- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Susan Kidd was a young television anchorwoman in St. Louis when she came to WRC-TV (Channel 4) to interview for a job as the weekend news reader in spring 1983.

During a tour of the NBC affiliate’s Tenleytown newsroom, she had her first encounter with George Michael, the station’s notoriously bombastic sportscaster.

“Are you any good?” Mr. Michael demanded, skipping the formality of an introduction.

“Yeah, I think so,” Ms. Kidd said.

“Good, because I’m tired of mediocrity around here,” he replied, rushing off.

These days, it’s hard to imagine anyone questioning the skills of Ms. Kidd, who celebrated her 20th anniversary with WRC this past week.

Since 1987, she has anchored the station’s weekday 5 p.m. newscast, a job that has made her as much of a local television institution as Mr. Michael, who came to WRC in 1980.

On the air, Ms. Kidd is cool, calm and in control — a savvy newswoman who is just as comfortable introducing Tom Sherwood’s latest report from City Hall as she is bantering with weatherman Bob Ryan.

She commands as much respect behind the scenes as she does on camera.

Ms. Kidd, the daughter of a college professor and a school librarian, is a stickler for good grammar. During commercial breaks on her newscast, she has been known to fire off e-mails from her anchor desk, urging her boss to crack down on sloppy news writers.

“If you don’t get the who, what, when, where and how in the copy, you deserve to [be] raked across the coals,” Ms. Kidd said.

She is a popular figure in the newsroom. Younger colleagues call her “motherly.” Older staffers describe her as “a force of nature” and “a consummate journalist.”

“She can make Bill O’Reilly [of the Fox News Channel] look like a shrinking violet,” said her co-anchor, Wendy Rieger.

Ms. Rieger joined WRC’s 5 p.m. newscast in October 2001, when the station unexpectedly dumped Ms. Kidd’s longtime co-anchor, Doug McKelway.

In the beginning, the pairing of two strong-willed women on the anchor desk had newsroom gossips’ tongues wagging. Some said they detected withering glances across the desk between Ms. Kidd and Ms. Rieger, but the two downplayed the tension.

“My whole thing was, I liked the partner I had. We were a good fit,” Ms. Kidd said.

Ms. Rieger’s partnership with Ms. Kidd originally was seen as temporary, which made the situation tougher. “It was like, ‘Am I supposed to be dancing with you, or am I just passing through?’” Ms. Rieger said.

The tension dissolved by December, when Ms. Rieger did a moving report on the razing of the Capital Centre in Landover and Ms. Kidd sent an e-mail around the newsroom praising it.

Last month, the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences presented Ms. Kidd with a Glenn Brenner Award, which honors excellence in broadcast journalism. The award is named for the WUSA-TV (Channel 9) sports anchor, who died in 1992.

Ms. Kidd said she didn’t know Mr. Brenner well, but one of her prized photographs shows herself, Mr. Brenner and WRC crime reporter Pat Collins at some long-forgotten charity dinner. In the picture, the mischievous Mr. Brenner is goosing Mr. Collins.

The photo still cracks up Ms. Kidd, the rare television personality without pretense.

She often wears casual clothes around the newsroom, throwing a blazer on minutes before airtime. She stands 6 feet tall and once traded shopping tips with the late Divine, a towering Baltimore actor who wore women’s clothes and starred in the John Waters film “Hairspray.”

Ms. Kidd doesn’t mind being recognized on the street. “But it’s dangerous for people to think of TV reporters as celebrities, because then you don’t challenge them,” she said.

During her career at WRC, she has covered some of the region’s biggest stories. She was starstruck only once, when she did a live report on Nelson Mandela’s arrival at what was then Washington National Airport during his June 1990 visit.

“I remember saying [on air], ‘I know I’m supposed to be objective, but I don’t know if I should continue reporting or try to touch him,’” she recalled.

Her report on Charles Preston, a local teenager from a troubled family, also left a lasting impression. After the story, Ms. Kidd adopted the boy.

“This kid had all the tools to make it, except a lot of guidance. He was smart enough to know he needed parents. I don’t think of him any differently than any of the boys I birthed,” said Ms. Kidd, who has two college-age sons with her ex-husband.

Ms. Kidd was raised in Ohio, where she grew up watching David Brinkley and Irving R. Levine. After graduating with a degree in English from Albion College in Michigan, she landed a job as a secretary at an Atlanta TV station, which led to her first reporting job in Greensboro, N.C.

She always has been known as a broadcaster who has a mind — and isn’t afraid to speak it.

Like many viewers, she thinks there is too much crime in local news. She also decries newsroom budget cuts.

She would like to spend at least five more years in the business. The real test, she said, will be whether an industry that worships youth will allow her to stay in the anchor chair that long.

“I’ll [almost] be 60 by then,” she said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send an e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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