For that we owe thanks. Jack McKenna brought us many special memories and will be greatly missed.

  14. Mark McKenna

    Thank you for the kind words. I didn’t grow up watching my grandfather’s skits and kid’s shows, however it is great to be able to watch them now. His t.v. personalities were the same in real life. Very neat man that will be greatly missed.

    1. Bill Collins

      Mark, Just got done watching your grandfathers TV clips as the weatherman and Captain Q. Wow- no wonder everyone remembered him so fondly over the years. He really had a great on air personality.
      We received the sad news yesterday from your dad (via telephone message machine). I know this will be tough on your dad and his brothers as they were really devoted to their father.
      Our condolences to you and the entire McKenna family.

  15. Jim Saranpaa

    I remember Jack very well, talked with him over the phone a few times. When I was young and we finally got a TV, Jack did the weather and I emulated him by marking up the bathroom wall with a crayon showing the weather patterns. That never happened again!

    Jack was very comical and knew the audience he was serving. Each fall, he would say he contacted Toivo Twofeathers, the half Finn and half Indian, for the winter forecast.

    Thanks for the memories, Jack. You’ll have them eating out of your hand up there.

    1. Casey McKenna

      And my kids wonder where I got the name Toivo (my Father, but must have gotten from Jack), was a great Grandfather to myself and will never forget him or Grandma Marge.

  16. Brev

    I grew up in Duluth (greatest city ever) and Dennis Anderson, Jack McKenna, and Marsh Nelson are the news guys I remember the most. It’s sad to see that they are all moving on and/or dying. I met Jack when I was a cub scout when we visited the studio. He was nice. I sat next to him years later in a restaurant…he was with Dennis Anderson. I shook their hands. I’m not sure why I thought it was sooo coool to meet these guys but it was. If you grew up in Northern MN in the 70’s – 90’s, these guys were our story tellers. When I visit my folks in Duluth these days and watch the news I have little identity to the news people. They are all young and they won’t last long…they go to bigger markets. McKenna, Anderson, Marsh Nelson, and a few others are the people that my Duluth generation remember, appreciated, and now miss. They were like strong, safe, wise uncles that brought us the news and made us feel comfortable back in the olden times. Oh how I miss the Matinee Money Movie with that weather guy on WDIO who called up people and gave them Bridgmans ice cream just for answering the phone in Biwabik, Duluth, or Hibbing!

  17. Gary B

    The late night horror show was “Fantastic Theater” and Jack was “Professor Fantastic”. His unseen sidekick was “Igor”. All you would ever see of Igor was his shadow and the Professor would say “AH, Igor! Back to your room!”

  18. Chuck Wolk

    Wow, sorry to hear this. Of all days to stumble upon your site. I was a huge fan of his when he do the late night horror show. He would have a skit leading into the horror show and then coming out of commercials before the movie started again. Often times his skit was better than the corny movie.

    He had a side kick also, but while I remember him, I can not for the life of me remember who it was.

    Well, my condolences to his family and I pray he rests in peace, and that he made it past the golden gates.

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