Early in her career KCTV news anchor Karen Fuller ran a studio camera and teleprompter at WHO-TV in Iowa for meteorologist (and now co-worker) Gary Amble and KMBC’s Kelly Eckerman. She later worked with the late Don Harman of Fox 4 at the station.
In other words, she didn’t just leave college and move into an anchor slot. There have been plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Today, Fuller, a single mother of two, is a polished, professional anchor doing the weeknight newscasts at the CBS affiliate. But the road to the anchor chair involved several years of hard work in front —-and behind— the camera in a variety of jobs to hone her craft.
During her career she has traveled throughout the world and interviewed Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Bill Clinton. She almost interviewed Fidel Castro. In West Africa she was able to translate and do interviews in French.
She joined KCTV in 2003 and has become a fixture on newscasts and an audience favorite. After interviewing her for this profile it is obvious why she is so popular with viewers.
NAME: Karen Fuller
TITLE: News Anchor, KCTV5
HOMETOWN: Two hometowns: Jonesboro, Arkansas (0 – 9 years old), Oak Park, IL (9 – 21)
EDUCATION: B.A., Radio/Television, Drake University, Des Moines, IA
MARITAL STATUS: Divorced almost 9 years; one daughter, 11, one son, 10
HOW DID YOU GET INTO YOUR CHOSEN FIELD?
I majored in Radio/TV Production at Drake University and I had several internships during that time that included running the studio camera and teleprompter (for Gary Amble and Kelly Eckerman) at WHO-TV and writing promotions at KCCI. After graduating, I found a job working for an executive at a computer company shooting and editing his sales presentations. It wasn’t my dream job but it paid the bills. While I worked, I took more broadcast courses at Columbia College in Chicago.
WHEN DID YOU GET YOUR FIRST BIG BREAK?
In the summer of ’92, I got a newsroom internship in Little Rock, AR. I was a desk assistant and would tag along with reporters. Eventually I was sent out to get sound bites. That was also when then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was running for president. Once, while shouting questions with other reporters as he walked down the airport tarmac, he turned and answered my question. That was a big moment for a young would-be reporter. I would later interview him as former President Clinton, about his memoirs.
ANY OTHER MAJOR MOMENTS IN YOUR CAREER?
Another big moment was during an internship at WFLD in Chicago. There was a huge fire at an apartment complex and no reporters in house or nearby. So they sent me with a photog and I field-produced the fire that killed several people and left many homeless. It was my first time dealing with death on a story. While out on stories, I would shoot standups and by the end of the summer, had put a tape together. I sent it to any openings in small markets, and finally landed a reporting/anchoring job in Mason City, IA—market 158!
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU WORKED YOUR WAY UP IN TV
I went the small market route. My first paid on air job was as a reporter and anchor at KIMT, Mason City, IA. This is also where the missing TV Anchor, Jodi Huisentruit worked (she replaced me on the morning show), and where I started that morning show with the late Don Harman of Fox 4.
HOW DID YOU END UP IN ARKANSAS?
After a year in Mason City, I went on vacation back to Arkansas and stopped by to see a couple of news directors in Little Rock. One of them decided at that moment to give me an on-air audition right then and there. I wasn’t expecting such a thing, but am grateful that he did it.
When the other station’s news director saw me live on the competition, he called and offered me a job. I took it. I spent the next 10-years at KATV in Little Rock, moving from reporter/fill-in anchor to 5 o’clock anchor, to the 6 and 10 within a few years. After a decade, though, I was ready to get back to the Midwest. With the help of an agent, I was considered for jobs in Atlanta, Boston, and Pittsburgh, but Kansas City came calling with the best offer.
CAN WE ASSUME YOU HAVE WON NUMEROUS AWARDS OVER THE YEARS?
Not really. I’m the Susan Lucci of awards. I’ve been nominated for individual Emmys over the years, but have not won. I’ve been a part of news teams that have won Emmys for Best Newscast, but have not won one personally. I have won an SPJ award for Enterprise Journalism, and have been recognized by various charities for volunteer work or serving on boards.
HAS YOUR CHOSEN FIELD CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
It absolutely has. When I started years ago, we still ripped wire copy and used a typewriter. I was a one-man band in north Iowa shooting on S-VHS (in below 30-degree wind chills!) , editing my own stories, and newscasts. I ran the teleprompter with a foot pedal and timed out my own newscasts.
I would go in at 2:00 in the afternoon to prepare for a 10:00 show. It took that long to read and rip the wire copy, find matching video on the feeds, write the show, then edit it. This was in a very small market however, so as soon as I made a jump, the facilities became nicer and more current. Now, photographers are shooting digital, the studio cameras are robotic, and commercials are hubbed out of a city hundreds of miles away.
IS SOCIAL MEDIA IMPORTANT?
Very much so. Because of social media, we can reach out to viewers beyond the TV screen. I can send an Instagram, a Tweet, or chat via Facebook, getting information out immediately instead of waiting for a newscast. I’m now trying to figure out Tumblr and Pinterest!
WHAT ARE THE MOST REWARDING ASPECTS OF YOUR CAREER?
