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'I thought I would be in the business forever,' Levin says as he leaves TV news

WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) co-anchor Scott Levin will do something in less than two weeks rarely seen in Western New York.

The 53-year-old Levin will walk off the set at the Delaware Avenue station and leave the business in the prime of his broadcasting life.

Anchors or weathercasters not named Carol Jasen don't do that here.

Channel 2's Kevin O'Connell and John Beard, Channel 4's Don Postles and Jacquie Walker and Channel 7's Keith Radford, Mike Randall and Don Paul still work in their 60s in a market that values experience.

But a few months short of his 20th anniversary at Channel 2, Levin is leaving to pursue a career at West Herr Automotive Group that he hopes will eventually lead to his becoming a general manager of one of its dealerships.

Scott Levin, second from left, with the Channel 2 news team in 2007. From left are Ed Kilgore, Maryalice Demler and Kevin O'Connell. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The decision reflects the age difference between Levin and the veteran anchors above.

"I thought I would be in the business forever," said Levin as he sat at the kitchen table of his large Clarence home next to his wife Lisa. "But the business changed. And sometimes you have to re-evaluate your life. If I didn't make a change now, I probably never would. I would be stuck. Through a lot of prayer and conversations with my wife, we made the decision. I knew it was the right time."

Levin has two significant differences from the veterans extending their TV stays.

"They are older. I'm still young enough where I can still make a career change and have 15-20 years," said Levin.

He also is going back to the future. He had a business career before entering TV, the second difference from the veterans. The grandson of the former president of Hart Schaffner Marx in Chicago, Levin earned a six-figure salary in business in New York City before starting his TV career by taking a $19,000 job in Yakima, Wash.

He was a morning anchor in Richmond, Va., for four years before arriving at Channel 2 when it was in the ratings basement.

"I wanted that challenge," said Levin. "I love a challenge. No one wants to follow being a No. 1 place. You can only go down. I was motivated by that to make Channel 2 No.1. I was so confident in my skills and leadership abilities that I knew I could help turn this place around."

Levin's departure could threaten Channel 2's success, which led management to attempt to change his mind as the final days approached. The changes in the broadcasting business are weighing on Levin and everyone in it. "You have to do more for less," said Levin.

He won't go into salary specifics, but confirmed he took a double-digit percentage cut during the 2008-09 economic downturn and the raises since mean his salary is slightly more than it was eight years ago.

Chris Collins, left, and James P. Keane, right, respond to questions posed by debate moderator Scott Levin at the Oct. 25, 2007, county executive debate in the Central Terminal. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

Readers who think anchors make a fortune may be surprised to learn Levin and his wife started a side business of selling watches online after he took the pay cut.

He began exploring a move to West Herr about 14 months ago, but he and West Herr president Scott Bieler both doubted he was mentally ready to leave television. The conversations about becoming one of more than 50 finance managers at West Herr's 23 dealerships heated up about four months ago as Levin's TV contract neared its end in July.

Levin told co-anchor Maryalice Demler privately about his exit plans after an 11 p.m. newscast before word leaked out. He said she was upset.

"We chatted for about three hours," said Levin. "We were real honest with each other, talking about the pressures and changes of the business. We've been successful partners for so long. A news anchor team, the chemistry has to be there. You can't fake it."

Levin said news of his exit led to an outpouring of praise from the community.

"I had no clue," said Levin. "The outpouring from the community has been overwhelming … I always loved it when people would come up and say nice things to me. Now it is times 10. I had no idea what kind of relationship I really had with my viewers until this."

Some viewers had misconceptions about Levin before seeing him in person.

"The biggest is that I'm short," said the 6-3 Levin. "Every time I meet someone they say, 'wow, you are bigger than I thought.' "

His last name leads to another misconception – that he is Jewish. He was raised by a Jewish father and Protestant mother but he felt little spirituality until 16 years ago.

After his wife had two miscarriages and a third pregnancy appeared to be in jeopardy, Levin had a life-changing conversion before his daughter Sophia was born healthy. He went to a prayer and healing service.

"I realized that I needed to be forgiven for my sins and there was a greater purpose for me," said Levin. "I accepted Christ that night. Then I was voracious reading about it and it became who I am. So I am a true Evangelical born-again Christian and I let everyone know it and I am proud of it."

Another misconception on social media is that Levin is leaving TV to sell cars.

"Everybody is selling something," said Levin, whose primary responsibility will be as a finance/business manager. "On television, what am I selling? Myself and commercials. In life, you are either selling or being sold something. So, yes, I will be selling. But I am not a car salesman, which I totally respect. I have been a salesman and it is one of the hardest, underappreciated jobs there is."

Levin appreciates all the memorable stories he has covered. He was on the air solo when Flight 3407 crashed in 2009. CNN aired him live as he comforted viewers. Shortly after coming here, he covered the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998. He attended the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in 2001. He has several trophies in a living room bookcase, but says he was never into receiving awards.

He planned to stay in Buffalo for about three years.

"I was headed for Tom Brokaw's job," said Levin, who thought he'd go to a bigger market before heading to NBC. "I was convinced I was going to sit in that seat."

Then he met Lisa.

Former radio personality Joe Chille tried to set them up and gave Levin her number. He never called. But he was at a suburban gym four or five months later following around "a beautiful blonde woman."

"That night, Joe called and said, 'You know that girl you were chasing around? That is the girl we wanted you to call.' I said, 'Give me her number again.' "

"It was total fate," said Lisa.

They have been married for 17 years and have two daughters, Kayla and Sophia.

Lisa's recent battle with cancer was another motivation for his job change. She is now cancer free.

Working nights and often on holidays, anchors sacrifice their home lives. They also can’t take off days during the four sweeps months.

"I wanted to spend more time with my family, be home at night," said Levin.

"He is doing this now; I already raised the kids," said Lisa with a laugh.

Levin turns serious when discussing the scariest changes facing broadcasting.

"The scariest change is seeing viewership beginning to slip in broadcasting and going to other forms of media," said Levin. "I worry about the future of broadcast news."

But after his final broadcast on May 24 that won't be his problem. He doesn't want a goodbye party and will just celebrate with his family.

"We're probably going to Chef's and sit under my picture and look at how young I used to look," he cracked.

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