Growing up in South Florida, I should have known I would someday end up somehow involved in TV news. For better or worse, the state of Florida — and in particular the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale market — has had maybe the biggest impact on the television news industry outside New York and LA.
For one, the number of major national anchors who did stints in South Florida will astound you. CNN’s Larry King and “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Kroft both did stints at WPLG very early in their careers. King also once worked at current NBC O&O WTVJ, where Katie Couric would later be a general assignment reporter.
“Get this,” says current-HLN anchor and former Miami anchor/health reporter Robin Meade. “When I was at WSVN in 1994-ish, I did the mornings. Rick Sanchez was the main anchor at the station. Shepherd Smith was a street reporter for the same channel. Linda Stouffer (former HLN anchor) was the weekend morning anchor. And Charles Molineaux (former HLN anchor) was my co-anchor in the morning. Soon after I left, I believe Shawn Robinson started doing the mornings there before heading to access Hollywood.”
In the late 80’s WSVN’s news director reworked the broadcasts to a format that would later influence much of the country’s local news. Some — i.e. my father — were disappointed with the influx of violence and flashy graphics. Many would argue now that it was just ahead of its time. The news director was Joel Cheatwood who is now the VP of development at Fox News.
Other WSVNers now working in national news: FNC correspondents Rick Leventhal and Mike Tobin. FNC dayside anchor Jon Scott was an anchor for WPLG in the 1980s as well. Mike Schneider was also at WPLG and the late David Bloom spent time at WTVJ. (Bonus: Jeff Zucker: graduate of North Miami Senior High School.)
CNN’s John Roberts worked at CBS O&O WFOR, as did current “Early Show” anchor Maggie Rodriguez who told us, “There always seems to be a Florida connection to every major story, and I think that’s why so many good reporters come out of Florida. It’s because we hone our skills on some of the big stories in our own back yard.”
I may have left South Florida, but I never feel too far away because barely a day goes by where one of the cable networks isn’t broadcasting something completely insane that is happening in my home state. Rodriguez says she can’t explain it. I always held a psychological theory that the lack of seasons meant there was no natural ebb and flow of emotion, leading everyone to get a little wired. “I don’t know, maybe the weather loosens you up a little bit, makes you a little bit uninhibited,” says veteran Spanish-Language reporter Maria Elena Salinas with a laugh.
“South Florida is a news factory,” Meade tells us. “You worked your tail off between anchoring and spot news. And there was always spot news in Miami: hurricanes, boat accidents, encephalitis, lightning strike victims, swimming pool drownings, school fights, tourist targeting, you name it.”
Seriously, in what other city can you find a live shark riding the monorail.
South Florida can’t take all the credit though, because Tampa does pretty well for itself too. CNBC’s Michelle Caruso-Cabrera and former CNNer Miles O’Brien were reporters at CBS affiliate WTSP where Don Harrison was anchor before his long tenure at Headline News. It’s also the same market that gave “The Glenn Beck Show” its start in radio.
Salinas told us it was the city’s diversity that made it such a proving ground, particularly now in Spanish-language media. “I mean I come from Los Angeles, and Los Angeles is a very diverse community, but Florida is even more,” she said. “Anybody who wants to make it in the entertainment business in all of Latin America, they have to come through Miami, so it’s become sort of like this hub for Latin entertainment and media, not only news media.”
There are certainly some big names I missed, but I think the point is made. Half the things you love — and/or hate — about TV news probably came from Florida.