Little Angie Pace has come a long way.
Editor’s note: In 1989, before she switched stations to Channel 10, Columbus Monthly profiled the homegrown broadcaster who remains a community ambassador for the station.
She looks out beyond the camera in her South High yearbook picture with a somewhere-over-the-rainbow face full of the expectation of great things. Today many great things have come to her. More, even, than she dreamed of as a child growing up in Poindexter Village and the south end, and she'll tell you she was full of dreams then.
Angela Pace doesn't have it all, but she has an extra helping. Eleven o'clock news anchor at WCMH-TV, anchor of a new evening news program at 7 p.m., Columbus Monthly readers' favorite newscaster, the face on billboards all over town with Doug and Mona—Jimmy and Jym. "We all just love her to death," says her grandmother, Augusta Jones, unconsciously speaking for a sizable portion of Columbus.
She's known as Angie or Ange to her grandmother, her old teachers, her ex-boyfriend and many of her colleagues. "Little Angie Pace" is what she calls herself when she looks back in wonderment on where she came from and where she is now. But the sophisticated woman in the neat Liz Claiborne suits who coolly reads the news at night is definitely Angela. It's Angela who talks seriously about "paying back" to Columbus some of what she has earned in fame and fortune. It's only when she imagines out loud having to get a job bagging groceries at Kroger if and when the unsteady ground of television news slips from under her, and she laughs at the fantasy, or when she groans about the agony of applying eyeliner that Angela drops away and the Angie of the high school yearbook reappears.
Angie worked very hard to become Angela, but she wouldn't be Angela without that bright kid Angie just beneath the surface.
In the evening, when the freeways are full of drivers hellbent for Worthington or Reynoldsburg, the newsroom at Channel 4 is in a state of controlled anxiety. The 5:30 segment is on. Mona Scott's face appears on two or three monitors around the newsroom. Off in one corner, Doug Adair and Jym Ganahl do a live preview of the evening news to come. They manage to sit closer to each other on a desk than two men ought to and still talk into the lights and camera as if they were comfortable.
Soon they too disappear from the room and reappear on the monitors alternately with videos of earthquake damage and snowstorms. While they work effortlessly on the set of the evening news, others move with increasing speed as the clock ticks toward Channel 4's newest news show, the 7 o'clock segment.
The phoenix infant rising from the ashes of P.M. Magazine and its successor, "evening," is not a week old yet, and it still has the blurred features of the newborn. If nothing else very specific, it is a vehicle for Channel 4's popular 11 o'clock anchor, Angela Pace.
She's the one bent in deep concentration over her typewriter, her jacket over the back of her chair and her mouth worrying a stick of gum as she turns out one script segment after another. She pauses long enough to pick up the phone and public-address an appeal for information to producer Carolyn Kane.
“I'm losing my mind," she whimpers as Kane appears and dumps on her desk a few schedule changes.
Her co-anchor, Jon Huffman, formerly of P.M. Magazine, joins them and gallantly offers to write not only his part of a segment he's leading but hers as well.
"You are a prince among men," she lauds him. She puts on her suit jacket, slips in the dental prosthesis that fills the Lauren Hutton gap between her front teeth and pats the short sides of her hair-do to ready herself for an annoying interruption to her work. It's time for her to go over to the corner of the room Doug and Jym vacated, sit on a desk and do a "cluster buster," a 20-second live preview of the highlights of the 11 o'clock news.
By the time she's back at her desk, reporter Mike Bowersock is there with some new information on a story. She makes notes, turns to the typewriter, cranks out more 15- and 25-second leads to tonight's stories. Together she and Huffman may touch on 35 or more different topics.
By 6:40 she's done. She rolls the last story out of the typewriter with a sigh and a glance at the clock. She heads for the makeup room. This is the worst part of her job, she would have you believe. She flips on a radio and turns up the rock music. Cameras and lights in TV studios have been geared to light skin tones, she complains. She has to load on the makeup. She draws and paints a little, brushes on a dusting of powder and grabs up some tissues and a compact for touch-ups.
By 6:53 she and Jon Huffman are wired up and sitting "informally" at a table on a platform in the newsroom. News director Ron Bilek has decided that the 7 o'clock show needs a feeling of immediacy and intimacy that the bustle of the newsroom gives. But this means no teleprompters, no camera lights. Pace and Huffman read their scripts or ad lib, and the floor director flails her arms to cue them to cameras. The rough edges that result are part of the atmosphere.
"What's this cue mean?" director Jennifer Kiser quizzes Pace as they wait, clapping her hand on her collarbone. "It means you're slouching, and you should sit up like your mother taught you."
