Seventy years ago this month, Mel Leavitt, one of New Orleans’ all-time favorite, most versatile and respected broadcasters, first signed on the air here. Born Mahlon Tirre Leavitt in St. Louis, Missouri, he joined the staff at WDSU-TV in November 1949, just 11 months after it began broadcasting. Leavitt, then 22, had worked in newspapers and as a radio sportscaster and play-by-play announcer for the Mutual network before being hired as WDSU’s sports and special events director.
“The station feels that Leavitt’s vast experience will be a valuable asset in WDSU’s sports coverage,” general manager Robert D. Swezey told The New Orleans Item on Nov. 10, 1949. In an era when nearly all TV programming was live and local, Leavitt provided commentary for Channel 6 coverage of local basketball, football, boxing, horse racing and more.
"We would televise anything then," he said in a 1976 Times-Picayune interview. "Of course, there were only a few thousand (TV) sets in use then, and the telecasts weren't considered a threat to attendance."
In addition, his work on WDSU editorials and documentaries won him an Emmy and George Foster Peabody award. In addition to sportscasting, Leavitt became well-known for his coverage of Carnival throughout the 1950s and ’60s, narrating parades as they rolled past WDSU’s French Quarter studios.
Not surprisingly, the city’s Carnival celebration has changed many times through the years. While Mardi Gras in New Orleans has never been str…
Leavitt later worked at WVUE, WGNO, WLAE and hosted a radio show on WSMB. He also hosted “Prep Quiz Bowl” on WYES for 18 years and wrote a column for The Clarion Herald. Leavitt was fond of local history and wrote two books, "A Short History of New Orleans" and "Great Characters of New Orleans.” Leavitt died in 1997.