Trials and triumph: Blacks in Los Angeles television news

Joseph Wright | 7/21/2010, 5 p.m.

In Los Angeles broadcast news, the presence of Blacks on-camera has been an on-going struggle. Gaining prominent positions in front of the camera has been a battle that Black newscasters have not asked for but have had to deal with for over 50 years.

The first prominent Black on-air newscaster was the late Ken Jones, who was promoted to weeknight anchor of the KTTV (now FOX 11) evening news in 1972. A local product, who was editor of his school newspaper at Fremont High in the mid-1950s, Jones was a solid, credible newscaster.

"He immediately ranked favorably with the top L.A. anchormen of that era," the late KABC7 reporter Fred Anderson said. "He looked like he was going to be a part of that fictional Southland Anchorman Mount Rushmore with Jerry Dunphy, Hal Fishman, and Jess Marlow." When new KTTV management cut its evening news program from an hour to 30 minutes in 1976, however, Jones was removed from his anchor position. He then went to KNXT (now KCBS2) and worked as a reporter and weekend anchor. Unfortunately, legal problems stemming from "check-kiting" (i.e., writing and cashing checks without sufficient funds) derailed his career in 1981.

However, during Jones' time as a prominent newscaster in Los Angeles, there was noted progress for Blacks in the newscasting industry in the '70s. People such as Larry Carroll, Felicia Jeter, Jim Hill, Angela Black, Stan Duke, Bryant Gumbel, and "Fast Eddie" Alexander showed the skills and talent to excel. Gumbel, working as a sportscaster for Channel 4's KNBC, would ultimately become a national sportscaster with NBC and then a news anchor with the network's "Today Show." Jeter, also working with KNBC, ultimately became the 6 o'clock weeknight anchorwoman in 1978.

Shifting to Channel 9's KHJ (now KCAL 9) in July of 1980, Jeter served as the station's weeknight anchorwoman through June of 1981. This was a result of signing four consecutive 13-week contracts. After a national stint with "CBS News Nighwatch" from 1981-83, she ultimately found security and respect in Houston, serving as weeknight anchor with KHOU-TV from 1984 through 1998.

From July of 1981 through the summer of 1989, there was a drought with regard to Black weeknight news anchors. There were none. Hill was the most prominent Black figure in newscasts during this period, and KABC7 Eyewitness News' Angela Black was clearly the most prominent Black woman during that time. Black joined Eyewitness News in the summer of 1979 and lasted until the summer of 1989 as its weekend news anchor for those years. For that decade, Black experienced the glass ceiling that many Blacks in Los Angeles television faced. A Claire Huxtable-like presence on the screen, the Jacksonville native dealt with the racism of being passed over for the weeknight anchorwoman spot for the likes of Tawny Little, a White former Miss America (1976) with no skills, aptitude, or talent for the position of weeknight news anchor, according to many White and non-White industry insiders. "The key decision-makers don't believe that this market is ready for a Black weeknight news anchor," Black commented in 1988.