I’ll admit this right from the top: Rick and Teresa Lukens are old friends of mine.
So when they were fired by the KXLY Broadcast Group this week, I took it personally.
I’ll bet thousands of you – even if you have never met them – might consider them old friends, too. After nearly three decades on both TV and radio, the Lukenses are as well-known as anybody in Spokane.
No, this does not make them more deserving of attention than the thousands of other unemployed Spokane people in the Great Recession. Times are tough. Yet right now, times are tough for this one particularly recognizable couple.
For 27 years, Rick, 53, has been a KXLY-TV sports reporter, sports anchor, news feature reporter and a newscast anchor. For nearly 26 years, Teresa, 48, was a producer, director and “Good Morning Northwest Sunday” anchor. Together, they also spent years as that rare radio phenomenon, a married morning team, first for KXLY-FM, then for KXLY-AM and most recently for KVNI-AM.
How high is their Q-factor in this town? Well, let me tell you a story from the days when Rick and Teresa were stalwarts on my old softball team. During one game, an opposing player once whispered to our first base coach, “Hey, isn’t that Rick Lukens, the TV sports guy?’
“Hey, we have all kinds of famous people on our team,” replied the coach. “See those guys over there? They’re writers for the paper.”
There was a long, long pause.
“No, really,” whispered the guy. “Isn’t that Rick Lukens, the TV sports guy?”
And they also happened to be good at their jobs. Rick’s “Lukens at Large” features won three national Edward R. Murrow Awards. Clearly, they could have moved up to bigger markets if they hadn’t made an early decision not to drag their kids from city to city.
Why, then, did KXLY think it was a smart idea to drop them? The station cited budgetary reasons, of course, which is no doubt true, as far as it goes. I suspect the reasons are far more complex, involving the decline of TV news viewership, a general air of desperation in the news business, a TV management obsession with youth and appearance, favoritism, personality issues and, finally, the plain fact that broadcasting is, and always will be, a brutal business.
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be anchors.
Rick and Teresa know that better than anybody, yet when I dropped in on my friends this week, it would be fair to describe them as in a state of shock. They have one daughter at Washington State University and another who’s a senior at North Central High School. The word “tuition” takes on a new terror when you’re suddenly unemployed.
“That’s the scariest thing of all,” said Rick.
Yet they weren’t exactly taken by surprise – not at all. Last January, they were taken off their KXLY-AM morning show and sent to a much smaller sister station, KVNI-AM in Coeur d’Alene. Teresa’s pay was cut in half. The word “exile” may be too strong a word, but not by much.
“We’d been moved out as far as we could be moved out,” said Rick.
“We knew the next step was going to be … what just happened,” said Teresa. “We had prepared ourselves financially, but prepared mentally? No. It’s kind of like being kicked out of your family.”
They both spent more than half their lives at KXLY. That’s where they met. That’s where their kids grew up. Their family included Rick’s old KXLY sports colleagues, Bud Nameck and Dennis Patchin.
The only time Rick lost it during my visit was when he thought about those old partners.
“I want to say one other thing – and I’m not going to cry,” he said. “Working with her (gesturing toward Teresa) and working with Bud and Dennis, was, far and away, the best thing I ever did.”
What’s next? They’re getting three months of pay, as part of an agreement with the station. Rick said he is not yet ready to give up on broadcasting – not if there’s something he can do on-air in Spokane. Teresa said she’s willing to flip burgers to get the kids through college. They’re open, in that shell-shocked way of the newly unemployed, to all options.
Meanwhile, they declined the opportunity to complain bitterly about their treatment. It’s not their style to publicly criticize their old station and call management a bunch of clowns.
So I’ll do it for them. KXLY just dumped two of its most popular and talented assets. I hope they regret it, and soon.
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