Ch. 7’s Ken Jefferson keeps sharing stories

By Jim Bucher

I don’t know about anyone else, but I miss the wonderful storytelling of former WHIO Channel 7 anchor/reporter Ken Jefferson. In all my years on local TV, I strived to be a better writer. Not sure if that was accomplished, especially with the prose and class of KJ’s writing style “across the street,” as we’d say.

So I thought it would be super to catch up. First though, let’s talk about Ken’s early foray into broadcasting.

“It all began at a 5000 watt radio station in Fresno, California…no wait, that was Ted Baxter [bombastic anchor on the old Mary Tyler Moore Show]. I grew up in Petersburg, Virginia, and my career in broadcasting began with a pirate radio station operated by my best friend and me,” Ken says. “It was a popular underground radio resource for high school gossip, tons of great music, and secret news stuff. We were incredibly illegal, but somehow managed to stay one step ahead of the FCC.”

Heck, it could of all ended there, but we’re lucky it didn’t.

Next, Ken was off to college at Richard Bland College of William and Mary before transferring to the University of Florida, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in broadcasting and a minor in political science.

“While there, I worked part-time at a top-40 radio station,” Ken says. “One night, the AP wires went crazy with breaking news. I remember reading the double-spaced bulletin, which began with the dateline Xenia, Ohio: ‘A large tornado touched down in this Southwest Ohio town. The dispatcher for the Greene County Sheriff’s Office says most of the town has been destroyed.’ Reading it curled the hair on the back of my neck. Two years later, I was living there and playing racquetball at the YMCA.”

Ken was hired by WHIO in March of 1976, as a weekend anchor and weekday reporter.

“I don’t know if I should say this, but for my job interview, chief photographer Chuck Upthegrove picked me up at the airport, offering me a beer and a Camel cigarette on the drive to the station,” he shares. “Chuck is the only man I know who could drink beer and stay stone sober. And to my knowledge, the man never slept. He was like ‘Bluto’ in the movie “Animal House.” Chuck was, and still is, larger than life.”

Ken was a part of the golden years in local broadcasting at Ch. 7.

“Don Wayne was its quiet patriarch,” he recalls. “When he talked, everyone in the newsroom stopped and went quiet. Ed Krahling was my mentor—like a father to me—and one of the most interesting guys I’ve ever known. Krahling was old school and crusty; he despised news consultants and often vented his frustration by drawing satirical cartoons on his desk blotter.”

Ken says his most memorable story was the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, which changed his life.

“After co-anchoring our live coverage of the fire overnight, I remember arriving on the scene early Sunday morning,” Ken says. “On the gym floor in front of me, there were 165 bodies, each shrouded under a white cloth, lying next to each other. While there, I noticed a few family members, crying as they walked along the line to try and identify loved ones.  At the age of 26, I never forgot the lesson of the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, of how fleeting life can be. Just 12 hours earlier, these people were laughing and celebrating life, never knowing it would be their last moments on Earth.”

After 25 years at WHIO, and facing what he calls his second or third mid-life crisis, Ken decided to make a career move and worked almost 10 years with WWSB-TV in Sarasota, Florida, as anchor of the morning news.

Then it came full circle.

“I moved back to Virginia to be closer to my aging family and lifelong friends,” he says. “I landed at WVIR–TV, the NBC affiliate in Charlottesville, Virginia, and love the comfort of being back home with family. I absolutely adore living on the side of a mountain, and appreciate the historical heritage of Central Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley. It also helps being a relative of Thomas Jefferson.”

From the “illegal” days of bootleg radio to continuing at the top of his game, Ken couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he says. “I’m one of the luckiest people in the world, because I realized my destination when I was young, and simply followed my dream. I’m still living it.”

Good thing the statute of limitations on that FCC deal is up.

Cheers—we miss you, my friend.


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