On television news, leaving on your own terms seldom happens. The thirst for the spotlight is too intoxicating.
But 11Alive’s Jill Becker is choosing to retire and is not being shoved out the door. (She announced the move in January.) Her final day is Friday, Sept. 2. She has been a pillar at the station, a morning host at the NBC affiliate for 23 years. She has shared the desk with at least seven different co-hosts.
Ted Hall, who had been working evenings, takes over for her starting next week, working alongside Karyn Greer.
I spoke with Becker Wednesday.
Why she’s leaving: “I think I’m just exhausted. I’ve been on mornings here for 23 years. And I was on mornings before that on Channel 2 for a couple of years. It’s a long time.”
The emotional impact: “It didn’t really hit me until this week when the goodbyes started. It really brought it home. They’ve been running soundbites with some of my coworkers and former coworkers… I hope on Friday morning I can keep it together. I really do. I don’t want to go out sobbing. I want to keep it together, then fall apart after that.”
Why she chose mornings in the first place: “I had just had my first son. And I just felt it would work better with our schedule. So I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else in the world. Mornings were what I wanted to do all these years. I just think I hit some kind of wall.” [On nights before work, she went to bed at 7 p.m. and wakes up at 2:30 a.m.]
Her philosophy in mornings: “If you think about turning on your TV in the morning, it better be with someone that’s pleasant enough. I read and edit all the copy. I have to be familiar with the stories so they make sense. That’s important to me. I think I’ve honestly tried to be very real. Sometimes people like it. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you have to take a risk. You want to be more real than you want. People have stuck with me on television for 30 years and they seem to think of me as a friend. And I’m very grateful for that.”
Her game plan post-WXIA: “I don’t have a game plan. I will take a couple of weeks and just sleep. Then I want to volunteer. I want to work with Cure Childhood Cancer. [Her son had T-Cell Lymphoma as a child but is now cancer free]. I want to do stuff with my church. I want to declutter.”
Working at a station that was never top dog: “I’ve always looked at it that there’s enough viewers for all of us to go around. I’ve always gotten the impression quite a few people watch. I’ve never been wildly competitive in that respect.”
On the daily talks with “The Today Show”: “It began in the early 1990s with Bryant Gumbel. At first, it was a little stilted. All they’d ever do is give a rundown and toss it back. Then I asked Bryant one day what he was making for Thanksgiving. That opened the doors. When Katie [Couric] came on, it got downright chatty. We got to know Matt [Lauer.] We got to know Meredith [Vieira]. We’d see them at shoots when they came to Atlanta. It really became more than an on-air relationship. We knew them off air. ”
On her replacement Ted Hall: “It’s going to be a seamless transition. He’s perfect for mornings. He’s got a wonderful personality. He’s very upbeat. I think he can adjust to the sleep schedule.”
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog