Thanks for Joining Us: Q & A with Andrea Cambern
Someone blew it. And the whole of Columbus was about to find out.
Andrea Cambern, then a star daytime anchor for WBNS 10TV, taped a health segment each afternoon to be shown during the late newscasts. And each time she taped it, she did something goofy-something she hoped would make the night editors laugh while putting together her clip.
But on this particular evening, someone made a mistake.
So in the middle of the nightly news, when the anchors kicked to Cambern's segment, the city didn't get to hear about health. Instead, there was the pretty brunette-the one who had fought so hard for so long to be taken seriously enough to earn this position-dancing. No music. Just her. On camera. Gettin' funky.
Cambern was mortified-and scolded. But something funny happened that would change how she saw her job.
"We got 70 calls to the newsroom that night," she recalls. "And every one of them wanted to see it again."
It's exactly what Columbus wanted, she realized: just her, being herself.
For 20 years, the city has invited Cambern into their homes to give them the news of the day, first in the afternoon and then at night. In her first year anchoring the nightly news-2007-viewership skyrocketed: WBNS 10TV gained viewers in the 5, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. And since 2008, the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts have ranked first in nearly every sweeps ratings period. (WBNS 10TV is owned by The Dispatch Printing Co., which also owns Capital Style.) Meanwhile, Cambern has been recognized by her industry peers, too, winning six Emmy awards and the title of National Association of Television Journalists Female Anchor of the Year.
Tom Griesdorn, the president and general manager of WBNS who has worked in TV for more than 30 years, said he can sum up why people like her with two words: she's genuine. "Andrea's really one of the most accommodating, motivated and easy-to-manage talent that I've ever had the opportunity to work with," he said. "With Andrea, what you see is what you get."
Now, the woman who is arguably the most recognizable face in the city is leaving.
On May 23, Cambern, 53, will report her final newscast before jetting to Paris (where she's never been, thanks in part to a demanding schedule) and then settling into a new life in Santa Barbara, Calif., where her husband, Brett, has taken a job.
But before she says goodbye, we sat down for a chat. Cambern, who has written for Capital Style since the magazine launched four years ago, promised to be exactly what she was the night the city saw her dance: herself. So on a sunny afternoon, she sat in her comfy Downtown condo (temporary digs after years in German Village) and talked about her real name (Andi), escaping an abusive relationship (by dropping out of college), her husband (20 years and no fights-she swears!), why she's leaving (no, nobody pushed her out), Botox (yes, please) and life after anchoring (stay tuned). Here are highlights from our conversation.
Kristy: Everyone called you Andi growing up, and your family and friends still do. What was Andi like?
Andrea: I was trouble. That's why I have two cats and no kids, because payback's a bitch (laughing)! I was a rebel. My parents moved from the Chicago area to Arizona when I was in eighth grade. I was a good kid, and then this move turned my world upside down.
What were you doing?
Sneaking out at night. Just running with a group of punks. A little pot, a little drinking. I can't ever drink rum and Coke again. Trouble. Trouble. I just had no confidence-wasn't confident with this new group of kids.
How'd you turn it around?
In high school, I got involved in student council, cheerleading. Mine was the house where they built the floats.
But by the end of high school you found yourself in a bad place again-this time with a boy.
He was a DJ at a local dance club. I was the disco queen. I must have been 17 or 18, and he was 28 maybe. He was possessive. But I fell head over heels. It ended up being an abusive relationship emotionally and physically.
While still dating him, you enrolled in Arizona State. What was that like?
I studied a little bit of everything. I did not know what I wanted to be or do. All (my boyfriend) could think about was keeping me away from my family and friends. I was in college but not going to class. I was there but I was not there.
What did you finally do to get away?
I left school. I escaped. Decided I needed to grow up. Put some space between me and this situation.
So you became a flight attendant.
I joined Braniff, the airline. We wore Halston uniforms-very chichi. I hated every minute of it. But it served me well, because it got me out of this bad relationship. I think it saved my life.
A couple years later, you moved into your own apartment in Phoenix and started working. What did you do?
I got an administrative assistant job at a modeling school. I worked my way up into doing special events and marketing, then got a job at a department store chain doing special events and marketing. Then I was hired by Ramada to do special events and marketing. Then I was put in charge of marketing for all of Ramada.
