Nadine Wimmer a real winner at KSL
Talent, luck, sheer determination land her in anchor chair
Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Good evening, and welcome to the 10 o'clock Eyewitness News. The day's top story is: How the heck did Nadine "Deanie" Wimmer the local gal and former intern wind up as Dick Nourse's sidekick/co-anchor on the highest-rated TV newscast in Salt Lake City?
To some of the old veterans at KSL and there are plenty of them it's like working with your little sister. They watched her grow up in the newsroom, and here she is, live at 5 and 10, a sunny-faced pixie whose youthful looks belie a steely determination.
"I've wanted to do this since high school," she says. "Every day I'm pinching myself. I am living my dream."
The traditional path to an anchor position is to market-hop from smaller to increasingly bigger markets. Wimmer has had one employer, one market. She began as an intern at KSL after pestering the station for months about it and over the years she volunteered for the jobs nobody wanted, studied her own tapes, asked veterans for tips and even fibbed to get her first big break.
When anchorwoman Ruth Todd bolted to a rival station last winter, Wimmer, after 13 years in the trenches, came off the bench to fillin, and several months later she was given the job permanently. It was like a walk-on winning the starting quarterback job at BYU.
For more on this story, let's go to our Dick Nourse, who some think was hired by Brigham Young himself. How did a four-decade veteran feel about working alongside the novice?
"It's probably unusual that you find someone with 38 years of experience teamed with someone with no experience," says Nourse. "I worried about that. I went around and around with management about it. But I think the world of her. I've watched her since she was an intern. I've watched her progress, study and work hard. I was not sure this was going to work. I had my questions and the jury is still out. But I feel really comfortable with her. I'm pretty optimistic about this. She's surprised us all."
They would seem to be an odd pairing. Nourse is about 6-foot-2, Deanie 5-foot-3. (She uses a special chair and cushion when she works with Nourse.) He's 62 years old, she's 34. He has a great booming voice, she has a tiny voice. He's been on the air for 38 years, Deanie for about a decade.
"My main concern was the age difference," says Nourse. "Here's this guy who's been in business a long time, with white hair and wrinkles. Deanie looks younger than she is and she's young."
Wimmer was 17 when she first showed up at KSL's door. Until then, she had aspired to a career as a ballerina. She studied for years under the legendary Willam Christensen, the founder of Ballet West, taking classes every day after school. (Dancers had to try out just to be admitted to the classes.) With what would become her trademark work ethic, Wimmer woke herself at 5 a.m. each day to perform a half-hour of ballet exercises in the basement fruit room of her house, using the shelves as an exercise bar.
But after 14 years of dancing, her attention began to wander. By the time she was a high school senior, she was spending more time as an Olympus High cheerleader or hanging out with friends.
"I was at a crossroads," she says. "I had to make a decision."She decided to pursue a "more realistic career goal" broadcast journalism. Her high school counselor suggested she call someone she admired in the business to learn more about the job. Wimmer called KSL anchor woman/arts specialist Carole Mikita.
For more on this, we go to our Carole Mikita, live at KSL Broadcast House. Does she remember the teenage Deanie?
"Absolutely," says Mikita. "She called and said, 'I'd like to talk to you.' She came in and she said, 'I want to do what you do.' And I looked at her, and I could tell there was a difference between this young woman and those who are merely fascinated by the allure of TV. She said, 'What can I do?' She listened to what I said. She took copious notes. And she kept coming back to see me.
"She is driven, and I mean that in the best possible use of that word. I'm not kidding. When she got hired (five years later), I threw my arms around her and cried. It was like my relative got hired. I take great pride in her climb."
While attending the University of Utah, Wimmer called KSL about an internship. And called and called every Friday. She called so much that the secretary learned to recognize her voice. A friend told Wimmer, "You'd better leave them alone." Wimmer replied, "I have nowhere to go but up."
KSL didn't have an internship program but it got one. Wimmer became the station's first intern, the summer of 1988 before her senior year of college, performing the low-level, behind-the-scenes grunt work from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. As always, she was eager."Deanie would be here at night asking, 'What do you need done, what can I do, just tell me,' " recalls Mikita.
For more on this, let's go back to the venerable Nourse.
"I remember the first story she covered was a rodeo documentary I was working on," says Nourse. "We followed a rodeo circuit, and she logged the interviews I did. We were right down in the pens. She had to dodge spit and cigarettes. She got her feet wet and muddy."
As luck would have it, KSL had a job opening at the end of the summer and gave it to Wimmer. She worked part time at the station, attended classes, wrote for the university newspaper and focused on honing her writing skills.