As the national weather charts and Dow Jones readings indicate the NBC news is nearly over. Pace and Huffman sit up straight and chat about the Christmas catalogs they've been getting in the mail.
"I got a catalog from a meat company," Pace says, her voice full of amazement. "Would you give people meat for Christmas?" She comically imagines what it would be like to send a friend a pound of hamburger until Kiser calls for a countdown.
Suddenly, they're on. "Good evening." She uses her authoritative Walter Cronkite tone. As Kiser fusses with Huffman's collar out of sight of the camera, Angela Pace addresses her friends and neighbors of 37 years. The show’s not quite together yet, but she is.
Little Angie Pace has come a long way.
No one knows that better than Angie Pace does. No one who hasn't been there knows how fleeting and insubstantial success can seem to someone who can look back over her shoulder to childhood in the black ghetto. When the TV business seems particularly unstable, or when it's time for Pace to take a stand on the job, to get up or get out, that spectre of childhood poverty flits by. "I'd have to go work for McDonald's for the rest of my life," she says again and again. She laughs, but part of her can never laugh at a joke like that.
It's no joke because her grandmother and her great-aunt did domestic work for a living. Her mother with a high school education worked low-level clerical jobs. Her father left when she was a little girl. Her mother remarried when Pace was 10, and soon there were four younger brothers and sisters. Everyone worked. "I was allowed a childhood, but I was never really a baby," she recalls. She came home from school every day to take care of the other children,
Yet from the age of four, when she learned to read while helping her teen-age aunt with her homework, Pace knew that her mother expected something special from her. She remembers her mother coming home with garage sale copies of “The Five ... Little Peppers and How They Grew,” Nancy Drew mysteries and books on Greek mythology. She often read them at night under the covers with a flashlight.
Her grandmother, who had moved north to Columbus with her husband to look for a better life, had made a point of dropping the North Carolina drawl when she arrived here. She always insisted that her children and grandchildren speak Standard English instead of the black dialect they heard in the neighborhood around them. Angela didn't appreciate then, when she said "he is" instead of "he be," that mastering the language of the ruling class would serve her so well later. All she knew was what her mother said: "My mother always told me, ‘This is how you're going to get out.' "
When she was in sixth grade, her teacher drove her home from school one day and sat down at the kitchen table with her and her mother. “This girl needs to go to college," he said.
"And my mother from that point on, that's where we channeled all my efforts and her little bit of money," Pace remembers. It was a turning point. It established a specific goal in her life, going to college as no one else in her family had done yet and few black children were expected to do.
Look at that South High School yearbook, and you see the activities of an incorrigibly cheerful little achiever, the girl people would have said had a "great personality" and "will go far.” Marching band, Quill and Scroll, class plays, National Honor Society, Buckeye Girls State, Sweetheart Ball queen, commencement speaker, class and student council officer, student newspaper, senior choir, even, would you believe, Miss Peppy. She stood out in her 1970 graduating class of more than 300. "Kind of a geek,” she describes herself with a laugh.
"She was adorable," remembers her student newspaper adviser, Bren da Petruzzelli. “An extremely likable, personable little kid. ... I'm not one bit surprised that she's become somebody important in town."
Yet that senior year in high school when Petruzzelli knew her might well have been the last good year of Pace's life and the beginning of the end of all her dreams. That was the year her mother died of cancer at the age of 36.
"My mother was the rock," she says. “She was my best friend."
While others in the family went to pieces, Pace carried on through graduation. "I remember thinking how well she coped with things," Petruzzelli says.
In the fall she went to Ohio University for the one year of college her mother had saved up for. Then the goal of her life receded from Angela Pace. "I could keep a roof over her head ... and feed her and talk to her and encourage her," says her grandmother, "but as far as money-wise, she had to do all this herself.”
Pace dropped out and went to work for three years. "I always knew I was going back to school," she says. “I knew I was going to go back because I had promised my mother."
"I think that cheery little face covered a lot of drive and determination," Petruzzelli remembers.
When Pace did go back, it was because a friend helped her get some financial assistance at Capital University. Pace worked two jobs to make up the difference. Child of the '60s, she wanted to be a lawyer. She took a radio broadcasting course "for an easy A" and fell headlong into her career instead.
Soon she was working as an intern at Channel 4. "I started as a grunt here behind the scenes, doing all the dirty work,” she says, “cueing Jimmy Crum, getting Jerry Raser a glass of water when his throat was dry, all that stuff."