You eventually took a corporate job at Dillard's department store, where you oversaw public relations for their stores throughout Arizona. And it was there that you first got into TV. How?
I pitched a segment to the local TV station-a consumer services segment-on behalf of the department store. They were like, "Great. Can you do it?" So I'm like, "Sure!" I'd bring in fashions or talk about how to use your credit card, how to size your childrens' clothing.
And you caught the TV bug.
I loved being in the newsroom environment. I fell in love with it-everything about it. And I became less enamored with public relations. I had no degree. I had no formal training. But I left the department store to pursue TV.
You opened your own PR firm to pay the bills. How did you pursue your dream on the side?
I started sending out my tapes, knocking on doors. I kept getting, "Thanks but no thanks." It was terrible. I'm sure I was terrible.
One day, the news director for a Phoenix station brought you in, and you thought he was perhaps giving you a job-or at least a chance. But that wasn't the case.
He said, "Andrea, I've been in this business for a long time. Some people are cut out for this business, and some people aren't. And you aren't." I said, "I have heart, and I know I can do what it takes to learn." He said, "Don't waste your time, and don't waste mine." I tucked my tail between my legs and walked out of the newsroom I wanted to work in so bad, and cried all the way home.
You had almost given up on the idea when, at a business presentation in your PR role, you were part of a video package. And it caught just the right eye.
The general manager from another station walked up to me and said, "Have you ever thought about being in TV?" Stars aligned. I think reluctantly, the news director gave me an opportunity. I promised myself that's all I wanted.
What did you do for them?
It was working early, early, early mornings, writing (and reading) the cut-ins (the quick news briefs read when national news shows take short breaks for local news updates). Twenty-five dollars a day. I worked 3 a.m. to 8 a.m., then my fulltime job (in PR).
You also decided to go by Andrea instead of Andi. Why?
I didn't have any credentials to back up anything I was saying. I felt like I needed a reinvention of myself to be taken seriously. So Andrea was born.
Your colleagues didn't love you.
The people in Phoenix totally resented me. And set me up to fail on more than one occasion. I can remember one time in particular the anchors were tossing to me for a story. Suddenly, there was no tape. And I think they sabotaged it to see how I would react. Those things happened often.
You worked those early mornings for 3 and a half years. The station was working on a morning show that they promised you. But when the show finally aired, you didn't get the job.
The news director said, "Andrea, to be honest, if your last name was Hernandez, the job would be yours."
So you hired an agent, sent out tapes, and got two offers-a reporting job in San Francisco and a reporting/anchoring job in Tucson.
I felt like I would get chewed up and spit out in San Francisco. So I went to Tucson as a weekend anchor and reporter and learned. It was what I needed to do. All the while, I was still feeling like a little bit of an imposter.
Do you still?
I still do. I pinch myself sometimes. Just because the school thing, the first news director. (She chokes up.) I have no formal training, no education. Everyday I'm so grateful. I feel like oh-I'm going to be found out. Kids email me all the time and ask what classes they should take. I don't want to discourage that. So what I talk about is perseverance, because I can speak to that with great authority. (Now, she cries just a bit.) Yet somehow I've had this magical career.
After two years in Tucson, a consultant working with you at that station suggested you for an opening in Columbus.
And I immediately went home and tried to figure out where in the hell Columbus, Ohio was (laughing).
You talked to everyone you could about the city-people in news and people who had lived here for school or otherwise.
Everybody said WBNS is it. Everybody said the same thing-"Oh, Columbus-I love it. I wish I could go back."
What was your interview visit like?
They took me to lunch at Lindey's, and it was a fall, beautiful day. People were dressed in suits in this quaint little neighborhood. And I fell in love. I called Brett-we were engaged at the time-and I said, "If I get this job, I know where we're living."
OK, let's cut away for a minute to talk about Brett, who is originally from California. How'd you meet?
He lived in my mom's apartment complex in Phoenix. She must have called me every day-"Oh my god, you have to meet this guy at the pool." I fell in love the moment he opened his mouth, and we were married six months later.
You obviously took the job here, and the two of you moved here to start your life together.
