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Anchored to the Central Coast 

Why so many former local TV news anchors remain after their departure

Despite what you may think, the life of a TV news anchor isn’t all that its cracked up to be. Hours are long and unpredictable, salaries are tenuous, security is questionable, and any fame is fleeting. The whimsical nature of the business sees to that. And it forces those who try to endure to come face to face with the inevitable: get fired (be ‘on the beach’) or go where the job is or get into some other line of work. A lot of anchors on the Central Coast have come and gone, but a surprising number have sacrificed their careers, and stayed. The lure of the SLO life has of course a lot do with it.  But there’s something else as well that makes them drop anchor.
 
RICK MARTEL
 
Without a doubt, the most immediately recognizable of our former Central Coast TV anchors is Rick Martel, who’s been in the business for 47 years. Martel then sported (and still does) the trademark hairstyle and authoritative manner of many a male anchor in those days when TV news was in its infancy in the early 60s. He also resembled the popular male crooner of the time.

click to enlarge RICK MARTEL: - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner
  • RICK MARTEL:
# In fact during his Air Force years Martel toured many parts of the world as a singer before coming to Hollywood to find similar success after his discharge. But breaking into that competitive area proved to be daunting. And eventually he exchanged the vocalist’s mike for one in front of a camera.
 
“I never wanted to pursue a singing career after I found out what it was all about. So I went to radio school,� he recalls. “Believe it or not, I had a high, squeaky voice back then, and didn’t think I’d make it until I discovered the head of the broadcasting school had even a higher voice than mine.�
 
The Kansas City, Kansas, native soon found broadcasting success in San Diego and turned down a promising gig in Chicago after visiting his in-laws in Morro Bay. “I fell in love with the place,� he says. Martel applied as news anchor to all three Central Coast TV stations, and was hired by KSBY in 1980, where he stayed until 1995. His years of experience gave him credibility, and his laid-back style was a perfect fit for SLO. “One thing I tried to do was always be myself. I never was a strong journalist, more of a personality,� he admits. Martel became an institution on the six and eleven p.m. nightly news. “The community got to know me more than I got to know the community. I didn’t have time…I was always at the station. I had dinner at home maybe 25 times in 17 years.�
 
Such dedication apparently held little weight with news mogul Rupert Murdoch and his daughter Liz, who bought KSBY in 1995. A contract dispute (read: he and Liz didn’t see eye to eye) led to Martel’s departure, and even though rival KCOY almost immediately hired him, his days were numbered.
 
But Martel was not going to move. “In my semi retirement years I never wanted to go to a big market. My granddaughter was here. Plus where else is there, really? God, this place is just wonderful.�
 
Would he ever return to The Desk? “My wife Stormi would like me to. I would have to really give that some consideration. Its not going to happen here. I’m sort of blackballed here.� As a TV news anchor, perhaps, but not as Rick Martel, who it seems has found the best of both his worlds behind both microphone and camera as a TV entertainer and nightclub singer, things he’s always enjoyed. Martel hosts “The Rick Martel Show� which airs three nights a week on Charter Cable 2, and he sings and hosts karaoke at the San Simeon Beach Bar and Grill Wednesday and Saturday nights. He loves performing as much as he does his audience.
 
“If I had a nickel for everybody who have told me they miss me doing the news, I could retire with the money. It makes me feel good they remember but sad that it ended the way it did. But I’m not bitter about not doing news anymore…quite the opposite. I’m relieved.� Rick Martel may not be wealthy, but for being on the beach, he’s a rich man.

MISSIE PIRES HOBSON

 Missie Pires Hobson is one of the few who left the TV news business on her own terms. She broke into it years earlier when it was a man’s domain. “Women in those days [1975] weren’t into the news,� she says. More like they weren’t allowed. After graduating in journalism at Cal Poly, Hobson got her start doing weather at KSBY, but she longed to do news.

click to enlarge MISSIE PIRES HOBSON: - PHOTO COURTESY OF SARAH PURSELY
  • Photo courtesy of Sarah Pursely
  • MISSIE PIRES HOBSON:
# “I remember just really working hard, begging for news stories.� Two years later, her persistence paid off when she was offered a position at the CBS affiliate KCOY in Santa Maria as both news director and anchor. CBS network officials in Los Angeles took note of Hobson’s ability, and hired her as a reporter in the late 70s. It was a bold move, and one that really opened her eyes to the world of major market television news. “I always felt fortunate that I got to see at a young age what it was like to work in network news and get the job you were working towards. I loved the news and the reporting but I discovered that a bigger market wasn’t what I wanted.�
 
Although Hobson says it was exciting covering fires and hurricanes, traveling began to take its toll. “I’m a homebody and like a sense of community and family,� she says. “I was raised in a small area and love people.� Hobson returned to the Central Coast in 1980, got married to a local policeman, and landed the job of her dreams: a co-anchor spot at KSBY. “It was wonderful. I came home. Rick Martel and I were hired at the same time.� Hobson and Martel owned the local TV news airwaves when out of the blue, Hobson says, she was approached in 1983 by PG&E which was looking for a media representative.  “It was a tough decision at the time because I really liked reporting. But the salary and stability was difficult,� she recalls.
 
“PG&E offered me a good deal, which turned out to be a great 23 years with the company.� During her tenure with the utility, Hobson and her husband Larry raised a daughter who is now 21 and a son who is currently a sophomore at San Luis Obispo High School. Hobson herself left PG&E in March of this year and is currently on long-term disability leave. She is proud of what she has accomplished.
 
“I’m pleased with the infiltration of women in TV news today. It’s totally opposite from when I first started.� No need to say who helped start it.


JOHN SUMMER

John Summer describes himself as an Air Force brat living all over the world before his family settled down in Minnesota. His desire to enter television news was eventually shaped by all the political intrigue and world events offered by Washington, D.C., where he spent much of his time designing restaurants after having graduated with a film and photography background in the 70’s. “My first wife worked at the White House under Carter,� he says. “I was intrigued by figures in power.� 
 

click to enlarge JOHN SUMMER: - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner
  • JOHN SUMMER:
# At 30, Summer got the urge and headed off to familiar territory in Minneapolis, where interned at KSTP then took a position at WDIO in nearby Duluth as local host and producer of the syndicated “PM Magazine� program. The demise of the show after a year proved to be a blessing in disguise. Summer worked his way up the ladder from reporter to weekend anchor to main co-anchor of the evening news with his future second wife Liz Wagner. “It was a five year courtship,� he fondly recalls. “You really get to know someone working across from each other.� From 1985, Summer spent the next ten tears anchoring and reporting news for KSTP, an independent powerhouse soon taken over by Fox. “The tone of the news changed quickly. It was real ‘if it bleeds it leads,’ in-your-face kind of stuff. It was new, and it was fun,� he remembers. But covering people doing the worst things to people, as he puts it, got old just as quickly. “Liz and I had three kids by then, and we needed to find a healthier place. Our family came first, career second.�
 
Summer knew where he wanted to be. Having been familiar with the Central Coast since his father retired to Santa Barbara in 1980, and having connections with Fox-owned Murdoch, which purchased KSBY in 1995, Summer landed an anchor position at the local NBC affiliate, where he remained for three years until new owners took over, and failed to renew his contract (read again: didn’t see eye to eye). Not a bad place to be, on the beach, but out of a job nonetheless. “If I were to stay in broadcasting I would have had to go to a bigger market to make money, then retire,� he explains, “But I didn’t want that so I decided to change professions so we could stay here. This was our home.�
 
Summer had just turned 50 when he was offered an opportunity as a financial advisor for Merrill-Lynch. “It was another interest of mine but I had to go to school for the credentials…it was intense.� Again he was working alongside his wife Liz, who joined him as advisor as well. But the news never left his blood. In 2003, Summer helped start Central Coast Magazine, a glossy publication that reflects SLO’s lifestyle. “I do miss the news but now our magazine satisfies most of my needs that were fulfilled in broadcasting,� he says. “I wanted to be able to tell people what was happening in a way they felt comfortable with. Plus I don’t have to answer to anybody else.� As editor-in-chief, Summer does call his own shots. He says he loves the community, and loves to write. As for the spotlight in front of the camera, that always remains a possibility.
 
“I would not rule out anchoring news in future…who knows…there may be synergistic possibilities with Central Coast Magazine.� 


LYNN DIEHL

 
Lynn Diehl, not unlike Missie Pires Hobson, also blazed trails as a woman in the television news industry. “In 1976 I got a job as the 11 o’clock weather girl at my hometown TV station in West Virginia.
Then it was 6 and 11.� But Diehl’s insatiable curiosity for news and her ability to grasp how it was gathered and delivered prompted management to promote her quickly to reporter and weekend anchor.

click to enlarge LYNN DIEHL: - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner
  • LYNN DIEHL:
# " I grew up in a household that watched Huntley and Brinkley and read two newspapers a day.� Within three years, Diehl became news director, and knew then that news “became my life.� She admits she wasn’t great at managing people: “I couldn’t understand why people didn’t want to work seven days a week and how difficult it was for 50-year-old men to haul around all that gear. But we all got along.�
 