She met a young photographer there, Cliff Jernigan. He became her boyfriend, soulmate, mentor and finally, though he now lives and works in Pittsburgh, one of the lastingly important people in Pace's life. He had some experience in the industry and some strong feelings about the way it should conduct itself. He lent her all his books about journalism and television. They drove to Linworth to buy remaindered books on the subject.
Says Jernigan, "Angela came in at a time when the emphasis was on the journalism, getting the facts right, delivering the story well. We railed against the trend toward happy talk, bubble news, bubbleheaded bleached blonds. There's a part of Edward R. Murrow that sticks in her.”
"He didn't want me to be a Twinkie," she says. "He wanted me to be a bagel, a good, hard bagel. He groomed me. More than anything else, though, he made me believe in myself."
Her first full-time job after college was as a radio reporter in Newark. It was no place for Twinkies. She spent two tough years learning the city and butting her way into town meetings where she was the only black face and people would stop talking when she walked in. At one point her boss had to intervene with a particularly "antagonistic" police captain so she could get copies of police reports.
Jernigan pulled her through tearful phone calls with reassurance that Newark was only a stopping-place in her dynamic career. Now she looks back and says, "I would not give up those two years in Newark for anything.
She returned to Columbus to a job with Channel 4 again. She's been there ever since, first as a floor director, then as a reporter and weekend anchor, then to the heady experience of being noon anchor of her own show. Many viewers made their first acquaintance with Angela Pace on the noon news. She was that earnest black face with the modified Afro and the characteristic gap between her front teeth. She was not a photogenic beauty. She rarely smiled. But she had an intelligence about her delivery and a current of electricity running through her that set her apart from the robotic coeds with the big hair who looked groomed for TV in every pore and follicle.
"I had a lot of time to develop as a journalist on my own as I wanted to because nobody ... was paying any attention to me at all," she says.
Eventually, however, the benign neglect wore thin. "For a time," says news director Ron Bilek, "this business wasn't fair to her.” After three years, Pace began to look around her and see stars arrive from outside, others being groomed for success, reporters at other stations passing her on the road to prime time.
"I feel as though maybe I was taken for granted because I wasn't brought in from someplace else, because I hadn't been courted and wooed and spooned," she says. "I had my own little audience out there. ... But after three years of that, it was, gee, am I going to be stuck in the ghetto of TV news forever? Am I not good enough?”
After five and a half years, it looked as if her break might have come. Mona Scott wanted to stop anchoring the 11 o'clock news to spend more time with her teen-age daughter. Pace determined to throw her hat in the ring for the replacement spot. "I wanted that job so badly," she says. Sure enough, one day news director George Tyll approached her, she says, and told her he wanted to talk to her about making a change. Her heart went whomp, whomp. Yes, he went on, he was thinking about starting a morning news show at 6:30 and having her anchor it.
She was stricken.
"I said, 'George, that's going backwards for me.''
But Tyll seemed immovable. It looked as if it might be take-it-or leave-it time. "Nobody in my family could support me," she says, and visions of Kroger's grocery bags passed through her head. Yet she steeled herself and went to station manager Gary Robinson prepared to get what she wanted or draw the curtain on her career at Channel 4.
This is how she remembers the meeting:
“I got there, and I went in and sat down and Gary Robinson said, 'We're starting this new show ... and we'd really like you to do it.' I pulled myself up, and I took all the inner city in me, and. I said, 'No, I'm not going to do it. This is a step backwards. It's not progress. I am too old to go backwards.' And Gary said, 'OK, what do you want to do?' And I said, 'I want a major newscast.' He said, 'All right, is 11 good enough?' "
Bilek today calls it a "ballsy” decision on Robinson's part. There's been no going backwards for Pace since then. Joining the big boys—Doug Adair, Jimmy Crum and Jym Ganahl—as an equal at the long news table, engaging in repartee, leading off the stories while one of the biggest news audiences of the day watches brought Pace to the top of her career in Columbus. Her confidence seemed to grow almost weekly. If, years ago, she seemed a little too serious on camera, even a bit grim, today she is relaxed and capable of sharing a joke with the guys.
“This is a totally different Angela," says Bilek. "She's never going to be fluffy ... or cutesie-pie, but this solid news person has a ... vulnerability."
She credits former news anchor Vic Mason, who now is in charge of publicity for Beulah Park race track, with some of the change in her delivery. He called her one day after the noon news and read her out about being too serious on TV. "Where's the Ange I know and love?" she says he shouted at her over the phone, which made her think to herself, "Well, gee, he's right. Why do I think that just because I'm delivering THE NEWS (and that's in all capital letters) that I have to be so damn serious?"
