What’s it like to be locally famous and then see that celebrity status fade away?
Debra Wilde would know.
For almost 30 years, she was a homegrown high-profile presence on Spokane TV news – as a weathercaster, reporter, talk show host and anchor.
That ended in 2007, when she learned that her services were no longer required.
But the 63-year-old divorced mother of three adult sons was back on television in a decidedly unflattering context three years ago when she was rescued from her vehicle in the middle of Latah Creek and subsequently charged with suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.
Wilde has strong views about what really happened and about how certain Spokane media outlets covered the incident. But the upshot was she was given a deferred prosecution deal consisting of five years probation.
Q. So how does that stand now?
A. I jumped through all the hoops and I have two more years of probation.
Q. Do you still get recognized in public?
A. Someone at the grocery story actually said “Didn’t you used to be Debra Wilde?” It’s just goofy.
Q. What have you learned about the Spokane version of fame?
A. It’s fleeting. But it was never a big deal to me.
Q. What are you up to now?
A. I’m doing a weekly half-hour radio show called “Young at Heart.” It’s on The Key, 1050 AM. Boomer stuff.
Q. You became a grandmother not long ago. How do you like that?
A. (Reaches into her purse to get her phone and calls up pictures of baby Charlotte.) It used to be that when people started talking about their grandkids, I would glaze over. Now I get it.
Q. What do you miss about TV news?
A. I miss not being able to tell stories. I miss people.
Q. Did you ever think about some of your viewers ogling you?
A. I did when I got letters from men in prison.
Q. Were you ever directed to wear snug sweaters or what have you?
Q. Do you watch TV news today?
Q. When did you learn who your real friends are – after your TV career ended or after the Latah Creek thing?
Q. What are your aspirations?
A. I would like to meet somebody. I would like to have a partner. I’m learning more about myself as I get older. I know that sounds silly.
Q. What’s something you are proud of from the old days? I know you received community service awards.
A. I was the first to report on people with AIDS in Spokane. I had death threats.
Q. Any reason for anybody to feel sorry for you?
A. No. They might pity me if they see me in a bikini. But no.
Q. What’s a funny memory from your on-air days?
A. I was reporting on a man who had been shot. I said he had been shot twice, once in the neck and once in the nuts. And I went “I mean arm.” Randy (Shaw) fell off his chair.
Q. What about when you were sick during your honeymoon and when asked about that trip on the air said that you had spent the whole week on your back?
A. (Laughs.) There were so many. I wish we had blooper tapes.
Q. You were friends with Jim West. Did you know all there was to know about him?
A. No. I did not know.
Q. What is dating like?
A. I have been working at a golf course, and you would think I would meet people there. But I really don’t put myself out there. I really don’t go anywhere. I have friends that I hang out with.
Q. At your lowest points, what has kept you going?
A. Probably my kids. Sam said, “Mom, don’t ever forget, you’re Debra effffing Wilde.”
Q. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A. I don’t like the way I look. I’ve become a little insecure because of events of the last 10 years. I pray a lot.
Q. One piece of advice for young women in TV news?
A. Do it for the right reasons. Being on television, that’s not a reason. Do it for the right reason. Want to make a difference. Help people.
Q. If you had a do-over …?
A. I wish I had graduated from college. I went to Montana State to join the barrel racing team but then, with out-of-state-tuition and the cost of taking my horse back and forth, it got too expensive. I wish I had finished.
Q. How is your singing voice?
A. Not very good.
Q. Is your enemies list longer than your list of friends?
A. I don’t have any enemies. I don’t know. Maybe I have enemies I don’t know about.
Q. But there are people from your broadcasting days you are still in touch with, right?
A. Oh, yeah.
Q. You were going to sell real estate at one point a few years ago. What happened?
A. I’m just not a sales person.
Q. So what are some things on the horizon for you?
A. Knee replacement. I’m president-elect of my Rotary Club. I want to take some college courses. And I want to travel, to visit friends in other states.
Q. What do you say when some stranger asks “So why aren’t you on the news anymore?” and you don’t really feel like providing a detailed answer?
A. Oh, boy. I am so tempted to go into detail about why KHQ let me go after 20 years. And KXLY, you’d have to ask them. I still don’t know why. But I learned a long time ago to take the high road. It’s a much prettier view. So, my standard answer is “I was blessed to have a 27-year career in news. I loved it heart and soul, as well as all the hundreds of people who trusted me with their personal stories. It was an honor. But it was time for new adventures. As my stepmom would say, it’s yesterday’s newspaper.