KING’s queen: Jean Enersen’s 35-year run might be the longest in television

Jean Enersen.

KING-TV anchor Jean Enersen, then and now.

Natalie Jacobson is leaving the anchor desk this week at Boston’s WCVB-TV after 35 years. I don’t know who keeps tabs on such things, but that might leave Jean Enersen as the nation’s longest-serving anchor at a single TV station. Or at least one of the longest in a major market. Enersen joined KING-TV in Seattle in 1968. She became an anchor in 1972, promoted by news director Norm Heffron to work beside Jim Harriott, who died recently. Enersen and Jacobson were among the first female anchors in TV journalism. Enersen arrived during a period of extraordinary creativity and quality at Dorothy Bullitt’s KING, led by Charles Royer, Don McGaffin, Mike James, and many others. KING’s reporters broke stories, exposed crooks, and framed civic debate, an unlikely scenario in today’s broadcasting, though several fine reporters, such as Robert Mak, Linda Byron, and Linda Brill still work at Channel 5. Enersen made a path for future female anchors and helped put a luster on KING that was dulled later by cutbacks and turmoil in the communications industry, first in broadcasting and now at newspapers. I still watch KING more than other stations, mainly out of habit. One channel’s newscast seems pretty much like another. Enersen for a time cut a dashing figure, reporting from Moscow or Beijing, interviewing presidents, anchoring major specials on the big topics. More than once, there was talk of her running for office, following colleagues Royer (who won, becoming mayor of Seattle) and James (who did not). She had one career disappointment. The top boss at KING, Ancil Payne, told NBC she’d make a great host for the Today program. But that job in 1976 went to a Chicago broadcaster, Jane Pauley. Today, Enersen’s work as news reader is still strong, providing adistinction, humor, and context, especially about politics and Seattle history. Her reports on health topics are less impressive, mainly canned features on research findings of dubious validity. If you eat red onions, you are a little less likely to get liver failure, or is it strawberries and bone loss? Outside the station, she remains a fixture on the charity circuit, a prized emcee and advocate for causes such as the Northwest AIDS Walk. Enersen is a survivor. At KING, she outlasted a score of co-anchors, as well as rivals at other stations, with the exception of longtimer Kathi Goertzen at KOMO-TV. Enersen’s a big presence, but also unknowable. Working in a profession of people who want to know “the real you,” she’s been among the best at protecting her privacy. We know little about her personal life, despite 35 years of items in the dailies. Little was written about an Enersen divorce from Paul Skinner; she later married Bruce Carter, a biotech exec. (By contrast, Jacobson, in Boston, could not avoid headlines during a breakup with long-time co-anchor and husband Chet Curtis.) More important, Enersen’s been careful to stay out of conflicts or to make public her views on industry changes. If she tried to use her clout to press for certain programming, we don’t know. Doubtless, that caution has been an element in her tenure. Women in broadcasting seem to carry a heavier load, as Katie Couric can tell you. And it’s brutal on anyone who develops a wrinkle and looks old, even if ratings are improving, as Bob Schieffer can tell you. Enersen has survived all the changes, the cutbacks, the bellowing news directors who arrive with new wisdom, the petty jealousies in the fight for air time, the sheer grind of deadlines, and getting her own share of wrinkles. She was and is the brand at KING. The franchise. No one at any other station or in any other newsroom in our city can claim that status.

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