We took this big leap of faith-these two people who barely knew each other, moving to this city we knew nothing about-and built this beautiful life together. Every friend we made was new to both of us. Every restaurant we tried was new to both of us. We came here with tons of debt and no money.
What does Brett do?
He works for JPMorgan Chase as an investment banker. (He's executive director of JPMorgan asset management.) I always say he's facts and figures and I'm color and texture-perfect!
Back to work now. When you arrived, AmeriFlora, an international horticultural exhibition, was held for six months at Franklin Park. You did a live show there every day, five days a week, for months, with no teleprompter. You also did a segment called "Heart of Ohio," hitting the road and meeting people. Definitely baptism by fire, eh?
There was this great connection that you don't necessarily get in the studio. And Dave Kaylor was my partner at the time and he was a legend. He made it kind of a shtick-"We're going to show this Arizona girl what Central Ohio's all about." So I think that had a lot to do with people accepting me. He meant the world to me.
Any stories through the years you're particularly proud of?
No monumental events, although being an eyewitness to things like 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombings (was interesting). But the ones that have mattered are the ones that change people's lives. [She recalls having done a story about a new fertility treatment, and getting a call from a woman months later who said, "You probably don't even remember this story, but we used your information. And I just wanted to let you know we're expecting." She then tells another story about a woman who said a segment reminding her to have a mammogram may have saved her life.] Those are the ones that are most meaningful to me.
What's celebrity status in Columbus like?
It is the most wonderful thing! People are like, "Don't you get tired of people coming up to you?" Never once, not one time ever. It's never, ever been negative, intrusive-nothing but anything kind and heartening. I will probably miss it more than anything. I'm a little bit afraid of anonymity.
Brett recently took you to Santa Barabara's version of Gallery Hop-one of your favorite things to do in Columbus-because he thought you would love it. But it kind of backfired.
I love Gallery Hop here. But I can't walk two steps without people saying "hi" or whatever. So Brett thought (taking me to this would) help me feel good about Santa Barbara. So we went, and nobody knew me from Adam. I was a stranger to everybody. And it was probably the worst thing he could have done. I felt invisible for the first time in 20 years. And while some people would relish that, it was breaking my heart.
Are you afraid of that kind of existence?
People say your job doesn't define you, but my job does define me. I have put my heart, my soul into what I do. And it won't be a slow transition. It will be cold turkey. I'm worried about my psyche. It will be very lonely, I think. I think I'm really afraid of that.
Let's talk about the leaving part. Why are you leaving?
People do want to believe, "They're pushing her out; they're making a change." Because that's the nature of this business. I know nobody who left on their own accord. I know not one person. So that's the normal reaction. That's understandable. My husband gave me a great gift 20 years ago when he said, "Of course we can leave everything we know to go to Columbus, Ohio." So I promised him that I would return the favor someday. California's home for him. I can see it in his eyes when he's there. The time is right for me to make him the priority-his wants, his dreams. It's time.
You also admittedly don't want to fade away.
I always said there will never be a good time for me to leave this job. But if I can determine when that time is, I would be the happiest person on earth. So even if this seems premature to me, and I'm not ready yet, it's time. I didn't want to drift away. I didn't want people in the newsroom to look at me like, "She's not engaged."
Brett oversees a division of his company that has several clients on the West Coast, and after traveling back and forth for quite some time, his company wanted a permanent presence there. The two of you already had a second home in Santa Barbara. So he started working out there about a year or so ago, and you've actually tried a commuter relationship. How's that going?
We have the most incredible relationship. He is my soul mate without a doubt. I thought if anybody could make this work, we could. My schedule is so demanding anyway. During the week we didn't really see each other. …But it's been very, very difficult. We miss each other terribly. Weekend events are hard going to alone. It's been a very lonely existence.
Rumor has it the two of you actually still love each other-you know, in the adorable, romantic-comedy kind of way.
We have been married 20 years and have never had an argument. I swear! Never a cross word. We definitely have differences of opinion, but we just don't go there. And believe me, I can fight! He's just such a good person.
Aside from the Brewery District apartment you first moved into, you've only lived in German Village. But you've hardly stayed put. Homes and décor have become a passion for both of you: you buy places, renovate, sell and do it again. How many Village homes have you done that with?
