Friendship is key for TV’s longtime co-anchors
THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED. LATEST UPDATE 1/6/16. SEE BELOW.
By Eileen P. Duggan
Originally published in St. Louis Journalism Review, September 2008.
After 19 years, Jennifer Blome and Art Holliday have their co-anchoring routine down pat. In August , they started their 20th year as anchors of KSDK-TV Channel 5’s Today in St. Louis morning news show.
“I was 13 years into a sportscasting career that I thought was going quite well at the time,” says Holliday, who came to KSDK in August 1979. “I really felt like I was … starting to reach my potential, and I got called in to the general manager’s office. He said we were going to make some changes in our morning newscast, and he wanted me to sit on the news desk with Jennifer Blome. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but it’s probably one of the best things that’s happened in my career.”
Blome, who had joined KSDK in December 1979, had been anchoring the show alone from its inception in 1983, with two years off in the early years to anchor the noon and 5 p.m. newcasts. While Holliday was little hesitant to move into anchoring, Blome was all too eager to leave her weather reports behind. Before joining KSDK, she covered weather at WTVG-TV in Toledo, and her requests to anchor were always denied. Then, she made it to work in a blizzard, and she got to anchor. After arriving in St. Louis to do weekend weather, she kept asking to anchor and the bosses kept saying no. After she hitchhiked to work during a blizzard, she got to anchor by virtue of being the only person there. “Blizzards have been good to me,” Blome says.
Until recently, Blome and Holliday also co-anchored the 10 a.m. half-hour newscast and the one-hour news at noon. They are now on an alternating schedule for the latter two shows. One day one of them will anchor both shows solo, and the next day the other will do both.
“It’s an odd schedule,” Blome says. “We wanted to come in at three, instead of four, so that we could have more input on the show.” They arrive at the station at 3 a.m. and start proofreading and copy editing. At 4 a.m., they attend a staff meeting to discuss content and order of stories. They are then on the air from 5 to 7 a.m. After the show, a debriefing meeting is held to plan new story ideas. Then comes the half-hour 10 a.m. news and finally the noon to 1 p.m. news — a total of 3.5 hours on the air.
Because new hires are usually younger people, Blome and Holliday have the chance to share their experience.
“Obviously, we’re not getting any younger, but we do have the advantage of experience, and we do have a fair amount of input both before and after the fact,” Holliday says. “We’re working with people who weren’t born when we started working here at KSDK.”
Blome picks up his thought as seamlessly as they alternate stories on the air. “But it’s a good combination because when we hire young producers and they’re not from here or they’re from St. Louis and they’ve lived away for a long time, they don’t have the perspective, they can’t remember the stories, so we’re able to work together in that way. Because we are hiring people who are somewhat inexperienced, it’s great that we can be here to help them.”
It’s that experience and knowledge, along with a little natural chemistry and telepathy, that make the duo’s newscasts go off like clockwork, even when they don’t.
“When you’ve shared an anchor job with someone for 19 years, you kind of develop a shorthand or almost a telepathy,” Holliday says. “I can sense when Jennifer’s going to talk before a word even comes out of her mouth, and vice versa. I don’t think we appreciate it until one of us is gone, like on vacation or a sick day. If you’re paired with someone else, you have to put a lot more thought into it to make sure that you include them and that you communicate with them.”
Blome, Holliday and morning meteorologist Scott Connell are all good at what Blome calls “rescue anchoring.” When the anchor desk isn’t ready to move to the next segment after the weather report, Connell can sense it and “he’ll just stand over there and do the weather until he knows we’re ready,” she says. “Art can tell if I’m somehow lost or don’t know what’s going on — he’ll pick up the slack and I can do it with him, too.”
The set has laptops that the co-anchors can use to silently message each other during the weather report or other segments. But the two seldom have to use it, because the telepathy works better, Blome indicates.
Holliday adds, “We’ve done this so much that our reaction time to anything out of the ordinary is much quicker. That’s really when you earn your money. It’s relatively easy to anchor a show when everything’s going perfectly. How well can you do when something out of the ordinary happens? When you have breaking news and have to deviate from a script, they’re feeding you information in your ear while you’re talking, or a tape doesn’t play — can you do damage control? That’s one of the things that experience will teach you.”
Blome and Holliday are often asked about the secret to their success. Now it can be revealed: “I don’t think there’s any great secret,” Holliday says. “If you’re friends with someone and you have the luxury of working with them, that’s the best. We’ve just become really good friends over the years. Well, the secret is we just get along.”