"I knew I wasn't good enough to be on camera," says Wimmer. "I was determined to learn something to make it at KSL. I didn't want to go to a small market and work my way up."
She did more entry-level work, working at the assignment desk, listening to the police scanner for potential news stories, making photo assignments. She volunteered to write stories for reporters simply so she could learn from the corrections they made in her copy. Saturday was her day off, but she'd show up at the station anyway and go out with reporters on their assignments. She practiced her stand-ups with a microphone in front of the camera even though the station would never use it, and then the assigned reporter would step in and do the real thing. Back at the station, Wimmer would study the tape of her practice stand-up.
Luck was with her again when she graduated from the university. The morning producer quit, and Wimmer was hired to replace him. A short time later, KSL decided to air brief news cut-ins between the early-morning commercials. It was hardly a glamour job. Among other things, it meant doing brief on-air news shows at 4 a.m.
"No one wanted to do them, so I got it," says Wimmer. "I thought, this is great, I'm on the air."
It was literally a one-woman show. She turned on the lights and the camera herself, operated the teleprompter and read the news. She learned by trial and error. There were times when she didn't realize she was on the air and viewers (what there were of them) saw her shifting around in her chair or staring at her notes.
Later, Wimmer studied the tapes, and it wasn't pretty. "I had this deer-in-the-headlights look," she says. "I was stiff and nervous. It wasn't like I was talking to people. But I wanted to be on the air and wanted to be a reporter. I loved the idea of getting information and crafting it with pictures and sound to tell a story."When KSL's noon producer quit, Wimmer volunteered to fill in while the station searched for a replacement. Since her job as morning producer meant producing stories for the noon telecast anyway, she'd use some of her own reports on the air. A couple of months later, the station hired another noon producer and granted Wimmer junior reporter status, which meant writing stories and doing off-camera interviews for other reporters to use on camera. That didn't stop Wimmer from doing on-camera interviews for her own private reviewing back at the station.
For more on this story, let's now go to veteran anchor/reporter Bruce Lindsay.
"I like to think of myself as her mentor," says Lindsay. "When she first made appearances on air, she came to me with her tapes, and we'd sit in the video playback room, and she'd ask for a critique. Most people don't ask for critiques. She would ask what can I do to improve this or that? She's been like a sponge. She was just determined to grow and improve."
By then, Wimmer had started studying for a master's degree in communications with a political science emphasis. She was in the office one night, doing her homework, when the Gulf War broke out. The station needed someone to interview the mother of one of the Utah soldiers who had died in the war. The assignment editor came to Wimmer out of desperation and asked, "Have you done a live shot before?" She lied. "Yeah, sure," she said.
"I didn't flub it," says Wimmer, "and after that I was fair game to be used on the air."
After the station aired her master's thesis a report on the media and scandal in the American presidency she became KSL's political specialist in 1992. Two years later, she was assigned as education specialist.
When KSL's morning anchor quit without notice, guess who was there to volunteer for the job while also continuing to cover a beat? It meant arriving at the station at 4 a.m. to anchor the morning news, then going out on assignment and either turning in a story or doing a live shot on the evening news. Wimmer held down both jobs for the summer. She was crushed when the morning anchor position was given to someone else and applied to get a job elsewhere. She was offered an anchor spot in Las Vegas, but KSL made a counter offer and she stayed.
"It wasn't an anchor position," she says, "but it showed I was valued."
It wasn't long before KSL was shopping for a weekend anchor. Again, Wimmer asked for the job on a temporary basis. This time, she got it.
"I knew they were taking a big chance on me," she says. "I hadn't anchored somewhere else. There was still the perception of 'that's little Deanie.' I had come here as a teenager. I just wouldn't let them ignore me."
When Todd wanted to cut back her workload to devote more time to her family, Wimmer who else? asked for the job, pitching a two-for-one deal as an anchor and reporter. She got the position on a tryout basis.
"Every job I've gotten, someone quit and I'd fill in and try out," she says with a laugh. "I was never the one they seek out. Just once in my life I want to feel like I was first choice."
Last December Todd left KSL in a contract dispute and signed with KTVX just two months before the Salt Lake Winter Games. Wimmer got the call in relief. News director Brink Chipman told her up front that it was only temporary, that he would conduct a nationwide search for a replacement. For the next five months, he held auditions and evaluated videotapes of some 200 applicants. Among them was a former CNN anchorwoman who did an audition on the set with Nourse.
Meanwhile, Wimmer was anchoring the 5 o'clock and 10 o'clock broadcasts and doing Olympic coverage.
