Local TV news personalities are a special breed of celebrity. Like the Seinfelds and Ellens of the world, they come into our living rooms and we treat them like old friends. And then – poof! – they’re gone, off to another market, never to grace Valley airwaves again. We caught up with 10 of our favorites, crisscrossing America from Los Angeles to New York City.
Former Good Morning Arizona co-host Jodi Applegate (3TV/KTVK) caught a big break after NBC network brass spotted her on the air while in Phoenix for the 1996 Super Bowl. That exposure propelled Applegate to New York and a seat on the weekend
TODAY show couch as well as the distinction of being the first anchor on the fledgling MSNBC cable network. “It was a roller coaster ride,” she says. “I literally don’t even remember a lot of the ‘90s.”
Five years ago, Applegate married Michael Kay, the New York Yankees TV play-by-play announcer, with whom she has two children, ages 3 and 1. Her evening anchor gig at WPIX in New York wasn’t conducive to raising a family, so she exited three years ago. Now a media coach, but “mostly a mom,” Applegate says she misses the camaraderie of the newsroom but not the hours. “I feel like I have a new lease on life.”
Left: Jodi Applegate
Above: Ilona Carson
Below: Rick DeBruhl, photographed at Penske Racing Museum
Going from “wild and crazy” morning antics to being an evening news anchor on Houston’s ABC 13 couldn’t be a more different work experience, says Ilona Carson, the statuesque former co-host of Fox 10 Arizona Morning from 2000-2004. “In Phoenix, our job was to just have fun every single day. My job here is to inform and be newsworthy, trustworthy and credible.”
Carson’s first brush with TV journalism came when she scored an internship as a runner for NBC Nightly News working with Tom Brokaw (handing him scripts off the printer, “but it was life-changing”). At the outset of her career, Carson had designs on a coveted network job, but is now content being a main anchor in a top 10 market. “I get to make a difference in the community, but I also get to balance a very full and very busy personal life, and to me that’s ideal.” Carson and her husband have two boys, ages 6 and 4, and at press time, were expecting a girl in June.
Now chief communications officer for the State Bar of Arizona, Rick DeBruhl left his reporter/anchor job at Channel 12 in 2009 simply because it was time to go. “I loved the news business and had a blast for the 31 years I was at Channel 12, but I walked up the same stairs for more than three decades,” he says. During his time at the NBC affiliate, DeBruhl wore many hats, from weekend sports anchor to consumer reporter on the Call 12 For Action beat.
Along with being the mouthpiece for the state’s legal eagles, DeBruhl moonlights as on-air talent for Velocity, a Discovery network, where he’s part of a broadcast team that covers Barrett-Jackson collector car auctions; and for ESPN covering Indy car races. “I was a kid who grew up loving race cars, so the fact that somebody pays me to go to a race is pretty much the biggest scam on the planet.”
Spunky 3TV news anchor Liz Habib ruled the prime-time news airwaves as host of The News Show, but her contract wasn’t renewed in 2003 following a much-publicized scuffle with security at a Scottsdale nightclub. She threw her hat in the ring for TV jobs across the country, landing in Los Angeles as a freelance general assignment reporter at KTTV, where she sporadically filled in as a sports anchor. When the opportunity came up in 2011 for a permanent sports anchor seat, Habib grabbed it. “I’ve never looked back and I’ve loved every minute,” she says.
The feisty Habib admits to coming on strong during interviews when she first entered the sports broadcasting world. “Coaches and athletes like to try to intimidate you, but having the news background makes me a better sports anchor because I’m not afraid to ask the questions that no one else wants to ask.”
During Habib’s KTTV tenure, she’s covered Super Bowls, Stanley Cup championships, a Los Angeles Lakers championship, Dodgers’ playoffs, Kobe Bryant’s final game and now the return of the NFL to Los Angeles. “It’s thrilling. This job is so fun.”
Former Channel 10 producer and reporter Shelly Jamison went from reporting the news to becoming the news when she notoriously posed for Playboy in 1989. While home on maternity leave from Channel 10, where she was making about $15,000 a year, Jamison spotted a Playboy ad for the 35th Anniversary Playmate search. With her husband’s blessing, she sent in a headshot and was eventually chosen, with a payout of $100,000. “In five years I hadn’t earned that much at Channel 10.” Jamison wasn’t fired, but parted ways with the station and made a transition into radio.
Seven years post-Playboy, Jamison switched gears and joined the ranks of the Phoenix Fire Department. She’s been a firefighter, paramedic, captain, company officer and battalion chief and, for the last three years, has served as deputy chief of public affairs. “Probably the coolest thing about this job is the camaraderie. We trust one another and we take care of each other. This feels like home.”
For more than nine years, Brad Perry’s on-camera humor and antics amused the Grand Canyon State on 3TV’s Good Morning Arizona until he was let go in 2009 during a management shake-up at the station. He surfaced in San Diego as the “around town guy” on KUSI’s Good Morning San Diego show, where some of his more memorable moments include covering Comic-Con and hitting a hook shot from half-court on a live broadcast.