Six. We always laugh-we don't have kids, we have houses. We love German Village. We love the whole idea that we are caretakers of a legacy. I don't know if it extends from coming from Arizona, where everything is new and fresh and clean. But I fell in love with the history.
Were your first couple homes "project homes" by choice or necessity?
Necessity. We bought the first one, fixed it up, sold it. Bought the second one, fixed it up, sold it. It just became this really fun thing. We didn't buy these properties to fix them up and sell them; we bought the properties to fix them up and live in them and enjoy them.
And you've always done all the decorating yourself, right?
So what's next for you?
I have no clue. I love writing. I have toyed with that. I have toyed with doing TV, but my husband shuts me down on that right away, so that's out. I think I have to follow my heart and do something with houses, with décor, with creating. I love houses. I love spaces and places and décor and the creative process of it.
You've mentioned to me that you like the idea of potentially opening a home décor shop…
I've thought about maybe opening a store, maybe moving in that direction. It's an exciting prospect. I'm going to force myself to step back, breathe, take my watch off. Find out who I really am outside of this. I told Brett, "Careful what you wish for-you may not like me!" We may start arguing (laughing).
You're definitely ditching the name Andrea, though, and going back to Andi.
This is the one thing I'm sure of: I am going back to Andi. And hopefully the rest will flow from there.
And you might change your hair, too.
Yep. Because nobody will call about it! May pierce my nose. I'm getting rid of all my clothes. Starting over.
I know people reading this are going to think the nose piercing comment is a joke, but it's not. You actually told me that a while back. You're serious.
Uh-huh-yeah. It's a reinvention. You don't get to do that very often. So why not?
On the piercing front, you actually have your belly button pierced.
It's my little secret. My little wild thing that I did when I turned 40. And I will wear it 'til the day I die so that when they go to cremate me they'll say, "You know, she had it going on back in the day!"
Your image as an anchor is obviously incredibly important. Talk about that.
I could speak Greek for a half hour and nobody would call. But if my hair looks bad, five people will. I got this letter from a woman one day about everything she did not like about me. I read it and I got all choked up. You try to have thick skin and not let people bother you. But I got all choked up. I wrote her a letter back saying, "What a luxury it must be to sit on your cozy couch and care about what I look like while I'm trying to do my job." I cried all the way home and told Brett about it. A few months later, I was sitting watching Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric or someone, and I said, "What was she thinking pairing that blouse with that skirt?!" And Brett looked at me and said, "What a luxury it must be to sit on your cozy couch and care about what she looks like while she's trying to do her job." It put it in perspective for me. …But to be able to experiment will be kind of fun.
What's your schedule like?
It is not a 9 to 5 job. We work weekends, we work holidays. I go in about 1:30 or 2 p.m. every day, and I'm there until midnight. But there are always luncheons or board meetings or school appearances that fill my morning.
And weekend events. You emcee practically every philanthropic event I'm ever at-and lots more than that.
I had three appearances last Saturday. And you could do even more. There's so much good being done in this community, and if me being there helps in some small way, I'm happy to.
What time is left for you?
Brett and I decided long ago that Sundays had to be ours. Sacred Sundays.
People ask me all the time if you wear a wig. Do they ask you, too? Or only me because they don't have the nerve to ask you (laughing)?
That cracks me up! A wig? Really? Do you think I would pay good money for this (tugging at her hair)? No wigs. This is what I got.
Do you get it colored?
Every three weeks, thank you very much. There is gray under here! I've found myself in the bathroom with a Sharpie (coloring my roots) going, "Oh my gosh-I've got to go on TV!" It is the number-one reason people call the newsroom. Seriously-that and weather.
Who is your stylist?
I'm back to Jacob Neal now. Stephanie at Jacob Neal. That's my guilty pleasure-having it blown dry once a week, because it lasts me about four days. I used to wash my hair every day. Now I wash it two days a week. It's the most liberating thing!
Have you had plastic surgery?
I had my nose done when I was 18 or 19 or 20. But nothing recent.
What about Botox?
Botox is my best friend.
How often do you get it?
About every four to five months. I go to Dr. Brian Biernat. He is at the Center for Surgical Dermatology up in Westerville. He's a friend. It's kind of weird having your friend shoot stuff into your head, but hey…
And just for the record, there's no hair and makeup team at the station.
