Waking Up With Debbie
Just a month into her new job as a reporter and weekend anchor at KJRH-TV inTulsa, Debbie Denmon received a big break: filling in for the vacationing weekdayanchor.
But shortly after arriving at the station her first weekday morning — April19, 1995 — Denmon was riding down Interstate 44 to downtown Oklahoma Cityto cover what was then the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The bombing ofthe Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people.
"I kept saying, ‘I can't go — I'm supposed to anchortoday,'" recalls Denmon, who had not previously covered a tragicbreaking story. "I was so afraid."
Denmon stayed in Oklahoma City for a week, reporting for 14 hours a day.
"It was surreal. I wondered how I could interview people who had walkedaway from a bomb blast, or people who had lost loved ones. Every morning, I calledmy mother and cried," she says.
As traumatic as that week was, Denmon says she realized then that broadcast journalismwas the career for her.
"I love the rush of breaking news and being able to digest the informationand regurgitate it to viewers," she says.
More than eight years later, she keeps viewers of WFAA-TV/Channel 8, Dallas-FortWorth's ABC affiliate, informed as the co-anchor of News 8 Daybreak, thestation's 5 to 7 a.m. weekday newscast. She is also co-anchor of News 8Midday from noon to 1 p.m.
In between, Denmon is co-host of Good Morning Texas from 9 to 10 a.m. Duringa typical show, she delivers news headlines before conducting human-interestinterviews.
She may talk to a famous comedian about an upcoming show in the area, learn how to furnish a college residence hall, talk to a representative about a charity or cook with a local chef.
Denmon says doing Good Morning Texas in addition to the morning and noon news broadcasts is a perfect fit for her.
"I enjoy reporting hard news, but I like soft news, too," she says.
A Denton native and Denton High School graduate, Denmon says working at WFAA-TV is a childhood dream fulfilled. As a child in the mid-1970s, she was mesmerized by Iola Johnson at WFAA. Johnson had become the first female African American anchor in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"My parents have always watched Channel 8. I remember begging them to letme stay up past my bedtime so I could watch Iola at 10 p.m.," Denmon says.
At age 13, she met Johnson at a mall autograph session and became determined to be just like her. Her father, Carl, told her she needed to major in journalism and encouraged her to attend his alma mater — the University of North Texas.
At UNT, Denmon found support from Keith Shelton and Richard Wells in the Department of Journalism and Russ Campbell in the Department of Radio, Television and Film, among others.
"When you have professors who tell you that you have talent, it'sencouraging and makes you want to work even harder," she says.
Through the UNT chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, Denmon met several prominent African American broadcasters, including John McCaa from WFAA-TV and Ramona Logan from KXAS-TV/Channel 5, Dallas-Fort Worth's NBC affiliate.
The contacts she made led Denmon to her first job after graduation. She worked 30 hours a week on the assignment desk at KXAS-TV. She answered the phone, sorted the mail and piles of news releases, and monitored the police scanner — for $13,000 a year.
"It was anything but glamorous, but I just wanted to get my feetin the door of a television station," Denmon says. "I learned a lot about the business because I was able to determine what was a news story and what was not. I was so proud when a story that I suggested aired."
After two years, a station photographer, Kent Harrell, encouraged Denmon to apply for a reporter position at his old station, KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Denmon got the job and stayed at KRDO-TV for 18 months before moving to her weekend anchor and reporter job at KJRH-TV in Tulsa — another job that Harrell, now news director at KZTV-TV in Corpus Christi, helped her obtain.
"He was then in management at the station in Tulsa," Denmon says. "Inthis business, it's so important to have someone walk your resume tapeto the person doing the hiring, because your tape may be one of hundreds mailedto the station."
After her contract at KJRH-TV expired, Denmon moved to WTHR-TV in the larger television market of Indianapolis. She became the weekend morning anchor and a reporter for the station. She counts the firing of Bobby Knight as basketball coach at Indiana University and the Indiana Pacers' appearance in the 2000 National Basketball Association finals as her most memorable stories. She won a national award for her feature on Pacers center Sam Perkins.
A few months later, Denmon left Indianapolis to return to Texas after a morning anchor position opened up at WFAA-TV.
She adds that for the first time in her career, her parents can watch her on the job.
"My parents had been skeptical about my career choice, so my dream wasto show my dad what he paid for by sending me to UNT," she says.
During her time at WFAA, Denmon has become used to being a public figure — something that she says was difficult for her when she first started her career.
"I was naïve about viewer reaction. Viewers will call and commenton your appearance," she says.
She remembers a female colleague in Indianapolis being demoted because she cut her long hair without first informing the news director.
"Ratings are the key, and you have to perfect your look so that viewersand the news director are satisfied," she says. "A news directoronce told me to change my lipstick during a commercial break because he didn't like the color. I've also been told to lose weight."
She says she was also naïve about how much anchors are expected to know about a news story.
"To be a good anchor, you have to be a good reporter first so you don'tsound like an idiot when you ask the reporter questions on the air," shesays. "I don't think people realize the huge responsibility of ananchor to sound credible. Anything you say will be scrutinized."
Denmon completed her third year on the air at WFAA last October. Although she hasn't ruled out a network job, she plans to stay with the station for as long as possible.
"I've spent too many years trying to get back to this area, and Ienjoy being around my family, who all live in North Texas," she says. "I'mjust happy to be home."