Jacquie Walker quietly reached another television news milestone this week.
On Thursday, Walker celebrated her 30th anniversary as a Channel 4 anchor.
But she always has done things quietly since arriving from a Rochester station.
In 1989, I called her “the most underrated anchor in town.”
Twenty-four years, and about 10 general managers and about 10 news directors later, she is more appreciated by peers and viewers.
Walker is the longest-running female anchor in Buffalo television history and only four years from legend Irv Weinstein’s record. It gives her some pride.
“It also gives me a lot of bumps and bruises,” she cracked, sitting at the kitchen table of her Amherst home. “I always say surviving in this business takes luck, timing, dedication and hard work.”
It hasn’t been as easy as she has made it look anchoring and reporting.
“It strikes me that in 30 years I’ve never felt secure in my job because I’m not the captain of my own fate,” said Walker.
It isn’t a statement about Channel 4 but about the news industry that judges anchors by ratings and research. The insecurity also can heighten as anchors age.
“It is a concern of all men and women who have been in this business for a long time,” said Walker. “It is a visual medium. And we live in a society that values beauty and youth and in women more so than men.”
That’s why she’s a big fan of network TV veterans Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and Lesley Stahl.
“I stand up and applaud for these women in front of my TV,” said Walker. “They are trailblazers, they make it easier for somebody like me in the same way I am making it easier for these young people graduating from college and being hired … Someday I hope they will stand up and applaud for me.”
Walker’s work ethic deserves applause. No one works harder. When she had gall bladder surgery, she took one day off.
Her professional accomplishments may be exceeded only by her ability to achieve them while having a 28-year marriage and family that is the envy of anyone in TV news. After all, working from 3 p.m. to midnight and giving one-third of your Saturday nights to charity events requires family sacrifices.
“It is tremendously demanding,” said Walker. “There is a great deal of sacrifice involved … But the biggest sacrifice in 30 years in order to maintain my position has been made by my husband.”
When her two now adult sons, Michael and Matthew, were babies, Walker’s husband, Mike Beato, an Internet consultant and website developer, had to keep them awake until she came home after the 11 p.m. news so she could nurse them. The only time Walker was unable to make her children’s evening school activities – because of the Buffalo weather – Beato held up a phone so she could hear them perform in a band concert.
“I could not have achieved what I achieved if I didn’t have this man as a partner,” said Walker.
Her achievements are too numerous to mention. In just the last three years, she was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame, was named television personality of the year, and one of the most influential people in Western New York.
Her life plan was to work for a network before Beato called her between newscasts in Rochester.
“He said, ‘You don’t know me, but I think we would be very good together,’ ” said Walker. “My eyes grew like saucers and fear set in. I hung up. Two hours later he called back. The more he talked about himself … the more normal he started to sound to me. I agreed to meet him for brunch at a very well-lit restaurant. It was a little frightening. But I wasn’t too frightened not to meet him.”
A partnership was born.
Channel 4 hired her in 1983 to replace anchor Carol Jasen, but Jasen changed her mind about leaving. Walker waited until Jasen retired in 2002 to become the primary female anchor.
Channel 4 meteorologist Don Paul, one of Walker’s closest friends in the business, recalls the concern that Jasen’s departure would lead to many News 4 viewers leaving, too.
“Our numbers didn’t miss a beat,” said Paul. “As kindly as Jacquie comes across on broadcasts, she is even more so in relationships with her friends.”
Paul and Channel 2’s Kevin O’Connell, who don’t often agree on weather issues, share warm and fuzzy feelings about Walker. O’Connell and Walker co-anchored Channel 4’s noon news decades ago. They have remained close friends.
“She is very comfortable with herself and it comes across on the air,” said O’Connell. “You’re not looking at two different people; the TV and personal side are pretty much the same.”
The viewers she meets in public see some differences.
“Constantly people tell me, ‘You look so much better in person.’ Which begs the next question, what do I look like on TV?” she laughed. “But I never ask that question.”
The bigger question is, how long will she continue anchoring? Channel 4’s recent hiring of two potential replacements, Diana Fairbanks and Teresa Weakley, hasn’t fazed her.
“I understand what the needs are of the newsroom,” said Walker. “These hirings are very much expected.”
She plans to continue working. “I’ve never been more experienced or better at my job than I am right now,” said Walker. “Why would I stop?”
Then she cracks that she’d be gone “in a heartbeat” if she won the lottery. The remark is not believable. News is in her blood.
Remember, she just took one day off after surgery.
“It depends on how big the jackpot is,” she conceded with a laugh.