WIPS News Director David Downing sits in his newsroom at the station. Downing died April 18.
TICONDEROGA – David Downing, the retired radio broadcaster affectionately known as “the North Country News Legend,” has died.
Downing, who was 74, passed away Tuesday, April 18 in Ticonderoga after a short illness.
For three decades, Downing was the news director at the now-defunct WIPS Radio of Ticonderoga.
His voice as the News Legend greeted listeners early every morning from the WIPS studios with a combination of local news, sports and weather.
Downing and his reel-to-reel tape recorder were a fixture at public meetings, fires, community events and everything in between.
He did it all despite being legally blind. Downing’s eyesight was good enough to ride a bicycle, but not drive a car.
His wife, Sally, who was fully blind, died in 2014. They lived much of their lives in a house on The Portage in Ticonderoga, raising two children and getting involved in almost every community activity imaginable.
Downing was a member of the Ticonderoga Emergency Squad, including serving as captain of the squad, for many years.
After the sale of WIPS in 2002, the studios moved to Crown Point until the station’s closure in 2008, and Downing left to work as a dispatcher for Ticonderoga 911 Dispatch, which was later absorbed into the Essex County 911 Center.
His wife was also a dispatcher at the town’s 911 operation.
Downing’s friend, Ticonderoga Fire Chief Matt Watts, posted a tribute to him on social media.
“Last night this community lost a legend,” Watts said. “Dave Downing served this community in so many years, in so many ways. From his early days at WIPS, as the North Country News Legend, to his many many years as a volunteer EMT with the Ticonderoga Emergency Squad, to his years as a public safety dispatcher for the Town of Ticonderoga, Dave was a true inspiration that if you wanted to do something nothing could hold you back.”
Watts remembered going on EMS calls with Downing.
“In the wintertime, he would be standing out on the corner of The Portage and Alexandria Avenue waiting for a ride to an EMS call. Couldn't miss him in his bright orange parka – we would refer to him as ‘The Great Pumpkin.’
"We'd be driving along and get to an intersection and I’d say, ‘How does it look your way, Dave’ and he'd say, ‘Looks good as far as I can see.’ He always had a great sense of humor.”
Downing’s long service as an EMT encouraged his own volunteerism, Watts said.
"One of my favorite and inspirational memories is when we had a celebration for Dave for his 25 years as an emergency medical technician,” Watts said. “I remember that day and thinking, ‘Wow, 25 years as an EMT, that’s pretty special’ and I hoped to some day say the same thing, but I never thought I would make it. But you know what, he inspired me to reach that goal and I did; it’s now 29 years for me. Thanks for the inspiration, Dave. RIP, my friend, we will take it from here. Portable 500, KA49967, WZX693, clear.”
Those were Downing’s radio identifiers.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Donald Jaquish said Downing gave much of his life to public service.
“He was a good and decent man, as well as a mentor and example to many,” Jaquish said. “There was no one like him.”
His daughters, Michelle Downing and Bethany Downing-Signor, posted news of his death on social media.
“It is with a heavy heart and much sadness that we must share the passing of our father, David Downing the North Country News Legend,” she said. “(He was) a man who dedicated his life to his family and his community, which he was proud to serve and call his home. He will be surely missed by all.”
David Downing, who was born Feb. 18, 1943, went to Painted Post West High School in Corning, N.Y., and studied radio electronics at the RCA Institute. For many years, he was also the station engineer for WIPS.
His friend, Eric Forand, remembered Downing on social media.
“Today, my heart is heavy,” Forand said. “Last night, Dave Downing passed away. He was a colleague, friend and role model in many ways.
“Many of us started our mornings listening to WIPS. We didn't necessarily listen for the music, we listened for Dave and the news he would prepare and read. That’s it. He was a huge influence that lead me to pursue working in radio.”
Downing’s hand-held radio often went on the air as soon as an ambulance dispatch was broadcast.
“You'd hear Portable 500 call the ambulance so that he could be picked up on the corner of Alexandria and The Portage,” Forand said. “It was that familiar voice from the radio, but serving the town he cared so much for as an EMT, and he did so for decades with incredible drive and skill.”
Downing loved his family and it showed in everything he did, Forand said.
“Above all, though, Dave valued family above everything, and certainly made me feel like I was a part of it,” Forand said. “You could hear the sense of pride in his voice when discussing the accomplishments of his wife, daughters, and granddaughters.”
Relatives and friends may call Saturday, April 22, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Wilcox and Regan Funeral Home of Ticonderoga. A funeral service will follow at 1 p.m. at the Funeral Home. Interment will be at the family plot in the Valley View Cemetery of Ticonderoga.