Diehl took a brief hiatus from the news—she got married and moved to Los Angeles where she worked in research until the news bug lured her back to television, first in Bakersfield, then in Lake Tahoe. She came to the Central Coast in 1985, as a bureau chief in Santa Barbara for KSBY. She was soon anchoring the nightly news with Rick Martel. “I didn’t intend to stay here; I always had wanderlust. But the bond with this community happened without my even realizing it.� Diehl had a long-term contract with KSBY but after 11 years grew weary of the many responsibilities attached to the job. “I got tired of looking over scripts and wanted to become part of the wheel instead of being a reporter,� she says. “I needed to have people focus on me.� So Diehl bid farewell to KSBY, but not to the Central Coast, where she had settled down. For the next ten years, she reported on the road during the week, first in Sacramento, then later in San Francisco and Los Angeles. “Most people would move altogether, but I had the best of both worlds; I came home on the weekends. It got tiring sometimes with all the driving but it was worth it.� The long drives were tempered at times with layovers in a distant apartment, which made life palatable. “I haven’t moved around in broadcasting the way I could have, but I came home. This place offered longstanding relationships…my personal relationships are here.�
 
Diehl is home more often these days, involved in many community affairs. She is currently working as a consultant for the SLO Chamber of Commerce. Ask her if she misses the newsroom, and she’ll tell you straight up: “I do miss anchoring because anchoring allows you control all the way around. If you’re a good reporter and a good anchor it really makes you a good part of any newsroom.� Diehl also says she’s been very fortunate in her career. “Not everybody can quit a job like mine and still have work. I’ve been fortunate to be in demand.� 
 
Looking back over her career and her future, Diehl offers this perspective: “I used to think my ego wasn’t tied up being on TV and now I know it was a part of me and I was a part of it…I continue to do it almost because I didn’t feel really comfortable when I wasn’t working in TV…it’s that need to know.�


JENNIFER MANDULAY

Jennifer Mandulay broke into the TV news business the way most reporters and anchors do: making a lot of tapes and driving around to stations in smaller markets until you find a door that’s open. After graduating from UCLA in 1989, that’s just what she did. While she didn’t immediately land a job at KNDO in Yakima, Washington, the adventure did seem promising, but would require persistence. “I was told I was bad, my tape was green. So I worked for free and literally lived upstairs for months,� she recounts.

Then, as so often happens, “One day an anchorwoman didn’t show

click to enlarge JENNIFER MANDULAY: - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner
  • JENNIFER MANDULAY:
#  up, I filled in, and got the job.� Mandulay’s live shot coverage of a major news story during her three-year stint in Yakima was noticed by a news director in nearby Spokane, who hired her as morning anchor. More live shots followed, and in 1993 Mandulay was offered a job as morning anchor for a station in Columbus, Ohio, one of the more aggressive TV news markets in the country. But, like her colleague Missie Pires Hobson, Mandulay found it wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. “I loved the job, I loved the market, but I never saw the sunshine. The hours were tough, and the skies always cloudy. I was miserable.�

 Despite the dream job, and the promise of a higher salary with a new contract, Mandulay left after her three years were up, and with no job, drove back to the West Coast and her hometown of Ojai. “What had I done? I had no job. I drove home. I called every news operation in the area, KEYT, KCOY, and KSBY.� As luck again would have it, Mandulay says, “The anchorwoman at KSBY had just left, and I was hired as her replacement right away. Everything clicked.� The opportunity certainly pleased her father, who had yet to see his daughter on TV. “My dad couldn’t watch me in Ojai. He would drive up to Santa Barbara and pay people in drinks in a local bar to put on KSBY.�
 
After her marriage to CHP officer Mike Poelking, Mandulay’s desire for a family eventually collided with her career, as it often does with the crazy hours in news broadcasting. Following a maternity leave after three years on the job, she asked to come back part-time. “My dad died when I was five months pregnant, my mom had a heart attack when I gave birth to our daughter Jordyn, and then I broke my foot.� But the choice was fulltime or nothing. “You have to be married to that job, and at that time I couldn’t do it. I put my family first. In this business it’s difficult to raise a family. I needed something more family-friendly.�
 
Although Mandulay says she misses anchoring and reporting the news at times, she is close enough to television as a representative for Limberg Eye Surgery, and as an on-camera spokesperson for McCarthy’s Wholesale Auto dealership.
 
“Everybody wants to be in front of parade. In TV news, you get to know things first, and talk to everybody first. It’s exciting. I miss that adrenaline rush but now I get it when my daughter dances in the living room.�


MARCY DEGARIMORE

Marcy Degarimore was never destined to go far as an anchor, not that she couldn’t have; she chose not to. “I’m fifth generation, born and raised in Atascadero. I always knew I’d stay here,� she says. “I wasn’t going to leave my support base.� DeGarimore, born Morris, attended Atascadero High, took broadcast classes from Bob Hartwig at Cuesta College, and graduated with a journalism degree from Cal Poly. “A lot of people get into news to try to move to a larger market, she says.

