We caught up with longtime KCRA TV capitol reporter Kevin Riggs, who is starting a new job at Randle Communications.
Tell us a little about your career.
I started at KCRA in the fall of 1994, as Pete Wilson was about to be reelected, and shortly after that became a political reporter, within two years. I did some anchor work, weekends about five years ago, and I moved from that two years ago back into straight reporting.
Some people have asked me why make the move at this point, when I’ve been in TV news for almost 30 years. My standard joke on that is when I started in TV news, Brown was governor. Now that he’s come full circle, what’s really left to do? It’s not something that anybody can do forever. I didn’t want to be the Bret Favre of TV news, with people asking, “Is he still there?” I love the business, but other opportunities have come up from time to time. I felt like this was a chance to go out on good terms and try to use my communications skills in a different way. No complaints, but TV news has always meant working long hours and holidays.
I got approached earlier this year by Jeff Randle. He had expressed some interest to me in past years. The title is senior VP. They’re wanting me to provide consultation to both corporate and political clients, to oversee media training, helping people to understand the news business and how to perform well in interviews. There’s going to be some crisis communications work. They also want me to serve as a media analyst. I believe KCRA is going to have me back on a regular basis to do non-partisan analysis.
It’s bittersweet to leave something you’ve done all your life. The business, while I love it, has changed. Journalism is struggling, in the face of a greater competition and greater choices. There’s an emphasis to move more to the web, posting multiple times a day, in addition to broadcast deadlines. Like most TV reporters, I started out shooting, editing and writing my own stories, and was grateful to move up and not have to do that anymore.
Tell me about some of your experiences covering the Capitol.
When I first got to the Capitol, it was about the time the Republicans were making a run to dump Willie Brown as Speaker. As he often did, he outthought everybody in the building. Despite the fact that Republicans had gotten a majority in the Assembly, he figured out a way to get a couple of Republicans to vote for him. That was fun to watch.
Fast-forward, and I don’t know how you could ever out-do the whole recall of Gray Davis and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger. I remember Davis telling me at the time, “I knew I was in trouble, here I was a mere mortal.”
Funny how mortality rubbed off on him.
It’s true. The immortality didn’t last. My favorite story about the race, I’d gone down to The Tonight Show, August of ’03, to cover his appearance. Everybody thought that Arnold was going to come off the show and say, “I’ve thought about it, but I’m not going to run.” My thinking was it was a story either way. I was parked in front of the studios in Burbank, but couldn’t go inside. They tape the show in the afternoon. I had a friend inside the studios, and she held her cell phone up as the show was being recorded. All of a sudden, I hear him say the words. It’s like an earthquake, and I’m thinking, “What now?” I was on the air 15 minutes later. One of his advisors, George Gordon, was like, “Guess I need to go put together a campaign now.” I don’t think anybody knew.
That started the whole circus. I remember being down in Fresno at one of his events. You had Russian TV there, Muscle Magazine, all these unconventional media. His inauguration was like a presidential inauguration. I think there were over 100 TV cameras. It was a remarkable spectacle. He started off thinking his celebrity could make a difference. He found the Legislature was indifferent. As time went on, Arnold became much more popular the further you were away from Sacramento. I think the only reason he got reelected in ‘06 was Maria stepped in and revamped things, brought in Susan Kennedy and Daniel Zingale.
Tell us more about your early career.
I went to school at Cal Poly and I worked on the campus radio station and worked on TV in Santa Barbara. When you start off in Santa Barbara, it’s all downhill. But what was great was that was Reagan’s first term. He spent a tremendous amount of time at the Ranch. So as a young reporter I got to spend time at the daily briefings, down at the beachfront. I got to go up to the Ranch when he signed the big tax cut bill in ‘81 or ‘82. Every summer, he would have a media barbecue for both White House press and local press. When I think back on those, that’s what really molded my strong interest in covering politics. It was fascinating to watch him, and be around Sam Donaldson and Bill Plant, some of the veteran correspondents. I just soaked it up like a sponge.
It’s been a great career. I got to cover some national stuff. I was at Columbine. I was at the bombing of the Murray federal building in Oklahoma City. I was with Obama in Israel on his first overseas trip. I was in West Palm Beach when the whole hanging chad thing happened. When I look back at all of it, it’s hard to point to any one thing that’s a favorite. In journalism, you just have this perch to witness history first-hand, and I’ve never taken that for granted.