Finding New Life Beyond the Television Set

While a job in local television remains, for many, a dream, those posts aren’t always the prestigious stops they once were. With so many news and entertainment sources for viewers, the local station does not wield the clout it did in a previous era. The recent recession caused widespread “right-sizing” of staffs and salaries—which are now the right size for owners way more than for employees. More recently, the mass consolidation— remember Belo, and Fisher, and Allbritton?— has, for many, detracted from the quality of life related to working for a locally owned, family values company.

“As salaries flatten out, and more stations are bought and sold, I think there’s not as much security as there once was,” says Barbara Frye, VP of talent placement services at Frank N. Magid Associates.

Departing local broadcasters have for eons moved on to prominent positions in academia, or public relations, or government, which seem attendant industries. But increasingly, it appears, bold-faced local TV names are doing a dramatic about-face from TV news. Former Jacksonville anchors Bryan Barker and Lynnsey Gardner plan to open a sandwich franchise. Markina Brown departed the WGCL Atlanta chief meteorologist position to reportedly pursue an acting career. (She declined comment.) Liz Walker, a beloved anchor at WBZ Boston, left that shop to be a church pastor. Brian Bolter, former WTTG Washington anchor, now owns a restaurant and a cocktail bar.

Even when the new pursuit is an unexpected choice for television talent, they typically find that attributes picked up in TV newsrooms—effective communication skills, strong personal brands—make them stand out in their new endeavors.

Here are five former local television stars now doing their own thing.

Dawn Hobby, News Director Turned Realtor

Dawn Hobby had come a long way since she was featured in a 1987 edition of Channels magazine as one of the lowest-paid reporters in the nation. She went on to become an anchor in Albany, Ga., and then the WALB Albany news director. And this month, she wraps up a 35-year television career to embark on a new adventure in real estate.

“It’s always been an interest of mine,” says Hobby, 55. “I have friends who are realtors, and always enjoy riding around with them, looking at houses. I knew in the back of my mind that someday, I’d end up doing it.”

It was just a matter of timing, adds Hobby, and the time is now. She likes the evenness of her 35th anniversary in Georgia television. She’s training her replacement, Bari Soash, and has her license in order to sell some homes.

Besides helping her know every last geographical corner of the market, Hobby says the reputation she built at WALB over the decades will serve her well in real estate, as will her communication skills. “I hope the people of southwest Georgia regard me as someone they can trust,” she says. “I worked hard to build my reputation as a broadcaster, and hope that carries over to real estate.”

Even after she exits the newsroom, news will still be in Hobby’s blood. “I’ll always be a news junkie,” she says. “But I’m looking forward to a new adventure.”

Chuck Gaidica, Meteorologist Turned Pastor

It wasn’t a burning bush or talking donkey, says Chuck Gaidica, an institution in Detroit weather, that compelled him to leave the TV world behind for a new life as a church pastor. It was more a collection of “whispers and nudges,” he says—God speaking to him through other people’s words and actions.

After 27 years at WDIV, where he was director of meteorology, and five previous years at WJBK, Gaidica, 56, moved on to be pastor of outreach at the Oak Pointe Church in Novi, Mich. The megachurch pulls in a few thousand souls on a given Sunday.

“There was no question God was rearranging the deck chairs for me,” he says.

Gaidica had been in a regular bible study group with his wife, then moved on to earn a masters degree in ministry leadership, and spent a month in Israel and Jordan, visiting holy sites. He was convinced his name recognition and the trust factor he’d established with the community could serve a higher purpose than keeping Michiganders out of severe weather’s path.

Gaidica is not completely done with the television world, continuing to host events, such as the Thanksgiving parade and the Detroit Auto Show, for WDIV, and anchoring “Force for Good” segments. And while Gaidica acknowledges a “massive” pay cut, he says guiding individuals— and baby boomers in particular—within their spirituality makes it all well worthwhile. “It’s been a cool, cool journey,” says Gaidica. “It’s been wildly fun and greatly fulfilling.”

Forrest Carr, News Director Turned Novelist

A TV newsroom is in a constant state of battle with a bottom-line-obsessed owner, clueless managers, bickering reporters and the deadly criminals it covers. It’s the setting for Forrest Carr’s first novel, Messages, drawn from his 33 years in local TV news.

