WCCO-TV anchor Kim Johnson knew what she wanted to do with her life from the time she sat her Barbie dolls behind news desks. In this she was influenced by her mother who adhered to a strict schedule of watching TV news during family dinners. “At the time I kind of hated it,” admits Johnson. “Why couldn’t we watch the shows other kids were watching?” But the experienced shaped her. “I gained a deep appreciation for what was going on in my community and in the world,” she says. Nightly TV news watching was also the start of a career interest: How does the stuff of a TV news broadcast happen? It was a question that has brought Johnson through a decade of education and career opportunities (see sidebar) and, happily for us and her, landed her back in the Twin Cities.
Johnson’s mother has just sold the Maple Grove home in which Johnson lived from the time she was born through her college days at the University of Minnesota. Predictably, laughs Johnson, her mother has moved to another location in Maple Grove. One of their favorite Maple Grove destinations is The Lookout. “They have the best broasted chicken, and a great happy hour,” Johnson says. She grew up going to Mama G’s, where sand volleyball has always ruled, and she and high school friends still frequent JC’s, although they knew it by a slightly different name. Johnson says she thinks the city has grown up with her: horse farms and fields behind her childhood home have been replaced by a new housing development, and she remembers when the first Cub Foods and McDonald’s arrived. She is grateful for what she calls “excellent city planning” during Maple Grove’s rapid growth.
While Johnson never played in a Mama G’s volleyball league, she did play in junior high and on the varsity team at Maple Grove High School. She also coached sand volleyball teams at Maple Grove Community Center for five summers while in high school. “It was good money for a summer job,” she says. Today Johnson’s athleticism is channeled into running, including marathons, and downhill skiing. She was a little spoiled by skiing in Utah, where she lived and worked as a weekend anchor for two years. “But now that I’m back in Minnesota, I’m looking forward to skiing at Lutsen. And I hear Trollhaugen is fun on Friday nights.”
As for her current position at WCCO-TV, she says, “I still feel like I have to pinch myself to know it’s real. I could never have imagined or predicted how special it is to do what I do, the impact I can have.” She feels this is especially true for the teachers to whom she awards her “Excellent Educator” honor, a segment for which Johnson is responsible, in addition to co-anchoring the morning and noon news shows at WCCO.
For this and another special assignment, “Get Moving Mondays,” Johnson does her own interviewing, reporting and writing. She loves doing “Excellent Educator,” she says, for the great pleasure and pride it brings to the winners. “More often than not, the teacher has tears in her eyes at the presentation.” For every negative news story she covers, there are many more positive stories. “I’m so thankful for the opportunity to see the good in people. It is a real privilege to have this job.”
Speaking of privilege, Johnson believes her second U of M major, women’s studies (the first being journalism, plus a political science minor), helped her to understand not only women’s history but the history of all people who have been at a disadvantage. “I learned to recognize my own privilege, growing up in Maple Grove. When you recognize your own privilege, it gives you empathy for other people.”
While cognizant of her advantages, however, she admits that the road to her current position at WCCO was not easy. “In my twenties I lived in four to five states for several different jobs. I made all the moves and career changes alone. It’s hard, emotionally,” she says. Now, back in the Twin Cities for a year and a half, she revels in evenings spent with her mother, her sister and her sister’s family. Johnson says she’d definitely like to have a family of her own some day.
Her cat, Sophie, might object to Johnson’s claim that she made all those early career moves alone. “I got her as a kitten while on my first job, reporting in Duluth. She’s moved with me everywhere.” Johnson has been a cat person all her life, she admits, starting with a childhood pet she had for 18 years.
She would encourage young people interested in broadcast or written journalism to be ready to put aside a personal life (perhaps except for cats) for an extended period of time. “It’s definitely not all about the glamour,” she says. Johnson does her own hair and make-up, and has been known to frequent the Maple Grove Goodwill for some high-quality secondhand wardrobe pieces: she gets no special budget for clothing. “If you’re interested in this work,” she says, “be prepared to work really, really hard.” Johnson rises at 2 a.m. daily and arrives at work at 3 a.m. to anchor the morning news. Going to bed at 7 or 8 p.m. isn’t as hard for her as it might be for some: “I’m kind of an old lady that way. I’d be going to bed early in any case.”
And yet, she says, hers is “honestly the most rewarding, thrilling, exciting and fun job you can imagine.” She advises news-career hopefuls to make sure they get some experience in the field before committing to a college program. Johnson studied journalism in high school and to this day considers being chosen editor- in -chief of the Maple Grove Senior High newspaper a crowning achievement. “I credit that experience with lighting my fire for this career,” she says.
Co-anchor Jason DeRusha, who started at WCCO in 2003, says he had been looking at Johnson’s TV segments since she first started out in the business. “I remember, years ago, Kim’s work as a very young reporter. I said to myself, ‘This is someone to keep an eye on.’ She was talented, passionate, and a very nice person, too.” He was delighted when she was hired at WCCO. DeRusha says Johnson’s weekly “Excellent Educator” segment “is the perfect vehicle for viewers to get to know Kim.” He adds, “There are certain people who are drawn to the light other people give out. Kim taps into the good of everyone.”
Johnson grows thoughtful at an inquiry as to where she imagines herself and her career in 15 years. “It’s a good question, isn’t it?” she muses. After a slight pause, it seems she decides to lay it on the line. “It is my dream to stay exactly where I am. This job was my end goal. I’ll keep doing what I’m doing as long as they let me.” She adds that people often ask her if she’s going to network TV next. “I tell them absolutely not. I’m staying here. I’m so happy to be home.”
The road to Kim Johnson’s WCCO-TV anchor position
2001: Graduated from Maple Grove Senior High
2006: Graduated from University of MN with a double major in journalism and women’s studies and a minor in political science
2006-2009: Reporter covering city hall and government in Duluth, Minn.
2009-2010: Weekend anchor in Green Bay, Wisc.
2010-2012: Main anchor in IA/IL Quad Cities
2012-2014: Weekend anchor in Salt Lake City, Utah
2014: WCCO-TV Saturday morning anchor, Minneapolis, Minn.
2014: WCCO-TV traffic reporter
2015: WCCO-TV morning and noon news anchor