Up With Debbie
the American Dream
a month into her new job as a reporter and weekend anchor at
KJRH-TV in Tulsa, Debbie Denmon ('91) received a big
break: filling in for the vacationing weekday anchor.
But shortly after arriving at the station her first weekday morning — April
19, 1995 — Denmon
was riding down Interstate 44 to downtown Oklahoma City to cover what was then
the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The bombing of
the Murrah Federal Building killed 168 people.
"I kept saying, ‘I can't go — I'm supposed to anchor
today,'" recalls Denmon, who had not previously covered a tragic
breaking story. "I was so afraid."
Denmon stayed in Oklahoma City for a week, reporting for 14 hours a day.
"It was surreal. I wondered how I could interview people who had walked
away from a bomb blast, or people who had lost loved ones. Every morning, I called
my mother and cried," she says.
News in the morning
as that week was, Denmon says she realized then that broadcast
journalism was the career for her.
"I love the rush of breaking news and being able to digest the information
and regurgitate it to viewers," she says.
More than eight years later, she keeps viewers of Dallas' WFAA-TV/Channel
8 informed as the co-anchor of News 8 Daybreak, the station's
5 to 7 a.m. weekday newscast. She is also co-anchor of News 8 Midday
from noon to 1 p.m.
In between, Denmon is co-host of Good Morning Texas from
9 to 10 a.m. During a typical show, she delivers news headlines
conducting human-interest interviews. She may talk to a famous
comedian about an upcoming show in the area, learn how to furnish
a college residence hall, talk to a representative about a charity
or cook with
a local chef.
Denmon says doing Good Morning Texas in addition to the morning
and noon news broadcasts is a perfect fit for her.
"I enjoy reporting hard news, but I like soft news, too," she
be like Iola
Denton native and Denton High School graduate, Denmon says working
WFAA-TV is a childhood
dream fulfilled. As a child in the mid-1970s, she was mesmerized
by Iola Johnson at WFAA. Johnson was the first female African
American anchor in the Dallas-Fort Worth
"My parents have always watched Channel 8. I remember begging them
to let me stay up past my bedtime so I could watch Iola at 10 p.m.," Denmon
At age 13, she met Johnson at a mall autograph session and became
determined to be just like her. Her father, Carl ('65), told
her she needed to major in journalism and encouraged her to attend
his alma mater.
At UNT, Denmon found support from Keith Shelton and Richard Wells
in the Department of Journalism and Russ Campbell in the Department
of Radio, Television and Film, among others.
"When you have professors who tell you that you have talent,
it's encouraging and makes you want to work even harder," she
Through the UNT chapter of the National Association
of Black Journalists, Denmon met several prominent African American
broadcasters, including John McCaa from WFAA-TV and Ramona Logan
from KXAS-TV/Channel 5.
The contacts she made led Denmon to her first job after graduation.
She worked 30 hours a week on the assignment desk at KXAS-TV. She
answered the phone, sorted the mail and piles of news releases,
and monitored the police scanner — for
$13,000 a year.
"It was anything but glamorous, but I just wanted to get my feet
in the door of a television station," Denmon says. "I
learned a lot about the business because I was able to determine
what was a news story and what was not. I was so proud when a story
that I suggested aired."
two years, a station photographer, Kent Harrell, encouraged Denmon
to apply for a reporter position at
his old station, KRDO-TV in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Denmon got the job and stayed at KRDO-TV for 18 months before moving
to her weekend anchor and reporter job at KJRH-TV in Tulsa — another
job that Harrell, now news director at KZTV-TV in Corpus Christi,
helped her obtain.
"He was then in management at the station in Tulsa," Denmon
says. "In this business, it's so important to have
someone walk your resume tape to the person doing the hiring, because
your tape may be one of hundreds mailed to the station."
After her contract at KJRH-TV expired, Denmon moved to WTHR-TV
in the larger television market of Indianapolis. She became the
weekend morning anchor and a reporter for the station. She counts
the firing of Bobby Knight as basketball coach at Indiana University
and the Indiana Pacers' appearance in the 2000 National Basketball
Association finals as her most memorable stories. She won a national
award for her feature on Pacers center Sam Perkins.
A few months later, Denmon left Indianapolis to return to Texas
after a morning anchor position opened up at WFAA-TV.
She adds that for the first time in her career, her parents can
watch her on the job.
"My parents had been skeptical about my career choice, so my dream
was to show my dad what he paid for by sending me to UNT," she
her time at WFAA, Denmon has become used to being a public figure — something
that she says was difficult for her when she first started her
"I was naïve about viewer reaction. Viewers will call and comment
on your appearance," she says.
She remembers a female colleague in Indianapolis being demoted
because she cut her long hair without first informing the news
"Ratings are the key, and you have to perfect your look so that
viewers and the news director are satisfied," she says. "A
news director once told me to change my lipstick during a commercial
break because he didn't like the color. I've also been
told to lose weight."
She says she was also naïve about how much anchors are expected
to know about a news story.
"To be a good anchor, you have to be a good reporter first so you
don't sound like an idiot when you ask the reporter questions
on the air," she says. "I don't think people
realize the huge responsibility of an anchor to sound credible.
Anything you say will be scrutinized."
Denmon completed her third year on the air at WFAA in October.
Although she hasn't ruled out a network job, she plans to
stay with the station for as long as possible.
"I've spent too many years trying to get back to this area,
and I enjoy being around my family, who all live in North Texas," she
says. "I'm just happy to be home."