We do it ourselves. That's why it looks the way it does. So stop calling and writing (laughing)!
It's not secret you're a fitness buff, and you've led the citywide campaign Commit to be Fit. Do you get pressure from others to stay slender?
I don't have any pressure from other people for that-it's all my own. But the mental benefits of working out are better than the physical for me. I'm a runner. Getting ready to run the half (marathon) in May. That's my big thing. I do P90X. I love it but I hate it. I'll take a TGM (Tracey Gardner Method yoga) class, but I'm not a regular.
Have you run a full marathon?
I ran my first marathon when I was 40.
How many have you done?
Two and a bunch of halves.
You also rode the Pelotonia bike race with Brett.
It was one of the best days of my life, riding through the Ohio countryside, with people holding signs like, "Thank you. Cancer survivor lives here." I cried the whole way to Athens.
The Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, which Pelotonia benefits, is the most cherished of your Columbus causes. You moved your mother, Gerry Shapiro, out here when she battled cancer so she could be close to you and be treated there.
She was my best friend. My biggest critic. My biggest fan. We lost her in 2005. But I owe them (The James) so much for their kindness and compassion.
Speaking of mothers, I know you joke about kids-not having them because you don't want payback. But did you ever want them?
Never tried, but always thought we would. Never made a conscious decision that we wouldn't. I don't think I could have done it. I don't think I would have been very good at prioritizing. We've got lots of nieces and nephews.
And two cats.
Lilly and Bamboo. They're Bengal cats. They're about four years old. And they're like monkeys in cat clothing (she's playing with one of them right now). I love dogs, and I think that's one of the things we're talking about (getting).
Do you cook?
I store my sweaters in the oven. Are you serious? Why would I when other people do it so much better (laughing)?
How hard is it to know someone else will be sitting in your chair soon?
I thought that because this decision was mine, I would be absolutely fine with it. And then there were people that they were auditioning in my chair, with my coanchor, and I had a very surprising reaction emotionally. I had to go into the bathroom and cry. Twenty years is a long time. To be perfectly honest, I think it will be very hard to watch the world go on without me. I know that sounds stupid.
What are you most proud of?
Just being able to have an impact in the community and making it a priority. A lot of people resent being asked to go above and beyond. And I think above and beyond is the most meaningful.
A husband's take
Highlights from a chat with Andrea's husband, Brett
Kristy: How does Andrea look at Columbus?
Brett: We were both West Coasters, and when she first got the opportunity, we didn't know a whole lot about Columbus. We thought, "We'll put in our time-do three years, and move on." After just a couple years, we realized very quickly what a great community it is. And here we are, 20 years later.
What's it been like being married to the city's sweetheart?
Truthfully, it was a little bit of an adjustment. It was a little strange at first. We're out on a quiet evening, and part of me thinks, we're just trying to have a quiet evening. And she has reminded me, "People are saying nice things-who wouldn't want that?" I'm just amazed at her when people come up. I think a lot of people are surprised that what you see on TV is really her personality.
What do you love most about her? I'm giving you a softball here…
The softball answer would be everything. It's true. She's an amazing person. We've had incredible times together, sharing every possible moment together we can. I just enjoy every second we're together, hate every second we're apart.
Is it hard for you to handle others' occasional criticisms of her?
Oh, it's certainly difficult. I think it's one thing if somebody's criticizing your work. But if they're merely criticizing appearance, what other job is subjected to that? When it's personal and mean-spirited, they're criticizing you as a person and not as a journalist, and that's not easy. I think the ones that get me are when I see people post things just assuming she's a phony and in real life she's nothing like she is on the air. I just want to grab these people and say, "Have you ever actually met her and talked with her? You couldn't be more wrong." In a lot of cases it may be true, but in her case, it's definitely not.
What are you looking forward to about her retiring?
Just us having more time together. With her current schedule … we just didn't have that much time together, so I'm definitely looking forward to having that.
What do you want to see her do next?
Just something that's absolutely fun and fulfilling for her. She's worked incredibly hard her entire career. She's not going to sit on the beach and read books, but I'd like her to find something that's pure fun and much less stress.