|Lebanon's blossoming broadcaster|
|Wednesday, February 22, 2012|
By KEN BECK
BOWLING GREEN, Ky.—Live television has got Hayley Harmon wrapped around its fingers, or might it be the other way around?
Harmon, who grew up in Lebanon and graduated from Friendship Christian School in 2006, has hit her career path at full gallop as news anchor of “AM Kentucky” and host-producer of “Midday Live” on WBKO-Channel 13 in Bowling Green, Ky.Holding down the fort on two live TV shows every weekday is no easy feat. It helps to have the gift of gab and a quick wit about you.
“I’ll never get used to it. I never think about the fact that it is live. Thinking that there are people on the other side . . . It freaks me out when I think about thousands watching,” said Harmon, 23, who joined the ABC affiliate as a general assignment reporter in October 2010. “Live is extremely nerve-wracking, but you can’t go back, so you’ve got to forget it.”
The young television broadcaster sat at the feet of a Nashville TV news legend while learning her art. Her News 3 class was taught by Chris Clark, anchorman at WTVF-Channel 5 for 41 years, now an instructor at Middle Tennessee State University.
“Hayley has that ability to communicate through television, and few people have that,” Clark said. “For her it’s as natural as breathing air. I would not compare her to Oprah, but Oprah was another one like that. And Hayley can write and cover a story, a triple-threat kind of person.”
What she loves most about her job is “the unpredictability of a live show.” And while Harmon broadcast live on the red carpet interviewing country music stars at the Country Music Association Awards Show from Nashville this past fall, a fairly predictable assignment, she finds the unexpected occurs most often in the TV studio.
“A kangaroo jumped on me during one show, and a snake relieved itself on the set. I never smelled such a horrible smell,” she recalled with a wrinkle of the nose.
Graduating at the top of her class from Middle Tennessee State University in May 2010, she holds a degree in broadcast journalism with an emphasis on electronic media. A few months after beginning her career with the TV station about 75 miles north of Lebanon, she began producing and anchoring the weekend newscasts, and last July she took on her current duties.
“When I was young, people always told me, ‘You gotta do something in front of the camera.’ I loved watching the news as a kid. In high school, I thought I’d try it out,” said the native of Memphis, who moved with her parents to Lebanon when she was 4 months old.
Harmon has quickly become a recognizable face in Bowling Green and south-central Kentucky. WBKO even has her smiling countenance plastered high on a billboard on a busy road near the TV station. But don’t think this gig is glamour and glory.
She arises from bed at 3 each morning in order to make it to work by 4 a.m. She has her breakfast of oatmeal and a granola bar at her desk and three hours later at 7 might eat yogurt or a banana. She probably will have downed three cups of coffee before she goes on the air.
“At 4, I have to start reading the scripts and editing them. For an hour I will edit them to my needs. I have two people to interview on the morning show, so I think about the questions I will ask them. At 5, I get my hair and makeup done (she does it herself),” Harmon said, describing her preparation.
“AM Kentucky” airs from 5:30-7 a.m. The channel barely reaches the Tennessee line, so Harmon’s family and friends in Lebanon cannot see her work on the small screen.
Harmon anchors the early news show and banters with Chris Allen, the station’s weather director and her co-anchor.
“Chris and I talk a lot about things that are trending on Internet or Facebook. It’s a very talky show. If we rehearsed, it would not be as light-hearted and fun,” said Harmon, who served as an intern at WTVF-Channel 5 in Nashville as well as at CMT where she worked on the “Top 20 Countdown” show.
After the morning show, Harmon gets ready for “Midday Live,” a lifestyles show with elements of national, state and community news as well as entertainment and cooking. She books all guests for both shows.
“Hayley is my 12th co-anchor on the morning show, ‘AM Kentucky.’ Her personality is so infectious. I’m a natural cut-up and so is she. We hit it off from the beginning,” said Allen, a native of White House, Tenn., who is into his 25th year at the station which celebrates its 50th anniversary in June.
“She’s the first co-anchor I’ve ever known who understood my sense of humor, and I understand hers, and it really clicks,” he said.
“She is the consummate professional. She is one of the few who I have come across in the business who always gets it. She understands the complexity of the news but is entertaining. Not many that young understand that,” Allen said.
Harmon applied at a half dozen TV stations after college graduation. When WBKO made her an offer, she took it but confessed “I was terrified.”
Then seven months ago, News Director Henry Chu asked her, “What do you think about anchoring now?”
“I was scared,” she recalled. “I think I said, ‘Really? What? Me?’ He talked me into it. I guess I still tend to feel like an intern. Morning news anchor? There’s no way I’m prepared for this.
“But I like it. Probably breaking the news gives me the most stress. I love being on and I love news work. I feel like I’m getting a lot of good experience. I do want this to be my career.
“At a small station you do 30 peoples’ jobs. It’s an excellent learning experience. When I was reporting, I shot the story, edited the video and I wrote everything. And there’s just so much more behind the scenes that you don’t know about.”
Harmon is not the only Wilson Countian to work at the Bowling Green station. Lebanon High School grad Stephanie Midgett serves as the weekend weather anchor, while Demetrius Sherrod has advanced from WBKO to become a producer at Nashville’s WZTV-Channel 17.
Last year, MTSU graduated 143 students with degrees in electronic media communication, and about 40 sought careers in TV news. It can be a tough nut to crack, but Dr. Dennis Oneal, who helms the electronic media management program at the school, said he knew Harmon was capable from the get-go.
“Hayley got her first television hosting position while she was in my introductory class,“ Oneal said. “Her audition was far and away the strongest of the applicants. From her first program, there was little doubt that Hayley was very much at home on television.
“It is quite extraordinary for Hayley to be co-anchoring a morning television show and anchoring a noon show but not totally surprising to me. I have always had confidence that Hayley had talent, intelligence and personality to be a television host. She was fortunate to find a television station that would give her the chance this early in her career, and she is making the most of the opportunity,” Oneal said.
Harmon’s dream job? “I’d love to be on NewsChannel 5. I’d kill to be there,” she said.
Chris Clark believes there may be a place for her at the station in the near future.
“I know her mama wants her to come to Nashville, and I think that’s hers when she gets enough experience, and where she goes from there—that’s unlimited,” Clark said.
Meanwhile, she’s learning her craft and gaining valuable on-air time twice a day, five days a week, loving her work.
“If I don’t look at the clock, I would be here until 2 or 3, so I force myself to leave at 1. I am so exhausted. It’s kinda that letdown,” said Harmon, who hits the sack at 7 p.m. so she can rise and shine the next morning.
In the late afternoon and on weekends, she enjoys hanging out with friends, running and working out at the gym, shopping, eating Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream and reading.
However, on TV may just be the place she likes being most.
“It’s weird because I get to do hard news and lifestyles. It’s perfect because it fits my personality. I love both,” said Lebanon’s gift to television journalism.