Carr held several news director positions, including ones at KRQE Albuquerque, KGUN Tucson and WFLA Tampa. He bolted TV management in the spring of 2013, giving himself two years to write fiction. He’d been working on Messages, about the golden age of TV news in the ’80s, since the ’80s, and figured it was not getting done as long as he held down the demanding job of news director.

So something had to go.

Carr also self-published his second novel, A Journal of the Crazy Year, about an apocalyptic world gripped by a deadly disease that causes extreme violence, in January. Sales for both have been modest—self-published authors’ sales are typically in the hundreds, not thousands—but a favorable review from industry bible Publishers Weekly, which called Crazy Year “a fascinating read,” had Carr “popping the champagne,” he says.

“I have a closetful of awards that indicate I can write news,” Carr says. “I did not know if I could write fiction.”

Carr has also been keeping busy with a daily radio show on current events called The Forrest Carr Show, which carries the subtitle The Bashful Bloviator—also the name of his blog.

His TV news experience taught Carr to digest news events quickly and place them in a proper context, he says, and to crank out copy at a steady pace. “I could not do what I’m doing now if I’d not had the journalism experience,” he says.

Neither the writing nor radio pays the bills, so Carr is looking into paycheck options; TV news is a possibility. He’s also putting together a radio reel with the help of a friend. “I know how to do a TV reel,” he says. “I’ve never been exposed to how to do a radio reel.”

Katie Horner, Meteorologist Turned Plumber

Katie Horner’s face used to grace billboards as the chief meteorologist at KCTV Kansas City. These days, her mug is on the side of a van cruising around the market to the trouble spots the news crews tend to skip. Departing the local TV world last May, Horner is the Katie in Katie’s ASAP Plumbing.

“I went from one sh---y business to another,” she quips.

After Horner, who is 49, was let go by KCTV after 17 years, she surfaced at KMOV St. Louis, commuting from Kansas City for a year and a half. All the while, her thenboyfriend, Shawn Sapp, urged her to get out of TV and pitch in with his plumbing business. She eventually took him up on it, and lent her name and some other attributes to the venture. “It’s my reputation—I’ll stick with you until the end,” she says. “I’m someone you know and have already invited me into your home.”

Business is up around 80%, she says, since Horner lent her visage to the venture. Besides being the public face of the business, she oversees the back office, while her nowfiancé Sapp is out in the field, handling the pipes, gas lines and water heaters of greater Kansas City.

Horner misses the community appearances of her previous life, not to mention dressing up. She does not miss the daily critiques and the 250-mile commute to St. Louis. Horner credits her television background for the smooth public speaking she brings to ASAP. As much as she enjoys running a business, she does not rule out a return to television, but would rather it be in the talk show realm.

It’s not as great a leap from meteorology to plumbing as one might think, Horner suggests. “It’s all managing the water cycle, one way or the other.”

Ryan Burchett, Meteorologist Turned Distiller

Ryan Burchett was in a very good spot in local television—still in his 30s, he was chief meteorologist at a market leader. And he gave it all away to make whiskey. Burchett left KWQC Davenport (Iowa) after the February sweeps a few years back, and set out to launch a distillery with his brother Garrett.

He speaks fondly of his 15 years in local TV, but felt there was more out there. “Your whole career, you try to get to the next step,” says Burchett. “When you get to where you want to be, then it’s, now what’s next?”

The Burchett brothers talked about opening a distillery as more of a fantasy than a reality. Over time, the fantasy shifted into reality mode. “The more we joked about it, the more we thought, this could be something,” says Ryan.

With $1.5 million in seed money, the brothers got Mississippi River Distilling Co. off the ground in LeClaire, Iowa. They produce vodka, gin and whiskey, all from local grain, and welcomed over 50,000 visitors to the distillery last year. Burchett says the venture is profitable. A top seller is their Cody Road Bourbon Whiskey, named for local legend Buffalo Bill Cody. Burchett’s media background has been essential for drumming up publicity for the venture, which is located in KWQC’s DMA. His meteorological experience—explaining tricky science to the average Joe—helps him educate visitors and run tours.

Burchett, 40, voices no regrets on his offbeat career change. “I left before I became the jaded jerk in the corner of the newsroom who’d done it too long,” he says. “If you’re not passionate about it, it shows.”

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.