Jean Enersen, nicknamed “The Franchise” in local television news circles, is retiring from the anchor desk Friday after 46 years at KING 5.
Enersen, who will turn 70 on Monday, certainly can claim to be the most popular TV news personality in the Northwest.
Enersen began working at KING 5 in 1968, and became an anchor in 1972. After 42 years leading the newscast, she is the first and longest-standing local female anchor in the country.
“I could go on doing this forever. I suppose there’s no perfect time to leave,” Enersen said. “But every one of our shows is No. 1. The team is really strong. Maybe that’s the best time to leave. I’m happy, I’m healthy, I’m lucky.”
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The station says she’ll still be a presence at KING 5, including doing her “HealthLink” coverage, specials on “Northwest Newsmakers,” political coverage and major news events.
On her Facebook page, Enersen’s fans poured out their emotions:
“Jean I’ve been watching you anchor the news since I was 10 yrs old. It won’t be the same without you … ”
“ … Your voice has always been a beacon of hope and light to those who need it … ”
“ … You will always be the Queen of Channel 5 … ”
Says Mark Ginther, the station’s executive news director, “I think she recognizes her role is to be the voice of the community. She advocates for the community when there are good times, and when times are bad.”
Craig Allen, in his 2001 book about local TV news, “News is People,” wrote of Enersen, “She would become a Seattle fixture as identifiable as the Space Needle to the people living there.”
Allen says that, “It is the anchors on local news that determine the ratings more than any other factor.”
And Seattle has been losing the anchors who had been the audience’s companions through the decades.
KOMO News anchor Kathy Goertzen died in 2012 at age 54 after a battle with recurring brain tumors. Dan Lewis, 64, also a KOMO anchor, retired in May after 27 years at the station.
“It’s certainly a generational change, or the beginning of one,” says Lewis.
As for what it’s like to retire from the action, Lewis says that, yes, when the news of the shootings at Seattle Pacific University broke last week, “I went into my news-mode mentality, I got kinda anxious, paying attention to what’s going on.”
But then, he says, “I was able to turn off the story and walk away.”
Writing in the online publication Crosscut in 2007, O. Casey Corr, author of a book on the Bullitt family that owned the station for years, said about Enersen:
“Enersen has survived all the changes, the cutbacks, the bellowing news directors who arrive with new wisdom, the petty jealousies in the fight for airtime, the sheer grind of deadlines, and getting her own share of wrinkles. She was and is the brand at KING. The franchise. No one at any other station or in any other newsroom in our city can claim that status.”
The station listed the many “firsts” for Enersen, besides being the first female local TV anchor: She was the first local TV reporter in China, back in 1979, as this country and China re-established diplomatic relations.
She was the first local American TV host to anchor a TV news program in the Soviet Union.
She was the first local reporter to travel with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Africa, in which the station produced a documentary.
Enersen seemed to flourish in the local celebrityhood.
Ginther says she’d come early in the morning to make a public appearance on behalf of a nonprofit, or on weekends to help with a food drive.
Enersen says that Seattleites “are not very celebrity-fazed,” and would talk to her about a story suggestion, or perhaps something she covered on her health segment.
One thing she’ll miss about her anchoring duties, she says, is having “dinner with these guys,” meaning individuals such as anchor Dennis Bounds, meteorologist Jeff Renner and sports anchor Paul Silvi.
“Collectively we have over 130 years together,” says Enersen.
On her Facebook page, she tells her fans, “I treasure that relationship.”
It might sound a bit mushy to some, but the ratings numbers say otherwise.
Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report. Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @ErikLacitis