Stay tuned: Jerry Anderson stepping down from anchor seat

Jerry Anderson

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

For decades now, he has been the voice and the face that people have turned to for their news. But on Friday, Jerry Anderson will be stepping away from his news anchor role at WTOL in Toledo.

He is, above all, a storyteller. Happy or sad. Simple or complex. Anderson is masterful at bringing the news into our homes and making us want to listen.

How it all started

Anderson’s parents lived in South Toledo when he was born. But his grandmother lived on Parker Avenue in Bowling Green, right next to Wood County Hospital. Even that has become a story for the newsman.

“So they would drop off the kids at Grandma’s, and Mom would go next door to pop out another one,” Anderson said with a grin.

When he was 16, his family moved to Bowling Green, and he graduated from Bowling Green High School.

His first taste of the news profession occurred when at age 10, he delivered the morning Toledo Times newspaper.

“One of our customers was a radio station,” Anderson said. “It was the station playing the music we listened to in the 60s. We could look in the big window and see the disc jockeys keying up the records with the big hole in the middle.”

Every morning, newscaster Bob Kelly would read a comic strip from the newspaper for his radio listeners. So Anderson felt he had a vital role in delivering that comic strip on time.

Then as he continued on his route, Anderson would attach his transistor radio to his handlebars and listen to the newscast.

“I would pedal down Heatherdowns pretending to be the newscaster,” he said. “I was such nerd.”

His interest in news came naturally, with him attending rallies with his dad for Nixon and for Goldwater.

“I was always a kid who followed the news. I followed politics as a kid,” he said.

And he always had the gift of gab. “I was one of five kids. I had to speak up.”

Anderson gets his voice

With no real experience, Anderson got his first job in radio at WFOB in 1974. He often told the joke that he was paid “weakly” – a paycheck of $82.86 every Friday.

He spent four years at WFOB, coming in after Bill Blair, and being followed by Dave Horger.

“I got sandwiched in between two Bowling Green classics,” Anderson said.

In 1978, he moved to WSPD Radio in Toledo, then made the jump in 1980 to Channel 13 TV news in Toledo.

“It seemed like the next natural job,” he said.

By the end of 1981, Anderson was anchoring the news. He co-anchored with Frank Venner at 6 p.m., and soloed at 11 p.m.

In 1993, he left Channel 13 and went back to WSPD Radio briefly, before starting in 1994 with WTOL-11 news.  That was the era of the traditional 6 p.m. newscast, and Channel 11 wanted to take a chance on a 5 p.m. newscast with Anderson at the helm.

“The thing took off. It was wildly successful,” he said.

Last year, Anderson decided to give up the 11 p.m. shift, and stick with the news at 5, 5:30 and 6 p.m.

“I decided I can’t work nights anymore in downtown Toledo, while my wife is sitting home in Bowling Green with the dog.”

After years of watching her husband on TV as the day ended, Teri now gets to spend evenings with her husband. “When I told her, her eyes got all moist,” Anderson said.

A whole different era in news

Anderson started as a TV anchor in a time when news anchors were rock stars – almost like the movie “Anchorman” starring Will Ferrell as the egotistical Ron Burgundy.

“My daughters believe I am owed royalties off that,” he said of the spoof on new anchors. “I got to live through that era.”

That was the time before cable news – when viewers had to tune into one of three channels to get local and national news.

“Our audiences were huge,” Anderson said. “I think the era of the big anchor is done.”

Stories that stuck with him

Anyone in the news business for decades has more memorable stories than they can count. But there are a couple that Anderson will carry with him into retirement.

Early in his TV career, he picked up the phone to hear a young mother asking for help finding her missing daughter. The 12-year-old had gone to get pizza with a friend earlier that evening, and hadn’t returned home.

Anderson, with his impeccable memory, can still picture the family’s home, with the Mr. Coffee pot brewing round the clock, the police scanner crackling with possible news, and the girl’s framed photograph sitting on top of the TV.

The police later found the body of Dawn Backes in the basement of an old theater on Collingwood Avenue. She had been raped and bludgeoned to death. The Cook brothers, serial killers, were found guilty of the crime.

Stories like that still haunt Anderson.

“Should I have done more? Could I have done more,” he said.

Then there are the inspirational stories – like that of Tim Berta, who survived the 2007 bus crash that killed several members of the Bluffton College baseball team.

“We have chronicled his story over the years,” Anderson said. He followed the young man’s physical and emotional recovery. “I think I found him the most inspirational.”

Belief in a higher anchorman

Anderson isn’t pushy with his faith, but he believes it’s pushed him in the right direction during his life.

“I have had a series of jobs where doors opened for me,” he said. Though he didn’t feel qualified at the time, he worked “like a fool” once he was in the door.

“It’s just so clear to me that there’s a higher power here,” Anderson said.

Anderson has taken classes in theology at Findlay University, studying the Gospels and Psalms. “That was a rush,” he said.

He has also taught broadcast writing at Findlay. “I wanted to see if the gray matter was still sizzling. Can I run with the kids.”

More than a TV personality

Anderson was told early on by a boss that the station could put his face on billboards – but the best promotion of his mug is earned by being part of the community. That part of the job came naturally to Anderson.

