My exclusive interview with Brenda Wood on her retirement: 'leaving on my own terms'

Three Atlanta Press Club Hall of Famers: Monica Pearson, Brenda Wood and Alexa Scott. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Three Atlanta Press Club Hall of Famers: Monica Pearson, Brenda Wood and Alexa Scott. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Brenda Wood with Xernona Clayton at the Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame dinner in 2014. Wood was inducted that year. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/
Brenda Wood with Xernona Clayton at the Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame dinner in 2014. Wood was inducted that year. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

This was posted on the AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

In most cases, TV broadcasters will lose their jobs before they're ready to go.

But a special few get to leave on their own accord, to choose their departure as they see fit while the bosses still see their value.

Brenda Wood is one of those special few. For two decades, Wood has been an evening anchor at 11Alive, the local NBC affiliate. She's been a calming, trusted voice, someone who has been embraced by her fans, respected by her peers and treasured by her bosses.

She has chosen to leave in February after her final one-year contract is up. Her bosses have known of her impending departure for the past eight months since she told them she only wanted a one-year contract so she can finish up after a clean 20-year run there and 40 years in the business. "Those are nice round numbers," she said in an exclusive interview late last week.

"When you get to be my age," said Wood, who is in her early 60s, "you have to start thinking about what the rest of your future looks like. It seemed like a perfect match, a perfect time, 2017. I'm getting to leave on my own terms."

She and I talked about how she got into the business, how she came to Atlanta, why she moved from WAGA to WXIA in 1997 and what she plans to do after 11Alive. Here are some highlights from our 30-minute talk:

On being feted by so many organizations in town over the years, including the Atlanta Press Club Hall of Fame in 2014: "It's amazing. I'm humbled by it. My intent in college wasn't to be on TV in front of the camera. I had in my mind to go in an entirely different direction. But you know, life happens. The next thing you know, I ended up where I am. I never expected to be in TV news and I never expected to be here as long as I have. It's been very good to me."

On her career overall: "I've worked hard. I gave it my all, all the time, and I got rewarded by getting great job offers and great positions. I really feel truly blessed. I'm very proud and just happy and appreciative."

Why Atlanta was a big move in 1988, where she was evening anchor at then-CBS affiliate WAGA-TV: "I always wanted to live in Atlanta, even when I grew up in Washington D.C. When I started working in this business, early on, I had my eyes on Atlanta. It seemed like a great city. It was very exciting when we packed up and moved from Memphis to Atlanta. It was a growing city, a progressive one. It had a reputation as being the black mecca."

She quickly fit in: "We quickly made lots friends. We found a church home. We found a great neighborhood to live in. We found great schools for our kids. My girls were two and five when I moved here. Everything fell into place. We had no doubt we were doing what we were meant to do. It was all a big adventure."

Why she shifted over in 1997 to 11Alive: "WAGA was transitioning to Fox... I didn't like, to be honest, the direction of the Fox network at the time."

Why she chose 11Alive over Channel 2 Action News: "Monica [Pearson, then Kaufman] had said she might be leaving the next year but I just kind of thought she wasn't going to do that. I turned out to be right. [Indeed, Monica stayed another 15 years.] Rather than take a job where I would be sitting and waiting, I was able to be evening anchor at Channel 11 immediately. They were just a nice group of people, a great group of people. The news director was Dave Roberts. He came on very strong about his vision for new and what he wanted to do with the television station and our newsroom. It all made sense. He resonated with me. I ended up going there."

How WXIA treated her over the years: "I've been treated with extreme graciousness and courtesy. There has never been any bickering or ugliness or anything. It's really been a very good relationship from the start."

Her favorite moments outside the anchor desk: "Certainly, covering the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Also going to Beijing covering the Olympics in 2008. That was a phenomenal three weeks in Beijing. The Olympics were amazing. I got a chance to cover the passing of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. I went to Washington covering the Inauguration of Pres. Obama. The historical nature of that was really phenomenal. I got a chance with the Carter Center to spend a week in Ethiopia. We did a documentary special on the work Carter Center has done there eradicating specific diseases. That was pretty awesome... We did end up winning quite a few awards as a result. As an anchor, it means you are usually anchored in the studio. But I still had a chance to do a number of things and go out and cover local, national and international news."

On people saying she is a rock-solid, steady-as-you-go anchor: "I don't see myself as being an over-the-top person. I take what I do seriously. I want people to know that. And I want them to trust what I'm saying. I don't ever want to exaggerate or throw in a lot of hyperbole. The world is not coming to an end, folks! We'll get through this with a sense of calm and steadiness."

On doing 'The Last Word " commentaries: "I approached it with a little trepidation because it was walking in another lane. I started when we were doing the 7 o'clock news. It was a little more lighthearted. Some stories were quirky. It was a different animal than the 5 or 6 . I could have a little more fun with 'The Last Word.' I did a lot of tongue-in-cheek commentaries, some snarky "Last Words.'

Her most "viral" "Last Word":  "The biggest one I did was after a Super Bowl two or there years ago. [2014, to be exact.] Coca Cola had run an updated version of their 'I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing' ad with people singing 'America the Beautiful.' There were a number of people online dogging out Coca Cola. 'How dare they show gay people or Asian people or whatever.' I wrote a 'Last Word' about it. And it went viral. I heard from people in New Zealand and Australia and China. I ended up talking about it on CNN. It went so big!"

What she will miss the most: "I will miss the people and the camaraderie. We are producing live TV multiple times a day. It's not easy. There are so many moving parts. There's so much technology and so much that can go wrong. And occasionally it does. I will miss the talent and the energy and the times when we laugh because we have to. Every now and then, you have to have some comic relief and take a moment to breathe. Those are times you develop a bond. We're all in this crazy thing called live television together and it's hard. We prop each other up. We fill the holes. It's really a team effort. I will miss the team for sure. Not just the team in the front of the camera but the team in the background. They're cranking it out, man!"

What she won't miss; "The constant deadlines. Every newscast had one. The pressure to meet that deadline. I won't miss that. I'll have more freedom with the hours of my day."

What hobbies she plans to pursue: "I don't have any hobbies. I haven't even had time to think about a hobby, let alone develop one. I hope to do some traveling and enjoy time with my families and friends more. I'm not done. I chose to leave now. I want to leave with the ability to do something else."

What she hopes to do: "When I was in college, I didn't intend to be in front of the camera. I wanted to be a documentary film-maker. I would love to be able to step away from news and pivot to the thing I started out saying I wanted to do and seeing where it takes me. I'll have to see what doors open, what creative ideas I come up with."

By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Sunday, October 9, 2016

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