Longtime KHQ Local News morning show anchor Sean Owsley will walk off the set for the last time at the end of May, when he will hang up a 27-year career in television journalism to spend more time with his family.
With his son getting ready to attend Whitworth in the fall, Owsley decided the time had come for a lifestyle change.
“It’s been tremendous,” he said, expressing his appreciation for the faith KHQ placed in him over the years. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at without their embracing me and propelling me each step of the way.”
But the 2:30 a.m. alarm necessary for his early morning call times had become a dealbreaker.
“No matter how you approach it, it does make you tired,” he said. “My son’s older now and I want to be able to stay up and be with him and enjoy his college years.”
Owsley will be replaced by Sam Adams, KHQ’s longtime director of sports.
“Sam and I have gotten along since day one, and to pass the baton along to somebody that you respect, you can’t ask for more than that,” Owsley said.
Owsley, a Spokane native who spent his teenage years in West Seattle, knew by his sophomore year of high school that a career in journalism – and in broadcast journalism, in particular – was the sure path for him.
Eastern Washington University’s journalism program brought Owsley back to Spokane. In his senior year, an internship spent working on the “Q-6 Sunrise” morning show brought him to KHQ for the first time.
“Back then it (the show) was only 30 minutes,” Owsley said. “There were some big changes in the three decades since.”
The station’s current morning show lasts 2 1/2 hours.
After he graduated from EWU, a friend at KHQ let slip about a part-time videotape-editing job. Owsley jumped at the chance, despite the late nights that would portend the difficult hours of his later position.
“It was overnights on the weekends for $5 an hour, 17 hours a week – I was thrilled, ” Owsley said. “I just wanted to get a foot in the door and use that opportunity to learn whatever I could from all of the good people that worked there. I started Jan. 1, 1993.”
After that first KHQ job, his career would take some odd turns. The classic path for a news anchor involved finding work in smaller markets – Tri-Cities, Yakima, Missoula – before coming to larger ones. Owsley went straight for Spokane.
From the tape-editing position, he moved into a full-time job as a KHQ photographer. In that role, he covered the B-52 crash at Fairchild and the shooting at the hospital there in 1994, both of which occurred during one week that July.
“That stuck with me,” he said. At those times, “you realize you’re marking history with what you’re doing.”
After a year and a half, he started itching to take fuller advantage of his journalism degree.
He put his writing samples in order for station management and sent them off. Patricia McRae – now the president and general manager of KHQ – gave him a job producing the evening news.
“She really embraced me all along the way, on this journey from then until now,” Owsley said.
He continued producing that show for three years. At one point, he took part in the production of a local truck commercial, the tag line of which people never ceased to quote back at him: “You wanna truck, a big, bad tough-looking truck!”
“My bosses saw that (and then) asked me to do some fill-in sports work while I was still producing,” he said.
During his time in the sports department, Owsley had the opportunity to cover the Cougars’ journey to the Rose Bowl in 1998. More recently, Owsley was given the opportunity to cover the Vancouver Winter Olympics from start to finish.
“That was an assignment like no other: amazing, fulfilling and challenging,” Owsley said. “No sleep, of course, but it was incredible to have a brand-new story every day of triumph and tragedy, everything that the Olympics present.”
After years in sports, the anchor job at KHQ still eluded him.
“We had great anchors that were well established,” he said. “There were really no openings.”
So he sent out his résumé tape – a VHS tape then – and ended up landing a morning anchor job in Knoxville, Tennessee. Owsley’s son Ryan would be born there.
After deciding to move back to Spokane in 2002, Owsley had job offers from more than one local TV station, but KHQ was still the best fit. He accepted a position as a reporter and fill-in anchor. Not long after that, the full-time anchor job he had always wanted opened up.
In 2014, Owsley won an Emmy for breaking live coverage of the Carlton Complex Fire. Over the course of 16-hour days leading into nights, Owsley followed the Central Washington fire from Omak to Twisp to Pateros.
“I had a job to do there, to present detailed, factual information because people’s lives were on the line,” he said. “I’m proud of that Emmy, but I certainly didn’t do it alone.
“What stood out to me, and what’s been most rewarding, was when you saw these people devastated, having lost their homes and their community so badly damaged, you also saw their resiliency and support of one another.”
That they would then “allow me to be in the community and report what was going on – I always took that very, very personally,” he said. “I did my job, I was professional, but I was also hugely respectful of people that were going through adversity. I’ve kept that with me my entire career. You have to have compassion and really understand the complexity of these situations you’re walking into as a journalist.”
Some of the greatest highlights of Owsley’s career, he said, have involved the many colleagues he has come to call friends over the years and the constant camaraderie of the newsroom.
“Working with Kalae (Chock) and Leslie (Lowe) the last six years has really, for me, been the pinnacle of my career,” he said, referring to his co-anchor and KHQ’s chief forecaster. “It’s like, you’re going to work, but you’re not even really working. We put in some long hours and work very hard, but, working with people that are kind to you, that care about you outside your profession, care about your families, that’s really been a highlight for me.
“I’ve been through some really tough personal losses, (but) I’ve always found that people are so kind and supportive.”
Owsley will take the summer off to spend time with his wife Sara and their children, dabbling in freelance work for KHQ, and regroup in the fall.
“The bottom line is I’ve been blessed, I’ve been lucky and I’m so thankful for everybody that chose to watch the news and allowed me to present it to them,” he said. “I’ve loved the interaction, and most importantly when I met people in person, the kindness they’ve shown me, the smiles and hugs. That is something you take with you to whatever’s next.”
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