Over the years, he has heard fellow newscasters discourage people from asking them to support causes by charging exorbitant amounts. Anderson never charges for emceeing events or offering his licensed auctioneer services.

“I think part of what I’m doing is giving back to the community,” he said.

Anderson does have some causes that are close to his heart – so they have become annual events. He lends his face and voice to fight cancer, especially ovarian cancer, which his sister survived. He has offered his services for NAMI, for parks, for pets, and for Kiwanis.

His generosity for causes is well known.

As a side note, I got to experience Anderson’s celebrity while bell ringing with him for the Salvation Army one holiday season in Bowling Green. Nearly everyone who passed the red kettle recognized Anderson – and many engaged him in conversation as if they were dear friends. Anderson engaged right back – with sincere conversation. He remembered if they had a child who played ball for Elmwood, or if he served them sausage at the last Kiwanis pancake breakfast.

“It goes with the territory,” he said with a smile. “They are inviting you into their home. They could be inviting someone else,” he said about viewers’ bonds with TV news. “At 6 o’clock you’re in their living room, at 11 o’clock you’re in their bedroom.”

Since announcing his retirement, Anderson has been flooded with emails from well-wishers – people who he has touched through the screen over the years.

One woman wrote to remind him of “Jerry’s Amazing Race,” that took him to a diner in Bryan, where he signed a coffee cup for her grandmother.

“She used the coffee cup for the rest of her life,” she told Anderson.

Now what?

Like any good storyteller, Anderson is leaving this chapter open ended.

But he has added an interesting twist. He has applied to be a bus driver for Bowling Green City Schools. “My best friend in the world does it,” he said about his buddy, Denny Bower.

Anderson has finished the book portion of the bus driving course, but has yet to complete the behind the wheel test.

“I want to see if I can,” he said, adding that he’s driven an RV motor home. “I have a big vehicle, just not filled with a lot of kids.”

Other than that, he has no definite plans. “I truly don’t,” he said.

He has been advised to “decompress. Take a break.” And he is excited about spending more time with Teri, his children and grandchildren.

But Anderson’s not much for relaxing. He’s already trying to figure out how to arrange the filming of his “Leading Edge” segments – if he continues those – around bus driving.

Not like the old days

Anderson is leaving behind an industry that bears little resemblance to the one he started in.

There is too much influence by social media, he said. Producers of the news believe that if people are talking about something on Facebook, it should be on the news.

“Not necessarily,” Anderson said.

Weather stories, he said, should be the lead when tornadoes or blizzards occur. But since the “First Alert” weather forecasts generate so much interest, there are several nights when the forecasts go at the top of the newscast. That’s just sad, he said.

“This is not the business I’ve been in for years,” he said.

Then there’s the whole “fake news” phenomenon – an issue which Anderson finds very disturbing.

“A free press is the backbone of a free people,” he said, shifting from storytelling to seriousness. Legitimate, mainstream media is trying its best to cover all sides of stories, he said.

“There absolutely is fake news out there. But just because you don’t like a story doesn’t make it fake.”

“Our stock and trade in the business is our credibility. We have to get it right,” he said.

Even someone of Anderson’s stature gets the “fake news” taunt thrown at him at times.

“Our country’s in trouble if journalism fails.”

The challenges are great for journalists. When Anderson started in TV news, there were 1 ½ hours of news a day to produce. Now Toledo news stations have to come up with 9 ½ hours each day.

“There is constant deadline pressure,” he said.

And it has led to less depth in coverage.

“We have improved quantity, but not the quality.”

Always did his homework

Unlike some other newscasters, who cause cringe-worthy moments by not knowing their facts, Anderson does his homework.

“I prepare for these things,” especially for the in depth interviews he does on “The Leading Edge” segments.

The more he knows, the more he can get out of guests.

“There are people that skate around your questions,” otherwise, he said.

His most recent guest was State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, who recalled that Anderson first interviewed him in 1975 or 1976, when Gardner was playing basketball at Eastwood High School, and Anderson worked for WFOB.

This last interview was a little different – about Lake Erie water quality.

“He seems to always be prepared to the highest level you can prepare for an interview,” Gardner said.

And Anderson’s enthusiasm and intensity of interest are noteworthy.

“It’s illogical for someone to be that prepared and interested,” Gardner said. “That’s what’s made him the best newsman in the Toledo area in the last 30 years.”

Jerry gets his day in BG

Anderson isn’t just the person who delivers news to Bowling Green, but he is also a member of the community.

At the last Bowling Green City Council meeting, Mayor Dick Edwards declared June 15 – Anderson’s last day in the anchor seat  – as “Jerry Anderson Day” in the city.

Edwards pointed out Anderson’s professional kudos – seven Emmys, two Edward R. Murrow awards, two Crystal Awards of Excellence, and induction into the Ohio Associated Press Hall of Fame. He noted that Anderson has covered four national political conventions, three presidential inaugurations, and a visit by Pope John Paul II.

But it’s more than that.

Anderson has been “totally unselfish” in his support of the BG Parks and Recreation Foundation, BG Little League Baseball and Black Swamp Arts Festival, the mayor said.

“Jerry has always been mindful of his roots in Bowling Green and is an unabashed ‘Townie,’ a passionate BGHS Bobcat and the BGSU Falcon,” the proclamation reads.

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