Jennifer Johnson co-anchors the 4:00 p.m. news with Demetria Kalodimos and 6:30 p.m. news with Tom Randles.
When she’s not behind the anchor desk, you’ll find her working on I-Team reports, speaking to community groups or writing blogs about her life, work, family and anything else that pops into her head.
Jennifer started her television career in 1993 after graduating from Western Kentucky University. Three months later and frustrated, she finally landed a part-time job reporting for an AM radio station in Owensboro, Kentucky. Jennifer still remembers that first day. “My parents and I both cried when they dropped me off. The station was essentially a mobile home that had been converted into office space. I think we were all in disbelief that I’d just spent four years getting a degree that couldn’t produce anything more lucrative than a part-time job with no benefits,” she said.
A small cable news show was run out of the same trailer. Three months into her radio gig, someone called in sick, and Jennifer’s on-air television career began. She waited tables during lunch and reported at night. To say that it was a small operation is an understatement — think Nicole Kidman in the movie “To Die For.” In addition to being small, the station also didn’t have any shows. They ran a community calendar with a scrolling time and temperature 23 hours a day. At six and 10, they would “break in” with a half-hour newscast. (Don’t bother looking for this station online; it folded in the late ’90s.)
Eight months into her lavish career at the radio station/Ruby Tuesdays, Jennifer was hired as a full-time reporter for the ABC affiliate in Bowling Green, Ky. “I remember being so excited that I was going to work for a station with actual programs,” she said, looking back. The pay was so low ($13,500 a year) that 11 months in, Jennifer ran out of money and had to move back in with her parents in Nashville. Fortunately, another reporter at the station was also broke and living with a friend in Nashville. For the next six months, they commuted to Bowling Green together.
The next stop was Paducah, Ky. In August 1995, Jennifer got hired to report for the NBC affiliate. The wages were livable … barely. She spent 18 months at the station before getting an offer from the NBC-owned station in Birmingham, Ala. It was a great move professionally, but the nomadic lifestyle was beginning to wear thin.
While working for WVTM in Birmingham, Jennifer was nominated for her first Emmy, and she covered some major national news stories. One of the biggest was the bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic that was later linked to Olympic Park Bomber, Eric Rudolph. It was also the first time Jennifer was exposed to death and destruction while covering the aftermath of an F-5 tornado that killed dozens. “It happened in the middle of the night, and when we got there the next morning, it was like something out of a movie. There were human bodies still stuck in trees where people had literally been ripped from their homes and tossed out into their yards. It was the first time I was exposed to that kind of human grief on such a large scale.”
Shortly after the tornado, Jennifer decided life was too short to be separated from her family. In July 1998, she put in her notice and told her boss she was moving back to Nashville, with or without a job. Fortunately, the News Director at Channel 4 didn’t endorse her early retirement and offered her a job as a freelance reporter. Within two years, Jennifer was not only a full-time employee, but she had been promoted to weekend morning anchor.
Jennifer spent five years reporting and anchoring for Channel 4. During that time, she won two Emmys and an Associated Press award for her exclusive interview with Nashville’s most notorious serial killer. The Nashville Scene voted her “Reporter Most Likely to Scoop The Print Media,” and, in 2000, the station tapped her for a month-long assignment covering the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Six months after her return from Sydney, Jennifer got pregnant with her daughter, and that’s when life got really interesting.
Juggling motherhood and her unpredictable schedule eventually became too much to manage. In 2003, Jennifer left the station to spend more time with her family. During her five-year hiatus, she worked briefly as the spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Correction and later went to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to launch the agency’s first media relations office. During her time with the TBI, Jennifer made guest appearances on dozens of network news programs, including “The Today Show,” “Larry King Live,” the “Greta Van Susteren” show, “Hannity and Colmes,” the “Nancy Grace” show and “The O’Reilly Factor.”
In the summer of 2007, station managers approached Jennifer about coming back to co-anchor their new 6:30 p.m. show. She’s been happily doing it ever since. “People said I was nuts to come back to television,” she said. “It’s such a volatile business, but the truth is this is what I’ve wanted to do my entire life. I love the people I meet on stories. I’m constantly learning something new or being exposed to something I would never see otherwise. There’s no better place to witness the history of your community as it unfolds. I’m honored that people choose to invite me into their homes after a long day at work, and I hope to be visiting them each night for many years to come.”