One doubtless could go on and on speculating how such experiences affected the emerging — and soon to be flamboyant — personality of Jack Kelly. Suffice to say that by the time he moved on to St. Columbkille’s High he was jovial, outgoing, and itching for a career in broadcasting.
“Jack always wanted to be in radio,” said his sister, now married and living in Waltham. “In school he was the one guy that everyone knew, and he was always the disc jockey at the high-school dances.”
After graduation, Kelly joined the Air Force in the early ‘60s and was sent overseas, where he had his first professional broadcasting experience, working for Armed Forces radio. He was also stationed in Maryland (he later told colleagues he had considered a career in the armed forces), where he met and married Michelle. His other activities down there are unclear. The Herald reported last week that Kelly graduated from Johns Hopkins University, though officials there told the Phoenix they have no records of his ever having attended. And Mel Bernstein, former Channel 7 news director, recalls Kelly’s having told him about working at radio station WCBM in Baltimore, though no one there now can remember any Jack Kelly.
He made a decidedly stronger impression on those around him, though, after he moved back to Brighton and, following a brief stint at Cambridge’s WCAS, became a WEZE newsman. He showed signs of idealism and neighborhood commitment, getting himself elected to the board of the Allston-Brighton Area Planning Action Council. “He seemed very sincere, well-motivated and concerned about the community,” recalled Joe Smith, a prominent Allston-Brighton activist. “He seemed to like to do community types of stories. He was not the kind of person who felt he had to be heard at every session, but what he said always made a lot of sense.”
Then the professional breaks started going Kelly’s way. In June of 1969, as a result of what can only be described as luck, he became the first reporter to break the news that Senator Edward M. Kennedy was driving that car in which Mary Jo Kopechne drowned when it ran off the Chappaquiddick bridge. Seems Kelly just happened to be the first to get through to Edgartown Police Chief Domenick Arena after Arena, concluding a chat with the senator, decided he wouldn’t withhold the news of Kennedy’s involvement in the accident from the media any longer.
It also was pure luck that later separated Jack Kelly, by now a WBZ radio newsman, from that station’s pack of general-assignment reporters. In January of 1972, he just happened to be motoring home from work in his Saab (which, one former co-worker recalled, “always made sounds like there was a penny rattling around in the muffler”) when that now-notorious condominium at 1200 Commonwealth Avenue suddenly collapsed. Kelly, in the right place at the right time with the right equipment, came away with an amazing coup: an on-the-scene tape recording of the sounds of death and destruction. He followed up with an investigative series into the causes of the collapse, and the more sensational of these reports were broadcast over WBZ television as well as radio.