I do not consort much with television types. For this reason, I do not know what it takes to become a female anchor in the Phoenix market.
So the other day when I turned on the Pat McMahon show on KTAR-AM and heard that his guests were women anchors from channels 3, 5 and 10, I decided to listen.
McMahon first placed the hourlong show in context for us. He recalled how astonishing it had been for Phoenix when, in the mid-1970s, Channel 10 made Mary Jo West the first woman anchor in town.
Now we have women anchors on every channel. Sometimes, we have two women anchors at once. This logjam of carefully coifed women makes the average viewer think he is viewing one of the segments of a beauty contest. It has created an atmosphere of frivolousness that renders local news something no one with the slightest degree of intelligence can abide.
Advertisers love it. But the average person, recognizing the attempt to manipulate him, views this strategy with the contempt it deserves.
Every news show, no matter what the station, is a carbon copy of the next. The segments are even played at exactly the same time schedule. Switch from Channel 3 to Channel 10 to Channel 12 and you will find the same news being shown. Switch again and you will find sports. Switch a third time and you will find Fife Symington denying that he is a crook.
Every news show begins with a shooting or a fire. It is almost like watching the opening credits to NYPD Blue. Now that the weather is about to turn hot again, we can prepare for the daily lead segment covering the day's drowning and the dour police spokesman warning us to be careful of our children.
"The hair is the first thing people ask you about," Patti Kirkpatrick of Channel 3 told McMahon. "Then they want to know about your makeup or your clothes. We know that's part of the business, but there's a lot more that we do."
This was interesting for me to learn. Particularly since it has always been my perception that the most valuable employee in any television station is the hairdresser who is required to be on duty around the clock.
Kirkpatrick turned out to be extremely opinionated and aggressive. She is almost a bigger windbag than McMahon, whose skills in this area are of world-class dimensions.
"The makeup, the clothes, we know that's part of the business, but it becomes such a part of the routine that I don't pay attention to it anymore," Kirkpatrick announced.
But to underscore the importance that hair and makeup have to a woman anchor, one of the ladies, I don't know which one, volunteered an anecdote about Linda Alvarez, an anchor who has since departed the local scene:
"There was an earthquake in Los Angeles several years back and they needed her to go on with a bulletin. Linda made the mistake of going on camera without having her hair done or even putting her makeup on.
"For the rest of the day, we kept getting calls at the station demanding that Linda never be allowed on camera again without her makeup."
June Thomson from Channel 10 attempted to quash the perception among viewers that she has an easy job or that her job was easy to get.
I may not have this quite right, but I think her salary is well over $100,000 per year. I urge you to judge her workload in the context of this salary range, which might even go twice that amount.
Thomson is the one who makes all those promotional shots that tell you how thoroughly the station covers the news of Arizona for you. I remember one spot particularly in which Thomson pushed her baby on a swing and told us how wonderful she feels to be in Arizona.
In fact, every one of those television commercials promoting coverage of the local stations boasts of how many stories they cover and how much they love Arizona.
Just one time I would like to see a new anchor hit town and do a promotion like this. He would be sitting in a place like Durant's and he would say:
"I came to Phoenix to cover the news because it is going to be a ball. This town has more crooks, more right-wing idiots, more gun-loving slobs and more religious hypocrites than any town its size in the world. I bet you if I work hard enough at it, I'll be able to get the governor, both senators and three or four congressmen indicted within six months. Watch for my show on Channel 1. See you around."
If that television anchor ever got hired, his ratings would go through the roof.
Look what we have now. I would wager the local television stations spend more money making these commercials and paying for billboard advertising space than they spend covering news.
Thomson complained of her plight. "I don't have dinner breaks," she said. "Take today, for example. I had to go have breakfast with my parents at their hotel. Then I had to pick things up, do a promotion shot and then head to the station."
My God, this workload is enough to break down Charles Barkley. I knew he had become a true Phoenician when he announced he was no longer strong enough to play two days in a row.
As for Thomson's promotion shots, I've always had the perception that promotion shots were all Thomson does at the station other than read the news.
Now she had more to tell about her workday.
"I listen to KTAR on my radio to keep up with news of the community and the world," she told the ever-appreciative McMahon.
There is nothing so gratifying as the sound of one media person scratching the back of another media person.
"I like getting out in the community," Thomson said. "I love to be with children."
Thomson admitted she is deeply affected when called upon to cover stories about drowned children. But she would almost rather see them drown than live on in a vegetative state, she added.
Karen Carns of Channel 5 said she was working in Utah and covered a mine disaster once and thought she was doing a good job of it.
"Then someone came up and complimented me on my blazer. They wanted to know where I got it."
But Carns hastened to add that hair and makeup were becoming pass issues.
"We don't even use it as a marketing device anymore. We are chosen for our jobs because we are good professionals."
Kirkpatrick, not realizing what she was revealing, said that her sex has never been a barrier to her getting a job in television. "In fact," she said, "it has been an advantage."
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Of course it was, Patti. When are you going to catch on?
Thomson added that the only problem she had getting hired was that her voice was too high and her hair seemed too collegiate.
Carns said she was hired to her first job in Salt Lake City because they needed women on the air.
"I was up against 500 other applicants and the question was not how good your reporting or writing was but how good you looked alongside the anchor guy."
Carns recalled how it was for her here at Channel 10 when, at 38, she was not offered a new contract.
"My last two weeks were the toughest. I felt like crying all the time. We have to sell ourselves because we are our own product. So when you get fired or not renewed or not the favored one anymore, you take it personally."
Not long after this, one of the women anchors said something perceptive.
"After all," she said, "you have to remember we're on the same box with Dynasty.