Catching Up with Catherine Anaya on Work, Family and Giving Back

Our Weekly Editorial from Nancy Puffer

When I first started my career as a news producer at KPNX-TV Channel 12, I started with the worst hours on the worst days anyone could possibly work. That’s just how you do it when you’re young and ambitious and you start your broadcasting career in a large city like Phoenix; you have to pay your dues somehow. My first big gig was producing the Saturday and Sunday morning news shows. I had to be there at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday and 3:00 a.m. on Sunday and try to write and gather news in a zombie-like, caffeine-driven state with only the police scanners to keep me company, at least until the rest of my crew showed up.

Looking back 23 years later, I can reflect on how the seemingly toughest days of my career were actually, in many ways, the best. Some of the best anchors in Phoenix worked on my weekend morning shows, including Catherine Anaya, Sean McLaughlin, Connie Colla, Ron Hoon, Rick DeBruhl, and a handful of others. We learned a lot from each other and we all played a role in each other’s success.

Catherine Anaya went on to become one of the most well-loved and long-running personalities to anchor the evening news in Phoenix, at both Channel 12 and Channel 5. For those who miss seeing Catherine on Channel 5, I can tell you she’s still in the business, just in a different capacity. She and I got together earlier this week to catch up and it was such a treat to see her after all these years. Excerpts from our Q & A are below:

Catherine: How long has it been? When did you leave?

Nancy: I left in 1994 to be a producer at Channel 10..

Catherine: So yeah, it’s been 23 years. Oh my gosh!

Nancy: We started in the business here, together!

Catherine: I had arrived in 1992, October of ’92 actually. I left in ’98. So I was there at Channel 12 a little longer than you were. Had you been there a while before ’94?

Nancy: I stated there as an intern, an ASU intern, then kind of worked my way up. So by the time you got there I was producing the weekend morning shows.

Catherine: Right..

Nancy: And then you came in; I had some of the coolest people in the valley who started on my morning shows! And look at where everybody’s gone from there, it’s amazing..

Catherine: I always say, that was just a surreal time in terms of leadership, the quality of talent that was there. And everybody got along. And everybody hung out outside of work. Did you notice that? It was just a special time.

Nancy: And the laughter! There was just so much laughter and so much fun with that group of people, where everybody kind of got their feet wet and then just took off from there. I mean, Sean McLaughlin started on that show..

Catherine: So Sean actually came on two months after I did. I started on Saturday mornings and then he came on, and that’s when we started Sunday mornings. Crazy!

Nancy:  So can you give me a quick overview of where you’ve been since you came to Channel 12? Since then, you’ve done a few jobs here and there..

Catherine: Right. I had two years under my belt when I got here in ’92. I’d been in South Bend Indiana prior to that, and then Weslaco, Texas which a lot of people don’t realize. I got here in October of ’92 and I was here for six years at Channel 12, then I left to LA, KCBS. I was there for four years. Then I came back in January of 2003 to Channel 5. So I was at Channel 5 for the duration until two years ago July when I decided to step away from the news desk and focus on being a mom.

Nancy: And you took a year off..

Catherine: Right. Everybody likes to say, ‘well, you didn’t retire for very long!’ I retired from news, but not, like I say, from life. I did a lot of different things. But then after a year I got the call from AZTV to just sort of fill in here and there a couple times a week, which was great. And then last summer they decided they just wanted to revamp their morning show and do something completely different. So it was an opportunity for me to go back to TV, which I love, but in an environment that allowed for flexibility for me to make being a mom a priority. So I drop my son off at school every day and I pick him up every day. And that’s the key. Anything else I do has to revolve around that.

Nancy: And what’s that been like? I’m sure it’s very different from when you were working in news..

Catherine: My daughter is exceptional. I look at her and I think, how did she turn out to be so special, because I wasn’t there for a lot of it. Fortunately, I had my ex-husband to step in. But when he passed away, which was almost three years ago October, I just knew that I had to be there for my son. Especially for my son. Being eleven years old at the time, knowing he was going to be a teenager. And there are so many different directions he could have gone. Especially when you’re a boy and your father’s not there. So creating that communication, that trust, I had to build that because, he was just mentioning it the other night, ‘well, you were never there.’ And it wasn’t that I wasn’t there, but it’s just that I wasn’t there a lot.

Nancy: I didn’t realize that your first husband had passed. Was there an illness?

