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.
“You see (Blacks) anchoring weeknights in other markets but not here. It’s just something management doesn’t think will succeed. Because of that, Blacks are passed over for people of lesser talents. Tawny is not here (at Eyewitness News) because she’s a great newswoman; she’s here because she was Miss America.”
Black voiced the frustration of many Blacks in the Los Angeles television news business of that time. As the 1990s were approaching and no Black news anchors appeared on the small screen horizon, Channel 9 was undergoing a massive overhaul. Due to financial mismanagement and other problems from previous years, the company was bought by Disney. The station dropped the KHJ call letters and became KCAL. Endeavoring to launch the nation’s first three-hour primetime evening newscast on local broadcast television, KCAL hired Dunphy to be its anchorman. As his anchorwoman, the station hired Pat Harvey from WGN in Chicago. Harvey, a Detroit native with a Mona Lisa face, quickly established a strong presence on camera and the ability to explain the facts of a story to viewers efficiently. Ultimately, as Dunphy and other anchormen came and went, Harvey remained the constant and face of KCAL 9 News for 20 years. A key Southland television news pioneer who laid the groundwork for current Los Angeles news anchors in prominent positions such as KABC7’s Marc Brown, FOX 11’s Christine Devine, and KTLA’s Michaela Pereira, Harvey was promoted earlier this year to 11 p.m. news anchor of KCBS2 (KCAL 9’s sister station since 2002).
In 1996, Brown was promoted to weeknight anchorman of KABC7’s 6 o’clock newscast and then in 2000 was made anchor of its 11p.m. newscast. In either event, he became Los Angeles’ second Black news anchorman after Jones. By the time of his first promotion, Eyewitness News was under new, more progressive thinking management than what Angela Black had dealt with.
Speaking about his career progression, Brown commented, “I always just kept on steppin’ … If you do good work and the people who are in charge who see this are fair, then you will move up.
“Now that’s not always the case and hasn’t always been the case in this market, obviously. I know there have been many Blacks, who were talented and did great work, who were not promoted like I was. I am fully aware of that and I am grateful.”
In 1992, 20 years after Jones and without much fanfare, Christine Devine became Channel 11’s second Black weeknight anchor when she was promoted from the weekend anchor post. The relative lack of fanfare resulted because, although viewers could see that Devine is not White, many people (including some Blacks) were unaware of Devine’s Black background. Her Caucasian mother worked in the Peace Corps in Brazil and had a relationship with a Black Brazilian man, who Devine declined to name. “I was conceived in Brazil and born in upstate New York,” the FOX 11 anchorwoman said. “I was told that (my biological father) looked like the soccer star, Pele.” The Afro-Brazilian anchorwoman is well-known for her “Wednesday’s Child” segments on the FOX 11 Evening News at 10 where she spotlights foster children looking to be adopted.
In February 2004, an African Canadian child of adoption, Michaela Pereira, found herself hired as the morning news anchorwoman for “KTLA Morning News” and adopted by the Los Angeles African American community. Sporting a curly hairstyle with strong widow’s peak and an exotic face (her biological mother was a White Scandinavian Canadian; her natural father a Black Jamaican), Pereira was apprehensive as to how she would be received in Los Angeles. “The love has been tremendous,” she said. “The Black community has embraced me as one of their own.”
An inquisitive newscaster with a ready smile, Pereira’s strengths are displayed when discussing healthcare reform, computer technology, and issues focusing on global greening. Her journey from Saskatchewan to San Francisco to Los Angeles has not always been smooth but Pereira overcame her early fears of being accepted. “I don’t look like a newscaster. Let’s be honest. I’m curvy, my hair is curly, in a lot of markets my skin is a little too dark–you know what I mean?”
At this point in Los Angeles television news history, of the 15 news anchors in primetime (10 p.m., 11 p.m., and 7 a.m.) positions, four are Black: Harvey, Brown, Devine, and Pereira. Though their ethnicities are different (Harvey and Brown are African American; Devine is Afro-Brazilian; Pereira is African Canadian), these Emmy Award-winning anchors’ respective on-air presences and community involvement resonates with the local African American television news viewers.
As the National Association of Black Journalists prepares to celebrate its 35th anniversary in San Diego July 28-August 1, the hiring, promotion and success of the aforementioned broadcast journalists shows that the work of Blacks in television news in the ’70s and ’80s was not in vain.
Previous generations of broadcasters–some breakthrough figures and others frustrated news reporters or weekend anchors–helped to make the situation less difficult for the current wave of on-air journalists.