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coming full circle
Story by Shaila Creekmore; photography by Amy Long

The job of being a news anchor has changed dramatically over the last quarter of a century, but KAIT’s Diana Davis still finds the business to be her calling in life. “God put me in a special place. I really believe that.

There are many times when I feel as if my work is not work. It’s a calling,” said Davis. “I’m dead tired working on something, but I know I have to see it through because of the people I’m trying to help. In a sense, I feel that I’ve been given an opportunity – a rare opportunity to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of others. I don’t want to let them down.”

That call for Davis came in high school in her small town of Raytown, Mo., where she was the editor of the school newspaper. She found that writing came easy for her and she was constantly looking for a story to tell through her writing. While working for the local newspaper while still in high school, a teacher’s suggestion caused her to begin to consider broadcast as a possibility.

“A much beloved high school teacher suggested I look in the direction of television news,” said Davis. “Between him and my mother, I really owe my career to their insight because I didn’t see it in myself. I can still hear Mr. Bill Austin, the Raytown South High School psychology teacher, say, ‘I see you delivering the news on TV someday.’ I’m sure my answer was a grin and a shaking of the head, ‘I don’t know about that!’ But, he planted a seed, a
thought that would grow over time. Once it was there, I never looked back. I just worked toward that goal.”

Davis’ first paying job in broadcast was as intern for KCMO
Radio 81, a news talk radio station in Kansas City, where Davis
said she was able to work with many great writers in the business.

“Radio was a great start for me,” she said. “It was a natural progression for journalists at the University of Kansas. We got our feet wet in radio before we could ever go on to TV news. Radio teaches you how to ad lib, to fill time and to create a visual picture for the people at home.”

Davis would go on to begin reporting on-air and occasionally filling in as anchor, but was having a difficult time finding opportunities behind the anchor desk to expand her skills. To her surprise, one night in 1989 following a newscast, a phone call came asking if she would be interested in a position at KAIT in Jonesboro.

“My first contract with the station was for two years with an option for a third. Imagine that,” said Davis. “I knew that I wanted anchoring experience and immediately recognized what a valuable opportunity Jonesboro offered. The station flew me down. I auditioned after the regular 6 p.m. newscast with Tony (Brooks), Terry (Wood) and Dick Clay. As Tony put it, ‘It was like all the stars aligned.’ That combination was just the perfect fit! The news team was so supportive of my work and I felt as if I was home. So that contract was extended several times. Now 25 years later, I can’t imagine spending my career anywhere else.”

Davis said in those early years, being at a smaller station allowed her opportunities she had not been afforded in larger markets.“Harold Culver, KAIT vice-president and general manager at the time, believed in my abilities as a broadcaster,” said Davis. “In those early years, he allowed me the chance to work on projects statewide with the other ABC affiliates. I got to do far more in the first years at KAIT than I ever dreamed of doing.”

In her time at KAIT, Davis has co-anchored with Tony Brooks, Jim Taylor, Doug Doggett, D.J. Cunningham and for the last 12 years with Craig Rickert. Over that decade, Rickert and Davis have become close friends in addition to their working partnership.“We all have difficult times in our lives – tragedies, losses or
personal struggles of some sort. I can honestly say that I don’t know how I would have made it through some of these times without his support,” said Davis. “I couldn’t work alongside a more supportive co-anchor. The interaction you see on TV is genuine.”

Earlier this year, Rickert wrote a nomination letter, along with former KAIT Vice-President and General Manager Tracey Rogers and News Director Hatton Weeks, for Davis’ induction into the Silver Circle of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) Mid-America Chapter, an honor bestowed upon an elite group of professionals recognized for making a significant contribution to television for at least 25 years.

“It was a huge surprise! I received the official letter … in May. I was sure they had made a mistake. Me, no way,” said Davis. “I would have never dreamed that I would be included into such an elite group as this! … Broadcasters that I had so admired as a youngster and inspired me to pursue this profession were listed in the Silver Circle. The best part of all was that I would get to see
some of them as I returned to Kansas City, my hometown, for the NATAS Gala in September. I returned to where it all started.”

But this was not the first major award for Davis. In 2008, she received an Emmy for her reporting on the 2008 Super Tuesday tornadoes, hitting the small town of Mountain View where she and Rickert spent the next few days anchoring live and reporting on the destruction and the people it affected.

Davis said reporting on the lives affected by different tragedies and events is often the most difficult part of her job.

“When I think of difficult stories, I think of delivering bad news,” said Davis. “On several occasions, I have had to read the name of someone I know on the air that has been killed in a car accident, involved in a crime or has been the victim of a crime.

I’m not just reading the news. When I see those names, I see their families. I see their mother or father’s face in my mind. I know how much it hurts them to hear me share this news. Having lived in this community for a while now, the names on the news aren’t just names. They’re people I know.”

Throughout the years, Davis has served on boards of several local organizations, Davis is instrumental in helping to organize, promote and work United Way’s Stuff the Bus, a program to collect school supplies for area schools.

“I’ve been fortunate to assemble a dedicated crew of volunteers over the years. Whether it’s over 100 degrees or standing in a downpour, these men and women show up and give their all for Region 8,” said Davis.

Davis said community involvement is important to her because she feels that it is part of her calling to give back to those in her community. “Through community service, I want people to know that there is hope for a better tomorrow,” said Davis. “If you are hurting, if tragedy has affected your family, there are options. We live in a community where people truly care. That’s why I chose to raise my children here. Not every community is like this. We are truly
blessed and we have an obligation to give back.”