Capitol Communicator has been interviewing people who are or have been in the media about their careers and the media. Below is our Q&A with Andrea Roane who joined WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C., in 1981 and, over the years, anchored morning, afternoon, and late night news programs. On July 31, 2018, she retired from the news business.
Andrea, what are you doing now?
I’m busier than I thought I would be. I retired more than two years ago from broadcast news, but I am still involved in community service, arts and health initiatives. When Covid hit, even though we were on lockdown, ZOOM made it possible for me to participate in even more meetings than usual. I’m Co-Chair of the Kennedy Center’s Community Advisory Board and a member of the Lombardi Community Advisory Council. I’ve also been busy moderating panels, some on breast cancer, many dealing with diversity. And, I hosted the first virtual International Women’s Forum, Global Leadership Conference and I’m also hosting a monthly FB Live event for MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute. The focus is on how women and men can protect their hearts to protect their health during these challenging times.
You are known for your career in news, but what would have been my second career choice?
Television was my second career choice. I was a teacher and loved my job. My undergraduate degree is in Secondary Education and my graduate degree was in Drama and Communications, but nothing to do with broadcast news. I taught senior high and middle school in the New Orleans Public School System.
How did you get your start in broadcast news?
If I were to write my memoir, it would be “The Accidental Journalist.” In an administrative position in the New Orleans Public School System, I appeared on public tv station WYES as a guest and, at some point after that, I was offered an incredible opportunity as host/correspondent on a new television show, SCHOOLS INSIGHT, for WYES. The federally funded show featured student achievements, issues related to tax increases in support of public education, and special guests from the Orleans and Jefferson Parish public school systems. The experience was invaluable in so many ways. Because I didn’t attend journalism school, WYES gave me the best on the job training ever as a reporter, writer, director, switcher, and studio camera operator. I then spent a year as an education reporter in the documentary unit at WWL-TV, but I returned to WYES and had the opportunity to host two MacNeil/ Lehrer News Hour shows. One segment was on “The Emerging Black Republican Party in the South” and the other on “Wetlands.” Both appearances caught the attention of stations around the country.
We eventually moved to Washington, my husband, Michael Skehan’s hometown. He was a news cameraman at WWL in New Orleans and landed a job at WRC TV, and I was hired at public television as host/ correspondent for WETA’s METRO WEEK in REVIEW.
Two years later I was hired at WUSA.
What types of stories moved you?
I loved covering the arts and meeting some of the actors I studied in college, but for 25 of my 37-years at WUSA, I was the station’s breast cancer advocate, thru our Buddy Check 9 initiative. When I started this in 1993, Black women in the DMV had the highest breast cancer mortality rate in the country. Our premise was simple. Instead of whispering about the Big C – cancer – we would shed light on the disease, profile warriors, scientists and advocates, all to remind women about the importance of early detection and remind their buddies to do the same – breast self exams, mammograms, clinical exams, genetic counseling where advised, and lifestyle changes to prevent some cancers.
Simple, yes but it took off. Buddy Check reached thousands of women and men. I’ll never forget the message Joyce Huber left on my phone. She said, “Andrea, I did everything wrong and I want to tell other women not to end up like me.”
Joyce told us she felt the lump early on but was afraid to have it checked out, fearing a cancer diagnosis. She ignored it for months. Before she went on vacation with her family, her daughter wanted Joyce to have doctors check on a persistent cough. When the doctor asked if there was anything else, beyond the cough to discuss, Joyce hesitated but told doctor about the lump. When she finally had the lump removed, doctors told her it was the size of a softball. The shocking news was that when she first felt the lump, it was probably the size of a fifty-cent piece. The point of Buddy Check 9 and Early Detection was to find a lump at its earliest, most treatable stage. Joyce told her story. We stayed in touch, she even put me in touch with a male breast cancer survivor to educate men about their risk factors.
Months later, my last conversation with Joyce was after she had been admitted to the hospital. Her cancer had metastasized. The final call was from her daughter to let me know Joyce had died. I showed, on air, a fifty-cent piece and a softball and repeated Joyce’s words, “ladies don’t end up like me.” Joyce died as much from the fear of a cancer diagnosis than the cancer itself. With her testimony, Joyce saved lives.
What were the best and worst parts of the job?
The best parts of the job were the people and issues I covered. I really enjoyed my job. The fun parts were the Super Bowl where Doug Williams was named MVP; and the one in NOLA; covering the Orioles in Cuba; riding on the shoulders of an aerialist on a medium high wire – with a look of terror in my eyes. Sharing the stories of my breast cancer Buddies, political conventions; opening day of Nats baseball; covering Princess Diana on her solo trip to NYC; and interviews with community activists, authors, celebrities, and co-anchoring the area’s first 4pm newscast with Mike Buchanan and all of my incredible co-workers, in front of and behind the camera.
The worst parts of the job were the early hours. Never got to enjoy snow days with my children when they were young. Betty Endicott hired me to co-anchor the station’s new morning show with Bob Dalton. In those early days – 1981 – the in-time was 5am. Who knew then that the news would start earlier and earlier. My last sixteen years included a wake-up call at 1:45 am. Former Fox 5 Anchor Lark McCarthy said it would take at least two years to break the habit of rising early. I’m getting better but not there yet.
Who are your media role models?
I’m inspired by the great storytellers. My role models include Royal Kennedy, the first Black woman on air in my hometown of New Orleans. There was such community pride seeing “one of us” in a prominent role. I said great storytellers and some of the best were Charlayne Hunter Gault, Gwen Ifill, Bruce Johnson, JC Hayward and Maureen Bunyan. If I continue to name names I know I’ll still forget someone so no more names, just know I aspired to be someone who could educate, entertain, and move viewers to take positive action on behalf of themselves or the community. Those traits are what my role models have in common.
What’s the biggest challenge for the news media today?
The biggest challenge I think is social media. Viewers don’t trust mainstream media, so they go looking for a news source that echoes their beliefs. “Niche Media” is what I’ve been reading about…so divisive.
Now that you no longer have to get up in the middle of the night for the early-morning newscasts, what are you doing, beyond what you mentioned earlier?
Trying to sleep in until 7 am – not happening.
I love to travel and was so looking forward to having the time to do that—- thanks Covid. When we get back to normal, having lunch with girlfriends, dinners out with hubby, reading and pulling weeds from the flower bed. Weird, I know, but great satisfaction when you pull and get the root. plus your garden looks great!
Is there anything else we should know about you?
I can’t think of anything. I’m really a pretty private person.