Don Carrigan Shares Love of His Profession and Love of Maine

DON CARRIGAN ’74 is quick to admit he was a “lazy student” at the University of Maine, but his time on the Orono campus in the early 1970s launched a career for which he is deeply grateful.

In the fall of his freshman year, he learned that the campus radio station, WMEB-FM, was looking for volunteers. He and a friend decided to sign on. A week later he was broadcasting freshman football, then basketball, then both freshman and varsity sports for WMEB. His passion for radio was instant.

“I would not have had the career I did had I not discovered radio my freshman year,” Carrigan recalled recently. “I was not a serious athlete or close follower of pro sports, but I was fascinated by radio, and they needed people to do the games. It was fun. It was cool. It was new. The idea you could sit in a little room on the top floor of Stevens Hall and send your voice out into the ether fascinated me.”

His path into a career in broadcasting was swift and straight. As a campus radio station staff member, he did everything — sports, disc jockeying, news — day and night. He changed his major from marine biology to speech. He took a three-credit journalism lab course in his senior year that gave him the opportunity to write news copy for the daily Maine News and Comment program on MPBN (now Maine Public) television. He became acquainted with legendary UMaine journalism professor Brooks Hamilton, who was a regular interviewer on the program.

The Summer of 1973 was pivotal. Carrigan was one of three students hired to keep the campus radio station on the air all summer. He had a second job as a disc jockey and announcer for WLBZ Radio in Bangor two days a week, and a third job at MPBN (unpaid) writing and delivering the daily news summary and participating in some live interviews — his first TV experience.

That fall, he was doing the daily 15-minute afternoon newscast at WLBZ Radio when he got a call from the company’s television station that went something like: “The 11 p.m. television news anchor is going on vacation for two weeks. Would you like to fill in for him? Of course, we can’t pay you.” Of course, Carrigan said, “Yes,” and suddenly he was sitting in front of a camera.

“I had one suit coat and two neckties,” he recalled. “I came in on a Friday and watched the 11 p.m. news. They showed me the desks, the United Press International (UPI) teletype machine, the studio, and the bathroom. I met the cameraman and that was it.” The following Monday he was on the air. “I looked at the camera at the beginning and the end.”

Several weeks later he received another call that went something like: “We fired that guy. Do you want the job?” Of course, he said “Yes.” He worked part-time until he finished school in early December. When he graduated from UMaine he had a full-time job as an anchor and reporter.

“I took to it instantly. I loved it. I threw myself into it — worked 70 hours a week. I still love it at 72 years old.”

Carrigan witnessed the rise of local TV news. “Radio was still huge,” he said of his days at the top of Stevens Hall. “It was where people got their instant news. Local television was just starting to grow bigger.” When he joined Channel 2, Americans were getting their national news from three national networks — CBS, NBC, and ABC — just in the evening. No 24-hour-news cycles. He tried to emulate newsmen like Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, and Charles Kuralt, but also recognized he had his own style of reporting. “I was never good at being a personality. Some can make it work, but I am at heart just a straight news guy.”

Local mentors at Channel 2 included fellow reporter Bob Steele, who later became a professor of media ethics at UMaine and the Poynter Institute, and News Director Jeff Marks, who became a significant influence, especially in honing stories.

As he gradually found his identity as a reporter, Carrigan also recognized his attachment to Maine. A freelance photographer recruited him for a position as the bureau chief at a station in Florida. He realized during the interview: “I don’t want to live here.”

His first UMaine broadcasting instructor started an all-news station in Buffalo and flew him out for an interview in upstate New York. After that trip he reached the same conclusion: “I don’t want to live here.” Those two opportunities “cemented my relationship to Maine,” he said. “I decided I liked it here.” He and his wife, Donna, still live in his hometown of South Bristol in Lincoln County, where he graduated from Lincoln Academy in 1969.

He spent most of 1978 at WCSH Channel 6 in Portland where he produced a monthly news magazine and ran the news department. He returned to WLBZ Channel 2 in Bangor at the end of that year. Through the 1980s he anchored the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news, did daily reporting, and became news director.

