For nearly three decades, viewers of south Florida’s top-rated television station have found a trusted friend in anchorwoman Kelley Dunn.
Kelley Dunn was walking through the newsroom at WPTV on a recent afternoon when she spotted a framed photo on the desk of one of the station’s new hires. In the image, Dunn and morning anchor Roxanne Stein are posing with the young reporter—who, at the time, was only 9.
“She had done a tour of the station back then and we [took that picture]; now she’s working here,” Dunn says. “It’s funny. I remember being the youngest at this station when I started. Now, I’m certainly the mother of the newsroom.
“That’s fine,” she deadpans. “They’ll all be 50 one day too.”
As hard as it is to believe that someone as perpetually youthful as Dunn is approaching 30 years on the air, it’s equally remark-able that she’s done it all at one station. In an industry where hopping from market to market is more the résumé norm than the exception, the 51-year-old afternoon and evening co-anchor (with Michael Williams) has planted permanent roots at the West Palm Beach-based NBC affiliate.
Along the way, Dunn has endeared herself to viewers like no other broadcaster in the area.
Part of it, by now, is familiarity. Dunn, fresh out of the University of Florida, was all of 23 when she debuted as a reporter at News-Channel 5 on Feb. 10, 1986. Six months later, two anchors left the station. The Ormond Beach native threw her hat in the ring and snagged a morning slot with Kent Ehrhardt, her on-air partner for more than a decade (he’s now a meteorologist at KMOV in St. Louis). She’s been an anchor ever since.
The other part of it is far less tangible, the local TV equivalent of Sally Field’s famous Oscar-night speech. People really like Dunn. Always have. Maybe it’s because viewers relate so well to the mother of two college-aged children (Dunn’s husband of nearly 25 years, whose name she asked us not to mention, is in law enforcement). Maybe, it’s because the five-time local Emmy winner is just that good at her job.
Dunn offered her own take on the connection with viewers, and several other topics, during a lengthy interview with Boca Raton.
Your late father was a long-time Democratic state senator. What did you learn about connecting with people from watching your dad speak and campaign?
A strong handshake, for one thing. I hate a wimpy handshake. Women, men, no one should have a wimpy handshake.
Also, when people in public approach you, treat them like they matter. My dad did that. If someone is going out of their way to call me, write me, to stop me in Target and say something nice, I’m going to smile and treat [that encounter as some-thing special]. Because they do matter to me. I’ve been on the air all these years because those people have liked me.
People seem to feel a certain connection to you. How do you explain that?
I hope it’s because I am who I am. I’m not perfect. I’m not the stereotype; I’m not blonde, 5 foot 7, size two. [Note: Dunn is about 5 foot 3.] I wasn’t born that way, and I’m not gonna be that way—especially not after 50. Everything changes at 50, I’ve noticed. Five pounds used to be easy to lose. Not anymore! There’s nothing more satisfying as an anchor than being able to tell a story like I’m reading it to you across the table. I like connecting, and I’d like to think that I’m a people person. Maybe that’s part of it.
What would the Kelley of today tell 23-year-old Kelley about stepping into the anchor position, given what you now know?
It’s what I tell most young reporters and [aspiring] anchors. Be who you are. Don’t try to be someone else. Develop your own style and personality. If you’re so focused on trying to be like Katie Couric or Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer, then you’re pretending to be someone you’re not. … If you’re genuine and real, it will translate; that comes through on television. If you’re not, it’s easy to see.