Catherine: He had a heart infection that led to multiple other things. Multiple strokes. He had a brain bleed. But he had had AFib (atrial fibrillation) for a number of years. He had a surgery that is very intense, but the idea is that it’s supposed to improve your quality of life because there are a lot of things that you can’t do when you have AFib. So that was why he did it. He had so many complications afterward. So it was very unexpected. He had just turned 48.

Nancy: Wow..

Catherine: So there was no question that that’s what I needed to do.

Nancy: And that speaks to the fact that, on the outside, it looks like you have it all, you’ve got everything together. But the reality is for so many people, even when they appear to have everything together, there’s always those struggles that happen, in the background..

Catherine: And you don’t see that. I mean, working nights, anchoring all the newscasts at night, I mean, I was trying to parent over the phone. If my son had an issue with homework, you know, my daughter was doing her own thing and trying to get through high school and get into college. I just felt like a failure a lot of the time. Helpless. I think helpless is more what it was. After Dave passed away it was six more months that I worked, but during those six months I just thought, who’s going to be there for him? My husband will be there for him, but, he’s not his father. And he would never try to replace his father. So, it really needed to be me.

Nancy: At the same time, you clearly loved being an anchor. And you’re good at it..

Catherine: I miss it. I don’t miss the daily grind of news, and I certainly miss the people that I worked with. I mean, you know.. news is just a special environment, the relationships that come from that. I think it’s because you are dealing with death and destruction so much that it really bonds you because you’re experiencing so many grave, life things. So I miss the people that I worked with and I miss having that impact through storytelling because there is so much power in television. I can do a little of it where I am now because I can bring nonprofits in and tell the stories of what they do. But being able to go out and put a two-minute piece together or three minute piece together that you know is just powerful, I miss that.

Nancy: I loved that, too.

Catherine: Yeah.

Nancy: So tell me about your most recent venture. You have your own company now and you’re working for AZTV, so tell me a little bit about that.

Catherine Anaya and her blended family

Catherine: After I left news, I started my own media company, which is essentially, me. Because I would be asked to speak or maybe emcee or do some media training on the side or some writing, so it’s kind of everything that I’m able to do under one umbrella, since I feel like I can offer a lot of different things being in the business now 27 years. But at AZTV, I co-host a show called Arizona Daily Mix, which is a little over a year old. What’s nice about it is that it’s just a personality-driven talk show, but very community-oriented. So it’s not just about what’s happening in the community but it’s also where I can look at a subject and bring it to the forefront. For example, last week, seven teens have died by suicide in the east valley alone since school started. I mean, that is a crisis. I was able to bring an expert on the show and just really talk about it. Granted, it’s only four minutes. But you can talk about things that I see out there happening, where you don’t have to sit in an editorial meeting and really fight for that story. I can just say, hey, can we take four minutes and do this? And you can. Because you have an hour show, whereas in news you have a lot of other things that you’re competing with. It’s fun, but it’s informative and I still feel like I’m making a little bit of a difference, which is important to me. I’ve always said that the job is awesome. But it’s what you do with the job that really matters the most.

Nancy: Absolutely. When I do interviews with people who are in a position of being in the public limelight I like to ask about the leadership lessons you’ve learned. So what have you taken away from all of the years that you’ve been in a leadership role, where people look up to you and you have a very large audience. What leadership lessons have you learned from that?

Catherine: Well, fortunately I learned that a long time ago because I’ve been very involved in the community for a long time. I just have always felt that when you have a platform like that, and we know the power of television, the onus is on you to make that matter to people so I’m not just somebody who sits in front of a camera and reads off the prompter. On my new show I don’t read off of a prompter at all, which is interesting to go from one extreme to another. Now I read off a prompter sometimes and I’m like, that’s interesting! (laughs) So my feeling is we have a responsibility as people who are looked upon as informed and educated people to bring some of these issues to the forefront and get people talking about things that maybe are uncomfortable sometimes, or that aren’t being talked about enough. I love that aspect of TV. I think that’s probably what I love the most about it, is that you are able to make a difference. I learned that a longtime ago, though, probably the most when I came back in 2003. Because I was the first Hispanic, main news anchor in the valley since Linda Alvarez. So it was a really big responsibility because I wasn’t just representing a woman, I was representing a Hispanic woman. So I knew I needed take that to a whole other level, that’s why I really made a point to be out in the community and really involved and bringing those stories to the newsroom that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be told.