"I was so nervous," says Wimmer. "You want to do well and you want the station to do well. I knew there would be no second chance. Things went pretty well. We didn't get any e-mail saying 'I hate that Wimmer girl.' "After months of stewing, KSL gave the job to Wimmer permanently.
For more on this we go back to Lindsay, our man on the scene.
"Brink came to me and said, 'What do you think? How can I not give it to her?' I agreed with him."
Says Chipman: "We looked at all kinds of people and then decided, why not? I felt strongly about her, and Bruce respects her.
'She's not an actress, she's just a straight forward, solid newswoman. She's a reporter at heart," Chipman said. "She has a passion for news and telling stories. She's very petite and slight, but don't let that fool you. She's very aggressive."
There's one story everyone likes to tell: A few years ago, she was assigned to interview Rocky Anderson on election night. Unknown to her, a reporter from a rival station, Chris Vanocur, had arranged an exclusive, first interview with the mayor, but the mayor showed up in a room full of reporters where he was fair game. KSL returned from a commercial break first and Wimmer began interviewing the mayor; then Vanocur began his interview and, at one point, actually slapped away her microphone.
"Deanie stood her ground," says Lindsay.
As always, Wimmer continues to hone her skills and her presentation. She has taken full advantage of consultants the station has provided. She was told to "lose the hairdo (specifically, a flip in her hair)." Makeup consultants actually confiscated some of her makeup (her lip liner was too dark, they said). She sends tapes to professional coaches, but she relies heavily on the wealth of experience right there in her office Mikita (23 years in the biz), Mark Eubank, Lindsay and Nourse (all 30 years or so).
Even now, Wimmer asks Nourse to watch tapes of her previous night's performance and peppers him with questions Did I look too dry on that? Did I use good inflection? How should I read this? How can I do better?
"She's eager, and I'm eager to help her," says Nourse. "I think she's come a long way just since we started. I want to see her succeed. She is very sincere."
Says Lindsay, "We were assigned to do play-by-play for the 24th of July parade," he says. "She had never done it before, and I had done several, and she was on me like fleas on a dog What about this, what about this, how do I do this? She showed up that morning so prepared. It was a delight. She had done her homework."
Says Chipman, "She's a fanatic about getting better. She is the most intense, driven woman. . . . She's constantly working to improve herself."
That has always been Wimmer's M.O. She is nothing if not an achievement-oriented person with varied interests and a healthy, natural curiosity about the world.
"She knows how to set goals and achieve them, and she knew how to do that in high school," says Mikita.In her youth, Wimmer established goals right down to how many pages she would read from books every month (1,500). Among her life's goals:
- To become a professional ballerina. (It's the one goal she dropped, in part so she could focus on her second goal.)
- Get a job at KSL.
- A college degree.
- Study and excel at the piano. (She took private lessons from the age of 10 through college, and she played in a high school jazz band.)
"She's always been very busy, and she's always been a hard worker," says Wimmer's mother, Pauline, of the oldest of her six children. "KSL will get their money's worth."
In recent years, Wimmer has updated her life's goals:
- Learn Spanish so she can speak with the growing Hispanic population. (She has taken private lessons for two years.)
- Graduate school. (She completed a master's degree.)
- Complete a 17-mile Park City mountain race.
- Exercise daily. (She does this 90 minutes a day, with weight lifting, running, in-line skating, biking and water skiing. "I love exercising," she says. "I love how I feel afterward. It's the discipline I miss from ballet.")
- Marriage/children. (She married Phil Kirk, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, a few years ago, but children are still in their future.)
- Relearn the piano. (Kirk bought her a piano for Christmas and she is teaching herself to play again.)
"Unlike most people," says Kirk, "she knows what she wants to do, and she's very disciplined and goal-oriented. I'm envious of how she can balance so many things. She's interested in a lot of things, and she does well in all of them."
Wimmer and Kirk live on an acre of land with a view of Park City off in the distance. They keep their two shaggy huskies and two horses in a backyard corral his thoroughbred and her Arabian.
After doing the rodeo story with Nourse, Wimmer developed a passion for horses, and she's been riding ever since.
"Someday, I would like to show horses or ride in a rodeo, maybe the barrel race," she says.Wimmer, trim and tiny in her red Wranglers, denim shirt and cowboy boots after a brief morning ride, is probably the person viewers think she is. "Oh, she's a darling," says the KSL operator when you asked to speak to her. "You'll love her. She's just what you see on TV."
For the last word on this, let's go to Ruth Todd herself, from her home.
"Deanie is great," she says. "Everybody who works around her enjoys her. She has a can-do attitude about life and work. That's valuable. She took whatever they threw at her. She'll do great."
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