t’s a story so unlikely that it’s perfect for the evening news: Two former Cleveland news anchors from the same TV station end up co-anchoring together in Hartford, Connecticut, nearly 30 years after the first one left town.
Against all odds, Channel 8 alums Denise D’Ascenzo and Mark Zinni now deliver the 5:30 p.m. newscast on WFSB Channel 3, the top-rated station in Connecticut. “I can’t even believe it myself,” says Zinni. “When I worked in Cleveland, there was a picture of Denise that I walked by every day in the studio.”
It didn’t take long for D’Ascenzo, who co-anchored with Dick Russ and Tim Taylor at WJW TV-8 from 1983 to 1986, to bond with Zinni. “When I heard he was coming, I couldn’t believe the coincidence,” she says. “Mark is a breath of fresh air. Within a couple of days, I thought I had known him for years.”
A 1994 Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin graduate, Zinni grew up watching WJW TV-8.
“I always watched Wilma Smith and Dick Goddard,” he says. “On my first day of work, I found out my desk was right next to Wilma’s.”
Diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2014, Zinni had surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. He was then faced with what he calls “the hardest decision I ever made,” leaving Fox 8 for WFSB.
“Cleveland is my hometown,” he says. “There is no better place. I miss it every day, but I truly believe this is the best job I’ve ever had.”
Zinni is quick to credit D’Ascenzo for making his transition easy in Hartford. “She’s been the face of this station for 30 years,” he says. “The people of Connecticut look up to this figure who’s taken them through everything.”
While her stint here was brief, she remains one of the most popular anchors in Cleveland TV history. After 3 1/2 years at WJW TV-8, D’Ascenzo left in 1986 to get married. Today, she is the longest-serving anchor at any Connecticut TV station, a winner of 10 Emmys and the first woman ever inducted into the Connecticut Broadcasters Hall of Fame.
“I have such a special place in my heart for Cleveland. Just thinking about it makes me smile,” she says. “I can still picture the station and the view I had of Lake Erie.” During her time in Cleveland, the city was clawing its way back from default. “I was there when it was rough,” she recalls. “There was a whole bunch of drama, and it wasn’t good.”
D’Ascenzo has fond memories of WJW general manager Virgil Dominic. “At that time, women were coached to lower their voices to sound more like men,” she says. “Virgil allowed me to be myself and taught me it was OK to show if I was upset by a story. You have to make yourself a little vulnerable.”