Morning ritual ends

KWQC-TV morning news anchor Charles King and weathercaster Theresa Bryant share a laugh during a commercial break in August 2005. King retired after the Aug. 25, 2005, newscast, ending a career of more than 50 years in broadcasting.

Jeff Cook/QUAD-CITY TIMES

While weathercaster Theresa Bryant may sit to his right and talk about the chances of rain this morning on “Quad-Cities Today,” Charles King has a precipitation prediction of his own.

The anchor of KWQC-TV’s morning news show for the past 16 years and a broadcasting veteran for most of the past 55 years, King is retiring after today’s 5 a.m. newscasts. Most of this morning’s show will be devoted to his career, including reminisces from co-workers and viewers.

“I think it may be emotional,” King, 69, said. “I have to confess I’m kind of a wimp. I cry at the drop of a hat.

“I’m a weepy kind of guy at moments like that.”

King relaxed in the studios earlier this week inside the building where he’s worked for most of the past 39 years. He’s held a multitude of jobs at KWQC (the former WOC-TV), radio station WOC-AM (before it was sold by broadcasting and chiropractic pioneer B.J. Palmer) and the former KIIK-FM, which he helped launch as the Quad-Cities’ first FM rock radio station in 1972.

Since 1989, the jewel in Charles King’s broadcasting crown has been working as anchor of “Quad-Cities Today,” a lead-in to NBC’s “Today” show that began as a 30-minute newscast in 1989 and quadrupled to the two hours it is now.

Even though he had been working in sales and management, King said he was ready to get back in front of the camera when he got the call to anchor the newscast — a rarity in local TV at the time.

“My heart has always been as a performer. I loved every part of it. It was the easiest thing in the world to get me back on the air.”

The KWQC newscast remains almost as it was in 1989, King said.

“We tried to pattern it after a radio morning show in that it would be different elements — not only news and weather and sports, but some fun, too,” he said. “I think one of the reasons people listen to radio in the mornings is because it’s a fun start to their day.”

The fun has included segments such as a review of humorous headlines, photographs and political cartoons in the morning newspaper, looking back at the day in history and thoughts for the day, among them some wisdom from “my brother-in-law Don.”

For 13 of those years, King has been alongside Bryant, his weathercaster, sidekick and sometime-foil.

“We pick at each other, but it’s for the fun of it,” said King, who has Bryant over to his family’s house for Christmas and birthdays. “She’s so ‘teasable,’ and I try to poke her up and she pretends offense at that.”

Another veteran on the morning show set is financial analyst Jim Victor, as well as reporter Jennifer Pascua, who was added to the staff several years ago.

“It’s just enjoyment working with Theresa and Jim and the floor crew and Jennifer and everyone else,” King said. That crew includes his grandson, Terry King, who works as an audio engineer and with electronic graphics.

It was family that determined King’s path as a broadcaster.

He began as a janitor at the radio and TV stations in Topeka, Kan., where his father worked as an engineer, and by age 15 he had been hired as a radio announcer.

King attended Northwestern University, but he became disenchanted with the school’s broadcasting program and switched his major to theater. While there, he shared the stage and/or became friends with the likes of Karen Black, Jerry Orbach, Tony Roberts, Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss, all of whom went on to movie and television fame.

Married by now, King and his wife, Bonnie, went to New York, where he was to be involved in starting an improvisational theater troupe. King and his wife, who had never left Quincy, Ill., were less than enthralled with the Big Apple.

“We kept a 50-cent piece in a jar if we wanted to escape New York,” he recalled. “The 50 cents was for the George Washington Bridge, if we ever wanted to get out of there.”

Their future was determined when they discovered Bonnie was pregnant.

“Neither of us wanted to raise a kid on Manhattan Island,” he said.

They returned to the Midwest and moved to Burlington, Iowa, before he was hired by the former WOC-TV and radio stations. He began working the first day of 1967 as a TV weatherman (just as the station was making the transition from black-and-white to color) and radio talk-show host, by now with a kindergartner and two more children in the family.

After today, King will no longer have to set his alarm clock for 2 or 2:15 a.m. to get to work by 3 or 3:15. He consults with an overnight producer, readies a script and prepares for a 5 a.m. sign-on. His day generally ends by 11 a.m., when he can head out to the golf course.

Less than 24 hours after he signs off, King and his wife will be leaving town to move to Colorado, where they will live near both his daughter and a golf course. King, whose current contract would have run out after he hit age 70, said his wife had urged him to retire last year.

“We want to be able to have some fun while we’re still spry enough to get out and do it,” he said.

KWQC news director April Samp said King’s folksy style is one that can’t be matched.

“He’s one of a kind. A lot of people have grown to love him, and he’s hard to replace,” she said. “It’s tough to find somebody that has that much charisma.

“Everyone in the newsroom adores him and what he’s done in the newsroom.”

A replacement has yet to be determined, Samp said, but she is looking at candidates both in-house and nationwide. Pascua will be in the anchor chair at least temporarily, beginning Monday.

Samp, who began as KWQC news director in February, said the morning newscast eventually will become a combination of news and some of King’s touches.

“It’ll be a good middle ground. You’ll go to work informed, but we’ll keep that character there in the morning show,” she added. “It’ll be really exciting to see what we can do here.”

King said change — whether it be the length of the newscast or more intensive content — is inevitable.

“They’ll probably go a whole different direction, and that’s OK,” he added.

King said he always kept in mind his grandfather, whose 94-year life span went from horse-drawn transportation to seeing men on the moon.

“You take it one day at a time and things gradually come along,” he said.

But grandpa never approved of his son’s half-century-long career.

“He kept asking when I was going to get a real job,” King said. “Talking for a living just wasn’t a part of his life.”

David Burke can be contacted at (563) 383-2400 or dburke@qctimes.com.

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