Pat McGonigle describes The Jennifer Blome Way
I wish everyone had the chance to see how people react when they happen upon Jennifer Blome unexpectedly in a crowded mall, outside Busch Stadium, or at an event like the Komen Race for the Cure. At first it's, "Hey! That's Jennifer Blome from TV!" And then it's a wide-eyed look that says, "My word! Why do I feel like I've known her for years?" And then Jennifer will engage the longtime viewer with the same familiar, warm personality they've seen on TV and their eyes get bigger still. It's a facial expression that seems to say, "Wow! It's real! The connection I've felt all these years with her. It's a real thing!"
It's a very real thing. And it can't be faked.
The first few times I witnessed this was when I began co-anchoring with Jennifer in the fall of 2011. Shortly after the initial "I feel like I grew up watching you" reaction, the viewers would often say, "I miss you and Art in the morning." To which Jennifer would say, "I know, I hear you, but have you met Pat yet? I think you'll really like him." That's when any doubts I had about whether I'd be welcome on Today in St. Louis went right out the window.
And that's really all you need to know about Jennifer Blome. If there's anyone who needs a helping hand, needs a leg up, or needs a voice in a situation where they feel powerless---that's where Jennifer Blome focuses her passion and energy.
Compared to the decades Jennifer and Art spent together, my two and a half years with Jennifer seem like not much more than a day.
But I'd love to tell you about that day.
I've had the privilege to work with many veteran broadcasters in my career. So often viewers will say, "Hey, how is it working with (so and so)? I've been watching him/her for as long as I can remember! He/she seems like a real good egg!" And in most cases, that's about right. Some longtime local TV personalities are just about as decent as viewers perceive them to be. Some are a little better than the audience even knows, some, in truth, don't measure up at all to the public image they've created.
When people tell me "I feel like I know Jennifer" and "she seems like she really cares" or "it's weird, I feel like I've grown up with her", I often have to fight the urge to say, "You don't know the half of it!" I sometimes tell them, "You should see how she looks out for people when NO ONE is watching". And I'll want to say, "I know you have this idea of what she's like, but it's even better than you think!" But I don't. If someone already thinks the world of Jennifer Blome, who am I to mess with it?
So this morning, I will sit next to a woman who's broadcasting career spans 42 years, the last 35 of them with KSDK.
Luckily for the rest of us, her legacy on KSDK and, in particular, Today in St. Louis, will be indelible. In a way, I feel like a player on the St. Louis Cardinals who was just barely lucky enough to have spent a couple of years with Stan Musial at the end of his glorious run. I looked that fact up, in fact, and decided Cardinals legend Mike Shannon is the sort of comparison I was looking for. Shannon's first couple of years with the Cards coincided with Stan the Man's last two seasons. Shannon was never the player Musial was (who was!?) but he spent just enough time with him to keep the Musial standard of excellence alive. When Mike Shannon describes Musial as "an unbelievably perfect person", you believe him because he was there. Shannon saw Musial, in the limelight and when no one was watching. He delights in being a witness to history, a witness to a hero. I know how he feels. Instead of The Cardinal Way, we could institute the The Jennifer Blome Way. Instead of: "Here stands baseball's perfect warrior. Here stands baseball's perfect knight." We could use: "Here sat the best reason to turn on the TV in St. Louis. Here sat the gold standard in morning television."
I can't tell you how many people have asked me, "Why is she leaving? Is it really her decision? They're not forcing her out are they?" Trust me, KSDK doesn't want to say goodbye to Jennifer Blome any more than the Chicago Bulls wanted Michael Jordan to call it quits. Just like Mike, Jennifer is leaving to follow her heart, a new job in line with her passion for animals. Jennifer is leaving on top.
One of the biggest challenges for a morning newscast is to be number one on breaking news (crime, fires, etc.) but also give viewers a reason to smile early in the morning. Over the years, many stations have mixed hard news with doses of buffoonery and pie-in-the-face gags to find that balance. And while Jennifer Blome has had more than her share of comedy on the anchor desk, just her presence and the vibe she sends out over the airwaves is enough to make viewers feel like it's going to be alright. Many AM newscasts struggle to find stories to offset the tragic side of news. Content that reminds people the world is still generally a good and decent place. On Today in St. Louis over the years, producers only needed to put Jennifer Blome on TV to get the same effect. Just imagine in your head for a second Jennifer's voice saying something simple like, "This weekend, big crowds are expected at Forest Park for an annual festival that brings out the best in St. Louis." Read it again and imagine Jennifer saying it. Now ask a friend to say that sentence. See what I mean? Jennifer Blome just somehow sends out a frequency that says "the world must be a halfway decent place if it has people like her in it". You can't teach it but you know it when you see it.
So we very much intend to keep The Jennifer Blome Way intact on Today in St. Louis.
It means being a champion for the little guy. Making sure people---and especially dogs!---always find a warm embrace somewhere. It means understanding mental illness is a disease that touches more families than people realize, and it must be treated that way. It means even if you have absolutely no clue about sports or why people care so much about sports---you don't pass judgment on sports fanatics.
It means evening up the scales for people and things that have the deck stacked against them. It means being a warm megawatt personality with a megaphone for for the least among us who have no voice at all. If that's not the best way to use the medium of TV, if The Jennifer Blome Way isn't the best way to do this---I'd love to see what is.