There are only a few local television news anchors around the country who could be called franchise players. Dan Lewis of KOMO News is one of them.
Lewis, 64, says that after 27 years anchoring at KOMO, he’s retiring so he can do things like travel and enjoy his passion for golf (his handicap is 11).
A woman named Rachel was typical of the emotional response from viewers who in one day left 3,600 comments on the KOMO News Facebook page posting in which Lewis announced his retirement: “ … Since I was like 8 my mom always had a crush on you. You are an amazing man, anchor, father, friend, and family guy. Thanks for being a leader in our community and being here for all of us through the good times and the tragedies to bring us the news.”
Anchors usually have their contracts renewed every two or three years, says Craig Allen, who wrote a 2005 book about local TV news.
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The former reporter, and now associate professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, spent a considerable amount of time looking at Seattle for “News Is People: The Rise of Local TV News.”
He says, “Seattle always has been one of the most competitive markets, and it’s been known as a cradle for some impressive local anchors.”
And, says Allen: “It is the anchors on local news that determine the ratings more than any other factor.”
For someone like Lewis, contract-renewal time is “a day of reckoning in which management could have gotten rid of him.” Quite obviously, says Allen, the management decision was that “they could make more money by keeping him.”
In person and on the air, Lewis comes across as a genuinely nice guy who cares about his community.
He doesn’t mind showing his emotions on the air. He teared up reporting on the death of Kathi Goertzen, his longtime co-anchor, who died in 2012, and the fiery helicopter crash last month in which a station photographer and pilot perished.
Lewis says he first showed his emotions when he was working at a Milwaukee TV station. While covering the Jerry Lewis telethon, he reported on a man suffering from muscular dystrophy.
When the man died, “I had to report the news. I cried. I was embarrassed and uncomfortable.”
He also remembers how viewers later thanked him “for being human.”
Lewis had been enthralled by the business since he was 10 or 11, growing up in a Chicago suburb.
Then, he says, he was more interested in being a sportscaster. Lewis says he’d bounce a ball off the garage door or hit a ball with a bat, and as he was running, do play-by-play.
At his first radio job in Aurora, Ill., he says, he’d set up a tape machine in a broadcast booth and do make-believe calls on a baseball or basketball game. The station gave him the chance to do it for real.
It is during times of tragedy or major news that a news anchor plays a pivotal role with viewers, he says.
“People are no longer sitting around … helping kids with their homework. They’re on the edge of their seat and want new information,” Lewis says.
It is someone like the late Jim McKay, the host of ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” whom Lewis cites as an anchor he admires. McKay is best known for his reporting of the massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.
“He obviously was not scripted. He had a certain calmness and sensitivity as he described a very difficult situation. He helped guide the United States and other parts of the world through one of the most frightening and tragic things,” Lewis says.
Allen says he familiarized himself with Lewis’ career in Seattle.
When Lewis first arrived here from a Washington, D.C., TV station, says Allen, KOMO had been declining in the ratings.
“He and Kathi Goertzen brought the ratings up,” says Allen. “That was the ultimate factor, the chemistry he developed with her.”
Allen says that viewers could tell that Lewis also bonded with such other KOMO personalities as weatherman Steve Pool.
“They projected an image of a family you could trust,” Allen says.
He says the numerous Facebook comments about Lewis show that his retirement “is akin to a loss in the community.”
Lewis’ last broadcast will be May 28. He says he plans to still do special projects for the station.
Holly Gauntt, KOMO’s news director, says that Eric Johnson, an anchor at the station, will take over Lewis’ spot.
Lewis, who is divorced, with three grown children (his youngest, Tim Lewis, followed in dad’s business and is weekend sports anchor at KOMO), says he plans to get in his car and drive south for a few weeks. He doesn’t have an itinerary.
Finally, about his hair.
It is a wonderful head of hair that Dan Lewis has. Never a single strand out of place.
“My hair has kind of been the subject of a few jokes,” he says.
It was a source of numerous mentions on the old “Almost Live” TV comedy show. Lewis even participated in a skit.
He particularly remembers a mention on the show about the “Dan Lewis Hair Spray” that came in “regular, granite and by prescription only.”
He says he’s never used hair spray, never colored it (over the years, the dark strands have gone gray).
“God gave me good hair,” he says. “Maybe that’s one of the reasons I better know the damn news. I didn’t want to be known for my hair.”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @ErikLacitis