The ‘Walter Cronkite’ of Spokane news plans to retire
By Deborah McBride
Jeff Wasson is ending his long career as anchorman for the KREM-TV nightly news shows this summer and he has a surprise planned for the loyal viewers who watch his last broadcast.
No, he’s not going to run for mayor (although a lot of people have teased him about that since he decided to quit).
The Walter Cronkite of Spokane’s television media plans to let his hair down, so to speak, and just be himself on the air his last day.
“I’m going to do it topless,” Wasson quipped in an interview Wednesday.
Nothing radical, nothing obscene about it – he simply plans to leave his hairpiece at home that day.
It won’t be a terrible shock for viewers. Wasson isn’t another Telly Savalas or Yul Brynner. He only wears “a little extra” under the merciless glare of the hot studio lights each weeknight at 5:30 and 11 p.m.
It’s only a small rebellion to mark the end of an 11-year career in one of the most demanding, image-conscious spots on television.
But it’s just the kind of light-hearted, inoffensive touch Wasson might be expected to choose to commemorate the end of a career he admittedly enjoyed and will miss.
Wasson already is “phasing out” of his job at KREM. He has stopped doing the 11 p.m. newscast but he agreed to continue the 5:30 show until management hires a replacement for him.
“Personal reasons” are the official explanation for his decision to leave KREM.
“It’s just time for a change. I’ve been working nights for seven years now,” Wasson explained. He wants more time to spend with his new wife, Beth Kochheiser Wasson, an occupational therapist who directs the Linker House for drug addicts and Regina Hall for girls.
“It’s a tough shift,” his boss, Irwin P. Starr, KREM general manager, agreed. “We’re very sorry to lose him but it’s important to have the same anchorperson at 5:30 and 11.”
Starr said research has shown that television viewers “identify better” with one newscaster than they do with different faces at different times. He hopes to find a replacement for Wasson before the new television “season” starts in September.
Wasson intends to remain in Spokane and has accepted a position with the new Markham Corp., a vending machine company that also markets Weigh Rite scales and is involved in leasing and investment efforts, he said.
Salary was also an issue for Wasson – albeit less important than his work schedule. Despite the outrageous salaries TV personalities earn in major markets, top newscasters at KREM are paid less than $20,000 a year.
Wasson credits his success as anchorman to his sincerity, his ability to present the news “without being an alarmist or sensationalist.” But he candidly admits he lacks the “sex appeal” of the most popular newscasters in the nation.
He modestly claims the only thing that allowed him to draw a major share of the 300,000 television viewers in the Spokane area was “the inability of any of the other stations to hire a macho anchorman.”
“I’m not macho, by any means. All I’ve had to offer is sincerity,” Wasson said.
The KREM anchorman also was active in community affairs here. He has worked with the Muscular Dystrophy Association board of directors, Rotary Club, the Christian Coalition and the Youth Help Association.
Wasson is happy about the years he spent in the “hot spot” on the KREM news set and he isn’t defensive about criticism of Spokane’s television news coverage.
“TV news here is better than a city this size could expect,” Wasson said, noting that Spokane is the 75th television market in the United States with a “prime market” of potential viewers of 300,000 and an overall market of half a million. An additional quarter-million viewers in Canada can pick up KREM on cable.
“We’ve got some very good people and we do a very good job,” Wasson said. For comparison, he noted that KREM’s sister station in Seattle, KING-TV, employs a news team of about 100 people, while a staff of 15 puts out the daily news for KREM here.
Thursday, July 12, 1979