When KREM-2 anchor Charles Rowe retires on Nov. 30, it will be the end of a TV career that stretches back to the Reagan Administration.
Not his presidential administration; we’re talking about Reagan’s gubernatorial administration in California in 1967.
Rowe has been at KREM-2 for 20 years, plus long stints in L.A. and Chicago, yet before that he served as the state capital reporter at a Sacramento TV station from 1967 to 1969. That’s where Rowe accumulated his store of Reagan anecdotes.
“It was fascinating just watching Reagan operate,” said Rowe. “I remember one weekend, the hippies and anti-war folks were threatening to camp out on the capitol lawn. The gardens there are meticulous, just beautiful. The word was that they would camp out there and destroy the vegetation. I asked Reagan, ‘What are you going to do? Call out the guard or the capitol police?’ He said, ‘Well, Charles, I’ll just turn on the sprinklers.’ And that’s what he did and there were no problems.”
Actually, Rowe, 71, goes back even farther than that in broadcast journalism. This Chadron, Neb., native got his start working weekends in 1958 at a Hot Springs, S.D., radio station. By 1966, he had moved into TV journalism, if that’s the correct term for a one-man news operation in a Quonset hut in Coos Bay, Ore.
“We had to go out and sandbag the place at high tide,” said Rowe.
The switch from radio to TV was difficult for other reasons as well.
“I’ll be honest with you,” said Rowe. “It may seem odd, but I’ve never been that comfortable in front of a camera. I think it has something to do with the fact that I’m basically a shy guy to begin with. I’ve never been one to look for the spotlight, and it was difficult: All of the sudden you’re walking around town and people know you and you don’t know who they are.”
He went quickly from Coos Bay to Eugene, and then on to Sacramento. His rise after that was, by any measure, dizzying. By 1969, he was anchoring and reporting in Chicago, the third-largest TV market in the country. How did a boy from Chadron handle that?
“Not well,” said Rowe with a chuckle. “I got there in January 1969, it was cold, and the first story I went out on I was drenched with a fire hose in temperatures around zero. And the city wasn’t what I was used to growing up in. Finally the news director and I had a heart-to-heart. He said, ‘Charles you have to go with the flow. This may not be the most livable place you’ve ever been, but it’s time to step up.’ I said, ‘OK, I got the message.’ Then my work ethic kicked in and I started working seven days a week.”
He anchored the news in the mornings and then delivered three five-minute daily newscasts for the ABC Radio Network. Paul Harvey was right down the hallway.
“When he said, ‘Hello, Charles,’ it made my day,” said Rowe.
Five years later, he was anchoring in Los Angeles, the second-largest TV market in the nation. He worked there from 1974 to 1981 (with a brief interlude in Portland). He looks back on the whole time as a whirlwind.
“L.A. had so many high-profile stories, you tend to forget them,” he said.
And he wasn’t just anchoring: Rowe was cast in more than a dozen Hollywood films and TV shows.
“Every time, it was as a news reporter or an anchor,” said Rowe. “KTTV was an independent station and my contract did not forbid me from appearing in TV shows or movies. The network affiliates prevented their anchors from doing so.”
So Rowe got a Screen Actor’s Guild card and plenty of work. For instance, Rowe appeared in “When Hell Was in Session” in 1979, in “Midnight Lace” in 1981 and something called “Blood Beach” in 1981.
“Oh, you don’t want to forget about ‘Blood Beach,’ ” said Rowe, with a laugh. “It’s a teenybopper horror movie in the sand at Santa Monica. Did I survive? Barely. It was great fun. You can still rent it.”
Does Rowe own a copy?
“No, I never kept any of that stuff,” he said.
Rowe also appeared in a lot of shows you have heard of: “Knot’s Landing,” “Dynasty,” “BJ and the Bear,” “Quincy,” “The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo” and “The Rockford Files.”
Just look for the guy standing there with a microphone.
“The funny thing is, I’m still getting residuals for maybe, $4, for some of this stuff when it runs in foreign countries,” said Rowe. ” ‘The Rockford Files’ is still running somewhere.”
By 1981, he had had enough of L.A. and decided to return to his original line of work: radio. He moved to Lincoln City, Ore., and built a new station from the ground up, KCRF-FM.
“Those years I owned that station was the most fun I’ve ever had,” said Rowe. “It was a middle-of-the-road adult contemporary station, very heavy on local news. We won a lot of awards for news coverage. I’m very proud of that station. I wasn’t making a lot of money but I sure was having a lot of fun.”
So he sold it in 1987 and heard about an opening at KREM-2. He has been there ever since. From his anchor chair, he has presided over most of the momentous stories in the region, including the story he called the most memorable – the B-52 crash at Fairchild Air Force Base – and the two he said vied for “most disgusting” – serial killer Robert Yates and the tragedy at Ruby Ridge.
Now, he said, the time is right to hang it up. In fact, he felt that way last year.
“I was going to do it a year ago, but management asked me if I would stay another year,” said Rowe.
KREM news director Noah Cooper, in a prepared statement, called Rowe “the bedrock of KREM-2 News for 20 years.” Cooper said Rowe “breathed news his entire professional career.”
Rowe’s longtime co-anchor, Nadine Woodward, said the reality of Rowe’s retirement “just hasn’t hit me yet.”
“We’ve gotten along so well on the air many of our viewers actually thought we were married,” wrote Woodward, in an e-mail interview. “Charles is a gracious anchor, never one to steal the spotlight. And he’s always prepared. He preps more for each newscast than any anchor I’ve ever worked with.”
For a man who admittedly gave all of his time to his career, retirement might require an adjustment.
“I don’t have very many hobbies,” said Rowe. “I’ve taken up photography to some degree, so I still have that to conquer. I have a place in Oregon down on the beach. I’ll be spending a little time with that. I look forward to going down there and smelling a little salt air. The deepwater fishing around Depoe Bay, I’ll be spending some time with that.”
He is not married, but he said “I have been with the same lady for 17 years”: Laurine Jue, formerly a KREM-2 anchor and now a spokeswoman for Avista. He plans to continue to make Spokane his base.
He hopes to do some volunteer work at Spokane’s Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center as “a way to serve my country a little bit.” He’s a proud veteran of the Navy – he served aboard destroyers and achieved the rank of E-6 by the time he got out in 1958.
He hopes his farewell from the station will be low-key.
“Saying goodbye, I’ve never been very good at this kind of thing,” said Rowe. “When people have left the news department here, I’ve always just given them a handshake and say, ‘A job well done.’ And I’d appreciate the same thing.”