Lou Scally Has Long Been the Voice and Face of Hagerstown
By Lisa Gregory
Lou Scally is described by listeners and viewers as Mr. Hagerstown and the man you can trust. And the radio morning show host and former television weatherman is much loved by his community.
“Lou is Hagerstown,” says Joelle Butler, who co-hosted a segment on the radio with him called “Health Matters” while she worked in media relations at Meritus Health and who grew up watching him on television. He is such a local icon in the community that Scally even has his own limited edition bobble head, which was made available through the Hagerstown Suns baseball team a number of years ago.
Scally spent four decades delivering the weather at WDVM-TV before stepping down after the station moved from Hagerstown to a new location in Washington, D.C., and Scally chose not to do the long commute. And he is currently on WJEJ Radio where he has worked since 1974, first primarily as an engineer and then becoming the morning on-air personality.
“People tend to gravitate toward stability and comfort, and Lou provides that as he may be the first voice you hear in the morning or your nightly weather recap on TV,” says Debra Hunt, who as a marketing director for the Long Meadow Shopping Center worked frequently with Scally on promotions and events. “Lou is simply good at what he does, and to use his gift in Washington County is a blessing.”
A true local, growing up in Hagerstown, Scally’s childhood was much like the Norman Rockwell paintings he so admires. “My dad was a plumber and my mother stayed home,” he says, “We lived in a nice working-class neighborhood. You could walk the streets freely. You could go anywhere and didn’t have to worry. You knew that when the streetlights came on you were due to be in your house. And supper time was every night at 5 o’clock.”
The middle child, Scally says he enjoyed doing impersonations of such characters as Gomer Pyle to entertain his family. Young Lou also had an early interest in “how things worked,” he says.
Especially the radio. “There was always an inquisitive desire to figure out how did the sound come out of that radio into my ear,” he says. “I was not just happy to turn on a radio.”
His interest inspired him to build a crystal radio, and by the time he was 12 years old, “I took what was called my novice amateur radio test, ham radio test,” he says. “And at 15 I ended up with my first class radiotelephone license, which was actually a pretty difficult thing to get at that time especially for a youngster.”
The next step was logical. He applied for a job at the local radio station, WHAG. Due to a lack of staffing as a result of the pandemic of 1968 or the Hong Kong flu as it was called then, “the radio station needed some help really bad,” says Scally. “So, I ended up coming on board.”
Initially, Scally’s father would drive him to and from the radio station since Scally had yet to get his driver’s license. “He enjoyed the fact that I was working at something that I enjoyed and had potential for a career path,” says Scally. “There weren’t too many kids at that age doing something like this. They were mowing lawns or doing something else.”
During his senior year at South Hagerstown High School Scally would take on even more responsibility at the radio station. “The first week of January 1970 I became the morning announcer personality,” he says.
All while looking to graduate high school later that year. Working with the radio station, “we figured out a schedule for me where I would be going to the radio station at 6 o’clock in the morning and then working till 8:30,” he explains. “Then I would walk out the back door of the radio station. And probably about 50 yards away, it was the back door of South Hagerstown High School. I went to my homeroom and went to my classes. I got out at 3:30 and out the door and back over to the radio station from 4 until sunset when the station would sign off. This went on for the rest of 1970 until I graduated from high school. “
Then after brief stints working elsewhere, Scally came back home and joined WJEJ initially as an engineer in 1974 and then began doing the morning show in 1976 where he has remained since. And as one might imagine he has become a mainstay in the lives of many who live in the area.
“You are in their kitchens or bathrooms or cars,” he says of listeners. “There’s a very, very intimate kind of bond between radio people and their audiences.”
A good example of that is the longtime segment on his morning show, the WJEJ Phone Party, where listeners call into the station. “I started doing it in 1977,” says Scally. “But it had been on the air probably 30 years before that.”
Adding, “We’ve helped solve problems. For example, someone would call in about how do you roast a duck. And it was not that I knew how to do it, it was just that I would say, ‘Okay, this lady’s got a problem, and she wants to know how to roast a duck. What do you recommend?’ People called in and they’d read these long recipes. Well, my grandmother used to do this, that, and the other thing. This was before the internet and cooking shows. The radio station was the conduit to help these people.”