In 1991, he accepted a position as State Office Representative for U.S. Senator Bill Cohen, serving constituents in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Hancock, Waldo, and Washington counties from the Bangor office. Carrigan had covered Cohen’s weekly trips back to Bangor from Washington D.C. in 1974 during the Watergate hearings when, as a freshman Republican Congressman and member of the House Judiciary Committee, Cohen voted to impeach Republican President Richard Nixon. Leading Cohen’s Bangor office 17 years later was “fascinating” and Carrigan enjoyed the opportunity to help constituents, but the work lacked the pace and variety of news reporting. “I missed working in TV,” he said. “TV stuff is what I’m good at.”

So, when Maine Public Broadcasting invited him to be its executive producer for public affairs in 1994, of course he accepted. He hosted the network’s weekly MaineWatch and monthly Capital Connection programs. Nine years later, when asked to come back to WCSH and WLBZ to cover the mid-coast area and the State House in Augusta, he said, “Yes.”

“It was like coming home. I am so lucky to work with a great team of dedicated people,” he said, mentioning Bill Green ’76, Rob Caldwell, Pat Callaghan, Amanda Hill, and Kirk Cratty, among others. “They all love this work. We have a shared history.”

Carrigan’s career encompasses the administrations of eight governors: Ken Curtis ’67 Hon., James Longley ’80 Hon., Joseph Brennan, John McKernan, Angus King, John Baldacci ’86, Paul LePage ’75G, and Janet Mills. Even while working for Senator Cohen, he maintained his ties to journalism. In 1991, when cameras were allowed in Maine courtrooms for the first time, the Maine Press Association and the Maine Association of Broadcasters asked Carrigan to guide its Cameras in the Courtroom experiment. After consulting with his boss, he agreed to serve as an unpaid coordinator connecting the Bangor courts with the news media. “It feels very strange to be the subject of interviews by former competitors and colleagues,” he told the Bangor Daily News of this role reversal.

Reflecting on satisfying moments in his career, Carrigan cited stories about “real, working Mainers” in the days before the decline of paper mills, shoe factories, and dairy and potato farms. “I am glad I was there to report as someone who understood what was going on. It’s hard to see Maine struggle. We’re doing better, but we’re not prosperous.”

As for challenges, he remembered legislators sometimes getting mad at him for stories he wrote. “I used to get upset, but you work hard to get all sides, be correct, factual. If someone doesn’t like the truth, it’s OK. If you make a mistake, correct it.” Carrigan worries that the current political climate in the country will cause people to get fed up and tune out. “That doesn’t help. You’ve got to be engaged.” He remembered covering Maine leaders like Ed Muskie, George Mitchell, and Cohen when collegiality characterized political discourse.

Today, Carrigan tries to be a mentor for young journalists starting out as he did in 1973. He tells them: “Ask as many questions as you can, get different sides of an issue (often more than two), treat people fairly, do your homework to understand as much as you can, separate fact from opinion. Your opinions don’t matter. Your job is not to be an advocate.”

He sees in young reporters the kind of passion that has driven him and admires the amount of work required to produce on multiple platforms. “They have to be so good with technology,” he said, adding, “You can tell who is going to make it.  They have brains, they’re hard-working. It’s encouraging.”

Currently, he has stepped away from daily deadlines and is producing long-form stories as a reporter for the 207 magazine program on Channel 6 and Channel 2, collectively known as NewsCenter Maine. Carrigan says he’s lucky to have a role in this young-person profession. “To last over time,” he said, “people have to see you as authentic, genuine; to tell stories fairly, accurately, respectfully. That’s the key to longevity.”

Carrigan’s longevity has earned him a place in the Gold Circle Society of the Boston/New England Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the organization that honored him with two Emmy Awards during his career.

In 2015 Carrigan received an Emmy for a series on the 2014 candidates for Maine governor — Paul LePage, Mike Michaud, and Eliot Cutler — titled What Makes Them Run? In June 2023 he earned another for a story about inventor Alvin Lombard titled “Lombard’s Genius” featuring his famous steam log-hauler, and filmed at the Maine Forest and Logging Museum in Bradley.

The Gold Circle Award, presented in December 2023, recognizes “reliable, valued, contributors and mentors” within the chapter who have 50 or more years “working in pursuit of our profession’s highest and most noble goals.” In nominating Carrigan for the award, retired NewsCenter Maine reporter and anchor Pat Callaghan said, “People across this state know Don Carrigan is not simply from Maine, but of Maine. That’s because of his deep roots in the community, particularly in the midcoast . . . It is safe to say he is one of the most trusted and respected reporters ever to hit the airwaves in Maine.”