Nancy: That’s an important message, especially nowadays when there is a lot of media backlash and people don’t always appreciate the good that the media does. There’s a lot of people who like to point out the inconsistencies, the skewed news, or heaven forbid, ‘fake news.’ I think it’s important that people hear that, too.

Catherine: I had fronted a segment called A Better Arizona for the last couple of years that I was at Channel 5. Loved it. It was all about just going out and looking for those positive, impactful stories, which I absolutely love. So I’m not able to put it in a story form any more, but I’m able to take that importance and still use it on TV. For example, we have a story airing tomorrow where I actually went to a very well-known valley artist’s studio, because he’s hosting an event for Make-A-Wish Arizona, and it’s coming up in a couple of weeks. I sit on the Board of Make-A-Wish, and a lot of people have misconceptions about what we do. They think it’s just for terminally ill kids, and it’s not; it’s for kids who are dealing with life-threatening illnesses, period. So it was an opportunity for me to do that in a different way. Go out, go to the studio, talk to him about why he’s involved, it’s Hispanic Heritage month so I brought that into it, and it’s a great event, go out and support it, and by the way, did you know Make-A-Wish Arizona.. Arizona.. I emphasize that because every dollar we raise goes to Arizona children. So I look for ways to tie the community in, especially nonprofits.

Nancy: And you’ve started a couple of nonprofit ventures that I see, the Sisterhood of Super Women and The Lats Legacy Foundation. Can you tell me little bit about those?

Catherine:  The Sisterhood of Super Women is a charitable group that I started in December of 2009. I was kind of feeling like most working women feel, you’re pulled in so many different directions, you want to support so many different causes, there’s not enough money, there’s not enough time, but I want to make a difference. That’s when I started speaking on the side, and I spoke to the women at Intel, they have an annual day of workshops and they asked me to speak and I just spoke about, just as a woman, some of the struggles that we feel in trying to do so much and feeling like at the end of the day we didn’t do enough. And all of these women came up and started talking to me afterward about how they felt the same way. I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if, one day a month, I got all of these fabulous women that I know that have this heart for philanthropy to get together, choose a different philanthropy every month, mainly some of these smaller charities and organizations that don’t get a lot of the publicity and spend a day, two hours, having lunch, empowering each other and learning about something that’s happening in the community that’s making a big difference and then taking that back to wherever our little communities are and just sort of spreading the word. And it has been the most phenomenal thing because we’ve been able to support almost 70 different charities over the years.

The Lats Legacy Foundation, that was what my children started on behalf of their dad and in honor of their dad. It’s named after him; his nickname was Lats because he was a professional baseball player. They wanted to do something to honor him and keep his memory alive and so it made perfect sense when we launched the foundation in the fall of 2015; my daughter had just been accepted to USC, Dave went to USC, I went to USC, he played baseball at USC, that we would do a scholarship in his name at USC. And the university has been so great and supported us on this, so we gave out our first scholarship this past spring to a sophomore pitcher who embodies the characteristics that Dave did when he was there, because he was a leader on the field and he was also very academic-oriented in the classroom off the field.

Nancy: Is there anything else you want to add?

Catherine: I host a radio show, it’s called The Women’s Eye and it’s been on 1480 KPHX for the last five years. I’ve only been hosting it for two years. But the station was sold in the summer so we’re right now in talks to move to another station, a much bigger station, so look for that. But it’s been a great extension of everything I’ve been talking about, where we focus on women making a difference in the world, trying to make the world a better place. I spend an hour show and I interview two women, and then it lives as a podcast on iTunes, so you can find it on iTunes, The Women’s Eye, and then we’ll be reappearing again on a different station soon. But you can catch the podcasts now and there are, gosh, over 150 of them.

Nancy: That’s awesome.

Catherine: It’s great. So the nice thing is, I do a little bit of a lot, but the main focus obviously being my family. And let me just say I wouldn’t be able to do any of that if it wasn’t for my husband. I talk a lot to women because they all want to know, how can I do this? Well, I couldn’t do it if I didn’t have my husband. I mean, let’s just be honest. If he wasn’t in the picture I’d still be working, so I give him a lot of credit for just saying, look, you need to be there and I support you.

Learn more about Catherine’s media company: 4 Hearts Media

You can donate to The Lats Legacy Foundation at our website: www.thelatslegacyfoundation.org or by texting the word LATS to 71777. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram (@latslegacyfdn)

Follow Catherine on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @catherineanaya

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