But TV isn’t Perry’s only gig. He’s a self-taught musician who sings and plays acoustic guitar at different venues and eclectic festivals in the San Diego area. “I’ve been doing originals and some covers and bring in a few players here and there,” he says. Perry’s been waiting for about 10 years to play at Roger Clyne’s Circus Mexicus in Rocky Point and finally made the lineup this past June. “I’ve got two days there and I’m pretty excited about it.”
Veteran TV meteorologist Ed Phillips cut his teeth at KOY radio as a “high squeaky-voiced kid” before joining Channel 12 as weekend weatherman in 1979. Thus began a long TV career that spanned Valley news channels 12, 10 and 15. In 1990, Phillips was elected as a Republican state senator and spent four years in the Arizona Legislature. “It was like taking a drink of water out of a fire hose, especially when you’re new. You have no idea how stupid you are,” he says.
He “fired” TV in 2003, but continued on the radio (at KTAR from 1982-2008) and started a series of businesses, including a coffee shop. “I took a 35-year detour in broadcasting, but I’m really a business guy,” Phillips says. Today, he’s president and CEO of Ed Phillips Group, a business coaching and consulting firm where he teaches communication skills; and a partner in Business Minds International, a forum for helping entrepreneurs and small businesses jump to the next level.
Julie Rodriguez (née Staley) doesn’t miss the excitement of being on TV. “I‘m glad I did it, but I really got it out of my system,” she says. The former Channel 10 staffer spent 16 years working her way through the newsroom, ultimately fulfilling her goal of becoming a reporter.
After Rodriguez became a parent, she found it more difficult to report some of the heartbreaking stories involving children. That, coupled with her erratic schedule, just wasn’t compatible with family life. She left the news business in 2000.
Like many TV news alumni, Rodriguez now makes her living in communications. As the deputy aviation director for public relations at Sky Harbor Airport, Rodriguez oversees media relations, customer service community outreach and the museum program. “The news career gave me a really good foundation for working at Sky Harbor. Having the experience of being able to react quickly and switch gears helped me a lot.”
When Mary Jo West joined the “dean of Arizona newsmen” Bill Close at the Channel 10 (then CBS) anchor desk in 1976, she became the first female prime time anchor in the Valley. “There was some tension with Bill at the beginning, but we eventually worked it out,” she says.
After six years, West did a short stint in New York on Night Watch, a show positioned to compete with Ted Turner’s burgeoning 24-hour news network. The show failed, and a year later she returned to Phoenix and signed on at Channel 3 for three years, until her contract wasn’t renewed. “There’s no way to describe how painful that was.”
West has since worked in various capacities for the City of Phoenix, the Catholic Diocese, Bashas’, St. Vincent de Paul and other organizations. West left full-time work two years ago and is enjoying the role of grandmother, picking up her grandson from school every day. She hesitates to call herself retired because she’s still doing freelance projects. “I failed miserably at retirement. I want to do what Mother Teresa did. I want to die on my feet.”
Velvet-voiced Cameron Harper started his broadcasting career by default. While manning the audio board during a radio remote in Florida, Harper had to jump in for the deejay when the latter was arrested on the spot for unpaid traffic tickets. “I was god-awful,” he says. Harper transitioned to TV and eventually landed at Channel 3 in Phoenix, where he spent nine years as an investigative reporter and anchor. He’s probably best remembered for tripping up then-Governor Evan Mecham with some hard-hitting questions during an interview, the tape of which was subsequently used in Mecham’s Arizona State Senate impeachment trial.
When Harper left Channel 3, he bounced around the country, finally dropping anchor at the ABC affiliate in Memphis for close to 13 years. In 2015, Harper joined Scottsdale-based Media Stars Worldwide as a talent agent, putting his broadcast expertise to use on the other side of the desk. “Do I miss the anchor desk? No. I enjoy helping other people get there now.”
Known for: Winning Emmys as an anchor and political reporter on Channel 5 and Channel 15.
Today: Left the airwaves in 2006 to become a media consultant; now founder of ClearComm Consulting, a presentation and media training company.
Known for: Spent seven years as a sports anchor on Fox 10 before becoming a Republican U.S. Congressman from 1995-2007.
Today: Has been an anchor/commentator on Newsmax Media (Direct TV) since 2014.
Known for: Started as a morning traffic reporter in 2004, moved up to co-host ABC15’s Sonoran Living and then a brief stint as the fill-in weather person on 3TV.
Today: Barness now works as a voice-over artist and makes website videos for business marketing. She’s also an emcee for hire.
Known for: Joined 3TV in 1988 as primary sports anchor, then moved to Channel 5 as morning and noon anchor; returned to 3TV before his retirement.
Today: Known as “The Singing TV Guy,” Chamberlin performs across the state.
Known for: During the ’80s, this figure skater turned Fox 10 sports reporter and anchor moved on to become one of the first female anchors on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Today: Montgomery teaches communications at South Mountain High School.
Known for: Arizona’s only Miss USA winner (1980) had a 20-year career as a TV news anchor on Channel 12 and 3TV.
Today: Ford works primarily in medical marketing and is the spokesperson for Dr. Terry Simpson and Southwest Weight Loss.
Mary Kim Titla
Known for: Worked as a 12 News reporter for 13 years.
Today: Now serves as executive director for UNITY (United National Indian Tribal Youth).
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