“That was never my goal. My biggest dream was to become a

click to enlarge MARCY DEGARIMORE: - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner
  • MARCY DEGARIMORE:
#  reporter and anchor and stay in the area.� Her dream would eventually come true, but before it did, she paid her dues. In 1993, she applied at KSBY—“I only wanted to be behind the scenes.� DeGarimore was hired as a production assistant and, among other chores, operated the studio camera for anchors Rick Martel and Lynn Diehl. “When I saw reporters come in looking beautiful in their suits and makeup and they’d talk about all the amazing things that they’d learned or who they met, it excited me to the point where on my days off I trucked around in back of news vans while guys would go out and shoot.�
 
DeGarimore’s break came courtesy of a disaster, as so often happens in news careers. She was called in to cover the La Conchita mudslide in 1995. Months later, she was offered and accepted a co-anchor position on the station’s morning show, “Daybreak.� The birth of her daughter Katie eventually led to DeGarimore’s departure from KSBY: “I couldn’t manage the morning show hours with Katie.� So she opted for a related job closer to home, that of public relations director for vintner David Weyrich.
 
But her thirst for the news was such that after a short period with Weyrich, she grabbed a weekend anchor-reporter position with KCOY in Santa Maria. DeGarimore was soon promoted to 5 p.m. anchor, the “best gig I ever had,� she says, but after several years, the drive back and forth to Atascadero took its toll, and she decided to return home, having taken a position as public relations director with the nearby Eberle Winery.
 
Reflecting on her news career, she offers: “I think it [reporting] was the one thing I was really good at. That was my calling. But I could never go back to the pay and the hours that local broadcasting offers,� DeGarimore contends, adding, “I wanted to stay here and wanted to be mom to Katie. My grandma told me, ‘You’ve done what you love for ten years…now its time to move on.� It isn’t easy, she confides. “Once you’ve got it in your blood, you can’t get it out.� DeGarimore’s recent efforts to get the word out about the closing of a local homeless shelter is proof enough: “I guess that’s what I miss the most… the power of media to help people.�

KING HARRIS

I never thought I ‘anchored’ the news so much as I ‘reported’ it; from the field or from the desk, it never mattered. I got into the business to tell stories about people. My college English degree helped pave the way, but it wasn’t until after I spent a year in Vietnam teaching language and several years starving as a musician in Los Angeles that I landed my first job in front of a camera, which was in1977 as sports anchor for then KMST in Monterey. When the news anchor left soon thereafter, I also took over his job.

 

click to enlarge KING HARRIS: - PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER GARDNER
  • Photo by Christopher Gardner
  • KING HARRIS:
# I was shooting film and video, editing my own reports, and reporting both local news and sports. Three years later the Walt Disney family bought the station and brought with them their own anchor. Not long after, my wife Sara and I headed south to Santa Barbara, where KEYT had hired me as their main anchor, a few months before Rick Martel was hired by KSBY in San Luis. In 1984, I was appointed news director as well (the fifth in four years), which caused all kinds of headaches for our consultants who rarely approve of anyone tackling both jobs.

During my tenure, which lasted until 1997, we covered Presidents Reagan and Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Dalai Lama, and more celebrities I can count (nearby Montecito is full of them); plus major fires, floods, earthquakes, and the arrest of three very tall Harlem Globetrotters who were mistaken for three very short jewelry thieves, taken to jail, and eventually awarded $75,000 by the city after suing for false arrest. Our news crews traveled to Russia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, New Zealand, and Washington, D.C., and returned with award winning reports. And we created two annual telethons to benefit children of the area. It was, I must admit, a great run.

With my contract expired at KEYT, KSBY hired me to put together Santa Barbara’s first Hispanic TV news operation. In the fall of ’97, Sara and I were lured to San Luis Obispo where I would teach journalism at Cal Poly for the next three years. I returned to my radio roots (which sprouted at KSFO in San Francisco when I was 15) as news director for KVEC and by working with talk-show host Dave Congalton I got to know the local community very quickly. When I got let go by new station owners in 2002 for being too “folksy,� I took over the television news operation at KCOY in Santa Maria for two years and to this day I still have no idea why I no longer work there, which is fine by me, because it led to my current position as managing editor of New Times.
 
There aren’t that many people I know in the news business that have been as fortunate as I to have worked in three of the most beautiful areas of the country in all facets of the industry over such a long period of time.  As I was interviewing all of my colleagues for this article, I discovered several things they all had in common: a passion for news, a loyalty to family, and a desire to contribute. With a group like that, I’d drop anchor anytime. ∆

King Harris can be reached at kharis@newtimesslo.com

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