Valley Voices

On anniversary of John Lennon’s death, I remember Peter Rogot

Today marks the anniversary of John Lennon’s 1991 murder in New York City.
Today marks the anniversary of John Lennon’s 1991 murder in New York City. McClatchy file

John Lennon died 36 years ago last week, and I find myself reflecting about my friend Peter Rogot.

I met Peter in the late 1970s during the time he spent as a reporter and anchor at Channel 47, then using the call letters KJEO. He left Fresno in 1981 for a job in Denver.

Peter introduced me to lox and bagels and I taught him about keyma and Guinness, creating a Jewish/Armenian/Irish food and beverage fusion. We learned about Russian vodka Stolichnaya together.

We chuckled over on-air bloopers. Like the time an anchor referred to local tax rebel Frank Oneto as, “Frank one two.”

Occasionally Peter and I would get together for dinner at the Silver Dollar Hofbrau. Sometimes we would meet there and other times I would meet him at the station and we would ride in one car.

While Peter always ate lightly, not wanting to get all blown up before he had to anchor the 11 p.m. news, I usually had one of the humongous sandwiches the place was known for. Jimmy “Coach” Saghatelian would always stop by the table and grab Peter’s shoulder and encourage him to keep up the good work.

We spoke at length when his colleague, Marc Cotta, was held at gunpoint by an intruder in the KJEO studio in early December 1987. The man wanted Cotta to read a prepared statement on the air. The pistol he carried turned out to be a toy gun. Security at all local television stations was ramped up immediately.

While Peter was in Denver, I served on the national board of Vietnam Veterans of America in Washington, D.C. I had to travel to Washington several times each year and those flights usually took me through Denver. I always alerted Peter of my schedule and we would arrange to meet.

Those were the days when airport concourses were open to visitors, and families and friends could escort you to the gate and hug you goodbye as you were about to board the plane, and meals in coach were still free. There was no TSA.

Peter was from New York City and always dreamed of landing a job in that market. He was an outstanding news anchor, but his true passion was sports reporting. As a sports anchor and reporter for KCNC in Denver beginning in 1981, he covered the Super Bowl, Orange Bowl and NCAA Final Four, and he was awarded a Rocky Mountain Emmy for “Riding the High Country,” a documentary on the 1984 Coors Bicycle Classic. Peter was an avid bike rider who once spent weeks astride a bicycle in Yugoslavia.

My wife and I met Peter and his new wife, Mary, in Denver in between flights on our way home to Fresno. It was shortly after their marriage and shortly before he was offered his dream job. They were delighted with each other, and it was obvious that they were filled with happiness, and you couldn’t avoid the twinkle in their eyes. We were thrilled for them.

In February 1991 Peter called with some really wonderful news that he couldn’t share just yet. The excitement in his voice was unmistakable and I thought he and Mary must be pregnant, but I would have to wait to find out.

A month later, and I was in Denver unexpectedly. I found a pay phone and called Peter. “…the number has been disconnected…” I’ll have to wait for the news.

What about John Lennon?

The night Lennon was shot and killed outside his home in 1980, my friend Peter called me before he even had the font operator insert a crawl on the local broadcast. He said the AP wire machine rang four times – a signal for an important story about to be distributed.

“John Lennon has been shot and killed outside the Dakota,” he said before he hung up and went back to work, preparing to break into the broadcast and rewriting the 11 o’clock news. I knew Lennon was dead before Howard Cosell announced it on “Monday Night Football.”

In April 1991, after working 10 years in Denver, Peter ended up in his dream job, hosting “SportsCenter” on ESPN. During the rehearsal for his debut, he collapsed on the set and died. The autopsy revealed a congenital heart defect. He was 37.

I miss Peter and think of him often.

Jim Doyle of Fresno is a freelance writer and a veterans advocate.