By David Wade

BOSTON (CBS) – Charlie Austin, a trailblazer and a reporter at WBZ-TV for more than 30 years, died early Tuesday morning. He was 73 years old.

“My first full week on the job was when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the week of April 4th, 1968. I was a film processor,” he once said.

Charlie Austin landed a job at WBZ just after serving in the U.S. Army. He worked as a film processor, editor and sports anchor before hitting the streets as a general assignment reporter, one of the first African-Americans on Boston television, along with Sarah Ann Shaw and Walt Sanders.

“I think it was very, very important, for young people in particular, to see someone who looked like them on television,” Shaw told WBZ.

austin1 Charles Austin, Legendary WBZ TV Reporter, Dies At 73

Charles Austin. (WBZ-TV)

“Charlie was a trailblazer in this city,” said former WBZ-TV anchor Liz Walker, the first African-American weeknight news anchor in Boston. “Charlie paved the way for people like me. He was just an amazing journalist. He let his work speak for him and that was even more powerful to me.”

During his long career Charlie covered it all – with heart. “Trust” was his watchword and how he developed his sources and his stories.

Nat Whittemore, a legendary WBZ-TV photographer for decades, said Charlie was one of the finest partners he ever had. He said Charlie knew how to work a story for the long term.

“And that was how he made such great contacts with the State Police and the Boston Police investigators,” Whittemore said.

austin9nat Charles Austin, Legendary WBZ TV Reporter, Dies At 73

Charles Austin with WBZ photographer Nat Whittemore. (WBZ-TV)

That was something that served Charlie well on the crime beat covering the heartbreaking disappearance of Sarah Pryor and the sordid case of Charles Stuart.

And sometimes it was personal.

When 11-month old Jamie Fisk from Bridgewater needed a liver transplant, Charlie traveled to Minnesota where the surgery took place and he then came home with the family.

austin10 Charles Austin, Legendary WBZ TV Reporter, Dies At 73

Charles Austin. (WBZ-TV)

In 1984 and 1985 Charlie traveled to Africa to cover the famine there, but also to help.

“On that second trip we had generated enough interest to fill an airplane with food and medical supplies,” he would later say.

A host of medical problems would plague Charlie – prostate cancer, a stroke and several aneurysms. He battled back from them all and, in typical Charlie fashion, became an advocate for awareness about the ailments that cost him so much.

austin15 Charles Austin, Legendary WBZ TV Reporter, Dies At 73

Charles Austin. (WBZ-TV)

His foundation was built on a profound faith. Charlie often said, “God is good, all the time.”

“I kind of found my faith through Charlie, and his wife Linda,” Walker said.

During her early days at WBZ, Charlie Austin invited Liz Walker to church.

“Who does that in TV?! ” she said laughing. “I was so moved by that.”

After a long career, Liz would leave journalism and become a minister.

“Charlie really helped me in my spiritual formation. He helped me find meaning in my life,” she said.

austin4danielle Charles Austin, Legendary WBZ TV Reporter, Dies At 73

Charles Austin and his daughter Danielle. (WBZ-TV)

Charlie Austin also never stopped supporting the Special Olympics, mostly because of his daughter Danielle, who was born with Down Syndrome.

“When she was born they said, count your blessings, maybe six months. That’s how I get through each day. I look at Danielle and say if she can do it, so can I,” Charlie said.

But at the end, with his kidneys failing and dialysis hurting as much as it helped, Charlie and his family made the decision to stop the fight.

“They supported him. His wife was naturally upset, but that’s what happened,” Whittemore said. “You couldn’t ask for a man of finer character.”

austin14 Charles Austin, Legendary WBZ TV Reporter, Dies At 73

Charles Austin. (WBZ-TV)

Longtime WBZ photographer Richard Chase also worked closely with Charlie.

“Charlie could bring out the best in anybody,” he recalled.  “Charlie did mean a lot to us and meant a lot to me.”

“He was sweet, he cared about people.  I loved to hear him sing,” Shaw said.

“I will miss Charlie. He was a powerful voice in our community,” Walker said. “I’m sure he’s singing somewhere, because he loved to sing.”

austin5 Charles Austin, Legendary WBZ TV Reporter, Dies At 73

Charles Austin. (WBZ-TV)

And he had a great voice, whether he was singing in the newsroom, or on stage performing in Black Nativity.

Charlie Austin, who had a big smile and an even bigger heart, retired from WBZ-TV in 2000, after 32 years at the station.

austin6 Charles Austin, Legendary WBZ TV Reporter, Dies At 73

Charles Austin. (WBZ-TV)

During his retirement he continued to work towards prostate cancer awareness and he received many awards for journalism and his community work.

“Charlie was a legendary WBZ reporter, who had an impact on everyone he met,” said WBZ General Manager Mark Lund. “Guided by his strong faith, he looked to help others by his profound storytelling. He was a testament to his profession as a true, trusted journalist. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Austin family.”

Charlie leaves his wife Linda, daughters Amy, Lisa and Danielle, and several grandchildren.

The initial funeral arrangements will be a service in South Dartmouth followed by burial at the Veterans’ National Cemetery in Bourne. A memorial service will be held at a later date in Boston.

Comments (7)
  1. Mike Chapman says:

    I had the privilege of working with Charlie when I was a freelance editor at ‘BZ. He had the crisp countenance of an ex-military man, which indeed he was. But I came to realize that underneath his occasionally stern exterior, he had an enormous heart. When he talked about his daughter, who had been dealt such a dreadful hand by the fates, he beamed with love and pride. Some parents would have been anguished but Charlie was joyous. He only talked about Vietnam in passing (I recall he was once a door-gunner on a Huey helicopter – not exactly a safe gig), but it was enough for me to call him “Colonel” when we worked together. “Good work, recruit,” he’d say with a twinkle in his eye when I got him on the air, “Outstanding.” Outstanding is a word that describes Charlie perfectly. He never quit; he kept smiling. He was and always will be an inspiration. Stand easy, Colonel. We have the watch.

  2. John Bobel says:

    Charlie is one of the best. I worked with him and the rest of the crew at ‘BZ in the late 70’s. Lots of good times, great stories, including the Blizzard of ’78, and much much more. Sing a good song unto the Lord, Charlie. Peace and best wishes to his friends and family.

  3. Fran Kelly says:

    Rest in peace Charlie! And thank you for your service. A door gunner on a Huey in Vietnam earns you a special place in heaven!

  4. Roger Lyons says:

    Charlie was a wonderful human being. A mensch. A fighter. A humanitarian.

  5. Jon Murphy says:

    May he rest in peace. I remember seeing him on TV growing up but I never knew this incredible backstory until now. May peace be with his family and friends during this difficult time.

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