Known for their occasional bouts of laughter, Blome and Holliday also are asked whether they are having as much fun as they seem to on the air. “If they could see us just having a conversation at our desk, they’d think we were subdued [on air],” Holliday says. “We make each other laugh all the time.”
The first time they cracked up on the air, “we thought we were going to get fired,” Blome says. “We were afraid to go back in the newsroom, and then we saw nobody was even watching. Then on the way out that day, the switchboard operator called us over and said she had taken all these calls.” Turns out the callers loved it and were happy to see that Blome wasn’t “a snob” or “uptight.”
Still, they try to be mindful of the gravity of certain stories, and try to avoid doing anything that would “disrespect any story or disrespect our audience or disrespect the reputation of KSDK,” Holliday says. “The flip side of that is that I think in general in the morning, people want to feel good about what they’re watching. They’ve given us permission to be ourselves.”
The anchors try to balance the inevitable bad news with positive stories and information in order to help get viewers’ day off to a positive start.
“That balance reflects real life — it’s more than what you sometimes get in newscasts, which is all negative and crime,” Blome says. “I think the balance thing is what we’re trying to do at Channel 5 across the board.”
Blome and Holliday keep balance in their own lives off the air. Holliday has been working on a documentary about the late piano player Johnnie Johnson. He’s still trying to secure funding, but has already shot more than 95 percent of the footage and interviewed music greats Eric Clapton, John Sebastian, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Bo Diddley, Michael McDonald, Bruce Hornsby and others. He chased Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones for four years before the interview finally happened.
“I’m a big music fan, so to be given the keys to Johnnie Johnson’s life story and all of the amazing people he came in contact with, that’s a pretty cool project,” Holliday says. He and his wife of 26 years, Linda Hayes Holliday, have a daughter, Taylor, who recently graduated from University of Missouri. Holliday is a graduate of St. Charles High School and the Mizzou School of Journalism.
Blome, who lives with KSDK assignment editor Dave Keiser and four dogs, recently trained a puppy at the Humane Society of Missouri for a possible career as a therapy dog. Successful canine students go on to training with Support Dogs Inc. for the TOUCH Program, which sends therapy dogs to hospitals, nursing homes and rehab facilities to visit with patients. A longtime dog lover, Blome participates in several animal-related activities in the community.
Both Blome and Holliday have a special interest in how people with mental illness are portrayed in the media. “We try to educate both our coworkers and the audience on issues surrounding the stigma of mental illness,” Blome says. Her interest stems from having a brother with schizophrenia. She got Holliday interested when she encouraged him to produce a documentary, Before They Fall of the Cliff, about the family of Michael McBride, a schizophrenic young man from Glendale who killed both his parents in 1994. The documentary is now part of the curriculum of St. Louis County’s Crisis Intervention Team, which trains police officers in dealing with mentally ill people.
It’s another case of teamwork for Blome and Holliday who agree that individually they’re both pretty good anchors, but together they’re a really good team.
“We don’t take it for granted,” Holliday says. “We don’t take ourselves seriously, but we take our jobs very seriously. We love serving St. Louis every morning and we appreciate our audience very much.”
Join Art Holliday’s Fan Club on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=50482626950
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UPDATE: [posted 9/1/11]
After 22 years, KSDK is splitting up the team effective Sept. 12, 2011. Art Holliday will anchor the noon news solo and will co-anchor a new 4 p.m. newscast with Kay Quinn and newcomer Mike Rush. Jennifer Blome will co-anchor “Today in St. Louis” starting at 4 a.m. with newcomer Pat McGonigle.
Fans were not happy.
UPDATE: [posted 3/22/14]
After 34 years, Jennifer Blome will retire from KSDK effective March 28, 2014 and will join the Animal Protective Association of Missouri as Director of Humane Education. Blome has had a long association with APA through the station’s “Sammy’s Stars” adoptable pets feature and other activities. For more details, see KSDK’s story at http://www.ksdk.com/story/entertainment/television/today-in-st-louis/2014/03/21/jennifer-blome-announces-retirement-on-today-in-st-louis/6684925/.
To see how Jennifer Blome is faring in her new job, see 40SouthNews’ story written by an Animal Protective Association staff member.
Art Holliday continues working on his documentary “Johnnie Be Good.” To help fund the project, St. Louis musicians Mike Mesey and Steve Scorfina have produced a new arrangement of Chuck Berry’s song “Johnny B. Goode” featuring a piano part by Johnson, vocals by Michael McDonald, sax by David Sanborn and contributions by other musicians.