There’s a lot to like about this career or we wouldn’t do it. But there are definitely drawbacks, too. For example, the pay is good but the hours are tough. You’re working holidays or weekends when others are out enjoying “normal” free time.
But then, each day is something different and there’s no paperwork to pile into a briefcase at the end of the work day. You’re working with people who like putting together the news of the day as much as you do, and have some fun doing it. The most rewarding part of this job, to me, is the variety I mentioned before. No one day is the same and with social media so prevalent now, news changes by the minute. It’s fascinating. I’ve always been curious to find out the who, what, where, when, and how.
LEAST REWARDING ASPECTS?
The least rewarding part is seeing bad things happen to good people, and working odd hours, being away from your family or missing important events.
DID YOU EVER CONSIDER ANOTHER CAREER?
As a freshman in college I was intent on majoring in psychology. But then I learned of the many statistics and math involved and knew I didn’t have a chance. I loved writing, history, and current events so a counselor suggested I combine the three into a broadcasting degree. If I had anything resembling a voice, I might like to be a singer. Or, if the sky’s the limit, I’d love to work in Paris for a French network.
DO YOU HAVE A MENTOR?
Yes. He’s Bob Steel, a former news director in Little Rock, Arkansas. He has helped me immensely in my career and I extremely grateful.
WHAT WEIRD THINGS HAVE HAPPENED TO YOU IN YOUR TV CAREER?
Two strange things have happened in my career. One happened in a tiny village in Ivory Coast, West Africa. I was doing a story on a company that was teaching women how to bake bread in high volume ovens, producing ten times the amount in a day than they were producing, and therefore, making a lot more money for themselves and their village.
It was an entirely French speaking village, and I do speak French. I translated the story and conducted the interviews in French. That was strange enough, but the really strange moment came when our crew presented the Chief of the village with a pretty Mont Blanc pen. He started to laugh and cry. We didn’t know what to do or what we had done. Finally, he thanked us and told us that we had flattered him with the gift of a pen, because we assumed that he knew how to read and write. He didn’t, nor did anyone in the village. We got a good lesson though in how there are those in the world who spend each day thriving, while others are simply surviving.
IS IT TRUE YOU ALMOST INTERVIEWED FIDEL CASTRO?
Yes, and that’s my second strange story. I was in Havana, Cuba. To be in Cuba at all was exciting. I was doing a story on rice imports from Arkansas to Cuba. We were being entertained by the Secretary of Agriculture, who promised to pass along our request for an interview with Fidel Castro. That night we got a call saying that we were to be ready to leave our hotel around 3:00 a.m. in the event we got to interview then-President Castro.
The official said that Castro only conducts interviews in the early morning hours. So, I spent hours fighting sleep waiting for the phone to ring while watching the only American television channel which was Cartoon Network! It was bizarre. Sadly, though, the call didn’t come and we did not get the interview with Castro.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING TO DO IN KC?
I love Kansas City, and I mean the whole city, not just Johnson County. Going downtown to concerts at the Sprint Center is a lot of fun, but so are places like Knuckleheads. It’s one of my favorite small venues. I love our sports teams through thick and thin, and am especially proud of Sporting KC’s success.
My very favorite thing to do though is take the kids and go to a barbeque joint and chow down! Don’t ask my favorite place though because I like them all. The flavors are different and each has its own uniqueness. I go to Oklahoma Joe’s most of all though because it’s close to the station.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR FREE TIME?
With two children and a full time job there’s not a lot of free time left over. I do yoga two or three times a week, and lately have been learning to play on the X-Box with my son. I do have my own Nintendo DS because my kids love theirs and I wanted to be able to play with them. I have my own games now. I also like shopping with my tweenage daughter and playing catch with my son.
ANY WEDDING BELLS IN YOUR FUTURE?
No romance for me. I can’t seem to find “him.
WHAT WOULD PEOPLE BE SURPRISED TO KNOW ABOUT YOU?
I drive barefoot.
FAVORITE TV SHOW NOT ON CBS?
The BBC’s Kitchen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey
WHO IS THE BIGGEST CELEBRITY EVER INTERVIEWED?
Dan Rather was in town for a book signing not too long ago. We had him on our 4 o’clock news and I was filling in for Carolyn Long that day, so I got to meet and interview him. He was surprisingly soft spoken and was open to talking about most anything, including his departure from CBS.
OKAY, WHO’S THE MOST INTERESTING PERSON YOU’VE INTERVIEWED?
(Former Soviet President) Mikhail Gorbachev, because he has a fantastic sense of humor. He had his translator with him every moment yet you just KNEW he could understand everything you’re saying. I met him twice and he remembered me the second time. Now THAT’S a good politician. It’s also incredible to think of how much classified information he knows.
ASIDE FROM BOTTOM LINE, WHO DO YOU FOLLOW ON TWITTER?
Of course I follow Bottom Line!! And 707 others including the major networks, newspapers (love The International Herald Tribune and Le Monde), British boy-band-member Harry Styles (for my daughter), and Justin Bieber (for myself – and THAT’S off the record!)