Maybe some of the new image comes from another, ludicrous, critique, too, one that must have been painful at the time. She remembers when one of the corporate executives sat her down after seeing her noon show and told her that her look was a little too "ethnic."
"I didn't even have on my dashiki," she says, clapping a hand to her head in mock disbelief.
"Is there something we can do with your hair?" she says he wondered about her neat Afro. "And of course there's that awful gap, there's that hole in your mouth.”
"So I did," she admits, "over the course of time, have to change my look, have to become more Deborah Norville-like.” She smirks at the comparison to the NBC Today show star.
"When I was little, I always wanted to be gorgeous, and I knew I was never going to be gorgeous, I was never going to be beautiful, so I'd settle for smart."
Officially, she hates all the "cosmetics" of the industry. But while smart has brought her a long way, and while she may not be beautiful in any classical sense, Pace has acquired something more lasting—chic. Take clothes, for example. Now that she has a clothing allowance, she can indulge her taste for colorful ensembles that show her off in front of the camera, She has developed a confident clothes sense. Formerly an admitted rebel about fashion who idolizes the brilliantly dumpy Linda Ellerbee (because she had settled for smart?), Pace now likes looking sharp. But she has to deal with the discomfort attendant on being the rich little poor girl.
"I went to Marshall Field's for the first time in my life," she relates, "and I walked in and I bought three suits, three name-brand suits, and the Poindexter Village in me, growing up poor—I held them like this for awhile [she clutches her hands to her chest], and I thought, my God I'm getting ready to spend like $800 for three suits. Three suits! That's rent, car payment, electricity, cable. And I held them for a long time. And I said, This is ridiculous. Why am I doing this, BECAUSE THE STATION WILL PAY FOR IT!"
With the new 7 o'clock segment, Pace is reaching the top of her form at Channel 4. “Angela with a script is a good reader," says Bilek, but in the loose structure of the new show he thinks she will be "600 percent better.”
"She's quick, she's witty, she has a personality," he says.
Fame means she can't always go to her favorite haunts, such as the Marble Gang, without someone coming up to pitch her a story. And it means she had to buy a washer and dryer because she became embarrassed by people watching her fold her underwear at the coin laundry. "In that respect, celebrity is kind of a pain," she admits.
Ron Bilek predicts that, now that she's on prime time, Pace will start to look attractive to outside markets. She'll get offers, he says. Will she take one? Will she leave the station, where she's been almost her whole career, and the city, where she's spent her whole life? Bilek bets she'll still be here in 10 years. "Angela doesn't have that need to move on," he says.
Jernigan guesses that she won't be satisfied until she's gone that next step. But what does Pace herself think? Ask, and you'll get a long, long pause. "Oh, ga-a-a-wd," she says.
Then she digs in. "I'd love to work in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and be a big-time star. But it's not a consuming passion. It used to be. But it's not any more. I've mellowed.”
"It's not a question of being stuck in Columbus," she goes on. "I love this city and I love what I'm doing here. And I think I can bring a certain flavor and perspective to what I do because I'm homegrown."
Then she talks about "payback." She knows it sounds corny, she says, but she thinks she has to use her fame to do good. She's given up, maybe forever, marriage and children to get where she is in her career. She loves kids, thinks she would make a great mother, wants to give some child her own or somebody else's—the kind of start in life she had.
Her mother always told her to remember that a person is from a place, not of it. Thanks to the strong women in her life, little Angie Pace never was of Poindexter Village. But those government-issue brick townhouses cast a long shadow. She goes into the schools to talk, and she sees other little kids at risk.
"I look at these kids, and I don't see dreams in their faces. Little kids should be dreaming," she says. "I want them to know that the TV lady was right where they were 30-some years ago. And she got out, and they can, too."
So she stays put. Maybe she'll stay forever. “I want to be the Dorothy Fuldheim of Columbus," she sometimes declares, referring to Cleveland's grand old lady of TV news, who didn't leave the set until her 90s. Deborah Norvilles be damned, Angela Pace plans to stay on the screen, as she puts it, "when all the Retin-A in the world can't get rid of the wrinkles.”
And if the cosmetic industry doesn't cooperate? Hey, she's got a new fallback plan, inspired by her trip to New Orleans to cover the 1988 Republican convention. She figures she'll work on a shrimp boat during the day. Then at night she'll play out her ultimate fantasy. She'll be that sexy old black torch singer with the cigarette holder and the Jack Daniels voice crooning in a Bourbon Street bar.
It definitely beats bagging groceries at Kroger.
This story originally appeared in the December 1989 issue of Columbus Monthly.
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