Longtime South Florida reporter Todd Tongen died Tuesday at age 56. The cause of death for the WPLG anchor is currently unknown. According to CBS Miami, “Tongen’s wife was out of town and unable to reach him so she asked a friend to check on him. Police were called and found him.”
According to WPLG, the Emmy Award-winning reporter was found in his Broward County home in the town of Southwest Ranches. He has since received an outpouring of support from many of his fellow South Florida and Miami-based reporters.
Here’s what you need to know about him.
1. His Peers & Viewers Knew Him for His Disarming Sense of Humor
His obituary for WPLG contains many testimonials about how entertaining and disarmingly funny he was.
“He was our prankster,” 25-year investigative journalist Jeff Weinsier said, adding Tongen was always “the life of our party.”
Michael Putney, a senior political reporter, worked on a short biography that included shots of Tongen dressed like Superman, impersonating Elvis and doing interviews while driving the former 10 Taxi. Weinsier laughed and cried.
He was described as knowing how to have his “inner child” have fun, such as dressing up as a turkey to help at a Publix Thanksgiving food drive. At the end of the day, as assignment desk manager Kerry Weston said, he never lost sight of journalism as a means for good storytelling.
“He would just bring a smile to your face or a tear, because he knew how to tell a story, how to weave a story, weave the video and the sound bytes,” Weston said. “He was a very, very good story teller.”
2. He Started His Broadcasting Career in Rural Minnesota
According to Arkansas TV News, he started his broadcasting career in his native Minnesota after graduating from the University of Minnesota in Duluth and Brown Institute of Broadcasting in Minneapolis.
Todd began his broadcasting career in 1983 in a Podunk Minnesota farm town. He started broadcasting on the airwaves as a radio disk jockey on KMRS-AM, a country and western station. Then he moved to Grand Junction, Colo., in 1984 to join KSTR-AM/FM, an adult contemporary station. A year later, he became a movie host and weatherman on KJCT-TV. From 1986 to 1989, Todd was a feature reporter and weatherman at KARK-TV in Little Rock, Ark.
One of his more popular segments in Arkansas included eating crawfish with former Governor Bill Clinton. He moved to WPLG in December 1989.
3. His Career Highlights Include Two AP Awards, an Emmy & In-Depth Coverage of Hurricane Andrew in 1992
While in Arkansas, he won an Associated Press Award for best weather segment in 1988. In 1989, Todd received the Associated Press Award for best feature report. He also won an Emmy Award for feature reporting and has been nominated six times.
WPLG states his proudest achievement was his reporting of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which gained the attention of ABC’s Nightline in 1993.
WPLG put together a 25th anniversary segment talking to reporters about the Category 5 storm, which destroyed more than 63,500 houses, damaged more than 124,000 others, caused $27.3 billion in damage. Tongen was at the forefront of focusing on the human stories before, during and after the catastrophe.
“I was not prepared at all for what was coming,” he said in the segment. “Initially, believe it or not, I was excited. But as it drew nearer, I realized the gravity of the situation.
“At first, it wasn’t that bad,” he continued as he talked about recording hits outside during the storm. “I was on the air, we had told them this was our last hit. We are going for shelter, and we can’t broadcast in this truck any longer…I don’t think anybody was prepared for what we saw (the day after the storm touched ground).”
4. He Was Known for His Show “10 Taxi”, Several Offbeat Segments & Some Minor Film Roles
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Perhaps the most popular portion of his career came as the host of the feature “10 Taxi.” He drove a 1967 Checker Cab while interviewing all manners of celebrity, including Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson to Vanna White to ABC’s Peter Jennings.
According to Local 10, Tongen purchased the car for his personal use after retiring the bit, despite efforts by Wyclef Jean to buy it from him. It wasn’t the only bit of offbeat work he did in the latter part of his career. He officiated an arm wrestling competition in 2015 between billionaire Warren Buffet and former Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
The two are University of Nebraska alumni, and have arm wrestled three times for charity purposes. Buffet has “won” each time.
“He’s getting stronger every time,” Buffett said. “You know, he’s a few years younger than I am. I think my days may be over.”
Tongen even has his own IMDB page for his film appearances. While many reporters appear in movies as heightened versions of their reporting personalities, it seems Tongen played actual roles in films such as “Top Cop, “Rosalie Goes Shopping,” and “Stay Tuned for Murder.”
He used to joke that he appeared, but “didn’t star” in the films.
5. He is Survived by His Wife Karen & Sons Tyler & Ryker
According to WPLG, “his greatest personal achievement were being a father to his two sons, Tyler and Ryker, and a husband to Karen, his wife of many years.” Despite his rich and colorful life, he told Local 10 in 2015 that he did so much of his work to impress his kids.
“I’ve already skydived, bungee jumped, ridden on the back of a whale, flown with the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, so there’s not a lot left on my bucket list,” Tongen told Local 10 in 2015. “Maybe, ah, crochet a sweater or, you know, I would love to, you know — travel would be big on my bucket list. I’d like to go to Bora Bora and I’d like to — I’d love to — be in another feature film. I’d like to be in a blockbuster film, even in the smallest role. I’d just like, you know, a big hit, so I could say, you know, take my boys to it, ‘There’s dad.'”
He once publicly wished a Happy Mother’s Day to Karen, as well as his own mother, promising to make his wife dinner and take his mother out to a lobster dinner. He voiced over a picture of his family together.
Tongen lived from 1963 to 2019.