Moments like those matter. And are remembered whether it’s a question for the Phone Party or a mission of the heart.
“My mom, Ruby Caesar, was the lost dog lady for Hagerstown from 1974 until 1993,” says Stephanie Shank. “She talked on the phone with Lou a lot about her dog mission with the SPCA. He was always so helpful. She died at Avalon Manor and by the time I got to her house, Lou was on the radio saying that Hagerstown had lost a great champion for animals with the death of Ruby Caesar.”
Scally was thriving in radio. But his career was about to take another interesting turn. Scally admits he never had any real interest in television work. His passion was radio. However, fate had other ideas. A former co-worker of Scally’s had moved on to television at WDVM. And in 1980 he reached out to Scally about an opening slot for doing the weather. “I told him I’m not interested,” recalls Scally. “I’m a radio guy. I was not particularly comfortable with the way I looked. I said I really wouldn’t do well on television.”
However, he was convinced to do the audition. And even before Scally could leave the building, his audition tape had been reviewed and he was offered the job. “I don’t think they were looking very hard,” he says. Or needed to. And the man whose voice was so familiar to so many now became the face that was so familiar to so many.
Stacy Drake, a fellow radio broadcaster, saw similarities in Scally’s approach to doing television with how he did radio. “He was such a great weatherman because most of his weather was just Lou being Lou,” says Drake. “He was kind of doing his radio show on TV and throwing in the weather.”
And for viewers, Scally was a delight with his witty banter and sometimes unexpected humor. “For example, there was a comet coming and was going to be visible,” says Mark Kraham, who was a news director at WDVM while Scally was there. “Of course, along with the weather report, Lou is telling the anchor the sky is really going to be clear tonight so it should be a good opportunity to see the comet just with a pair of binoculars. And the anchor says, ‘Lou, are you going to watch the comet with your binoculars?’ To which he replied, ‘I used to have binoculars, but Mrs. Scally won’t let me have them anymore.’”
Kraham laughs out loud at the memory. But he is also quick to praise Scally’s talents on and off the air.
“A lot of people may not know this, but Lou is very skilled at engineering,” says Kraham. “Keeping a transmitter going and making sure that it is operating efficiently and at top performance. He’s had to repair parts and then replace tubes and things like that. So, there’s a whole side of Lou that’s technical.”
Throughout his career and life Scally has not just been plugged into the community as a voice and a face but is an active participant in improving it. “He is the type of person who would do anything for anybody. And he is always friendly when he is doing it,” says Diane Biser, who worked with Scally at WDVM where she held positions in sales and human resources and has known him since 1981.
“When you love your town, you want to make it a place of quality,” adds Hunt. “Lou has endeared himself to this community because it’s evident he cares about this community. He’s passionate about family, friends, and organizations, and that’s seen in his dedicated support whether serving on various boards, emceeing an event, or simply attending one.”
For example, he became involved with the effort to save the Maryland Theatre in downtown Hagerstown. “There was danger of the theater being demolished so they can sell the bricks to an antique brick dealer,” he says. “I thought to myself, geez. This thing’s worth saving.” Adding, “I think everybody has a responsibility in a community to help out where they can and do the best they can to make it a better community.”
Nowadays he’s not just passionate about improving his community but improving himself as well. He and his wife of nearly 50 years, Vennie, recently went on a health journey after a medical scare for Vennie.
“Both of us were overweight,” says Scally. “Both of us were diabetic. She had very severe cholesterol issues, primarily because of hereditary issues. We realized ‘Hey, you got to stop and turn around.’ And so, we both have lost significant amounts of weight.”
Scally was recently on a podcast talking about the couple’s weight loss journey and is interested in writing a cookbook. As he enters his seventh decade, he is healthier and is looking ahead even as he appreciates the past.
“Over 50 years I’ve come in contact with a lot of people,” he says. “I’ve helped a lot of people; a lot of people have helped me. I’ve been involved with a lot of service organizations and am told that my life has touched a lot of people. I hope that most of my effect has been in a positive way.”
No doubt about that.