Twenty-nine years ago, Vicki Dortch came up from WPSD-TV in Paducah, Kentucky for what was planned to be a two-year stint in Louisville as a weekend anchor at the then-ABC affiliate WLKY-TV, thinking she would then be picked up by a station in a larger market like Cincinnati, Seattle, or Chicago.
However, WLKY switched affiliations with fellow station WHAS-TV — then the local CBS affiliate — in 1990, allowing the then-owner of Pulitzer Publishing to invest more money into its property, increasing the number of newscasts — and, in Dortch’s case, opportunities — as one side effect. Dortch would then go on to helm the evening newscasts, a post she has held ever since.
On a chilly March afternoon, TOPS Louisville paid a visit to Dortch at her home away from home on Mellwood Avenue to talk about her decades-long career, the hardest and most exciting stories to come her way, and her family — both of them.
From Print to Television
Her day at WLKY begins in the mid-afternoon when she goes over the notes for the day’s stories from the production staff. From there, she works on promos and news breaks before diving into the 5 p.m. newscast, then does it all again for the 11 p.m. edition.
How did she end up behind the anchor desk?
“I was in high school,” Dortch began, “involved in the journalism department, wrote for the school newspaper. When I went to Murray State in Murray, Kentucky, I thought that’s what I wanted to do. However, all of the entry-level print journalism classes were full.
“My advisor said, ‘Have you thought about TV? You can take an entry-level television course.’ I looked at the course and I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I fell in love! The studio, the camera, the lights, it was exciting. I never looked back.”
Dortch would go on to major in speech communication with minors in marketing and journalism. Following in the footsteps of her mother, she also obtained her teaching certificate, in case her career path needed more security.
She then made her professional television debut with WPSD following a brief time in radio, although it wouldn’t be long before Louisville came calling.
“Then Louisville heard about me. There were a couple of people at WLKY that would claim that they’re the reason I came here. One girl was on vacation, and she said she saw me and told the news director… it was a great fit.”
Yin & Yang
Two stories stand out from her career: the disappearance of Marlena Childress in 1987, and meeting with President Barack Obama in 2010.
The former remains one of the hardest stories she’s ever had to cover.
“I went down to Martin, Tennessee with a photographer. The whole community had come together to help look for this child. I got an interview with her mother, Pamela Bailey... We went in her house, and I asked Pamela every question… I just didn’t say, ‘Did you kill your daughter?’ I didn’t say that. I regret not saying that in some form or fashion; I probably wouldn’t have gotten the answer that I wanted… That was a heartbreaking story to go on.”
Meeting President Obama, on the other hand, remains one of her biggest moments in the industry; a picture of the meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House hangs to the right of the front lobby doors leading into the newsroom and studio. Dortch was one of eight people from across the United States selected to meet the President for a one-on-one interview.
“Just getting to go to the White House… it was a very humbling experience to get to meet the President of the United States and have a few minutes with him… He had a mic on. I was walking across, and he said, ‘Hi Vicki! Nice shoes!’ We did get that on camera, so we had a little bit of fun with the President… I did get a few questions off the beaten path; middle-class tax cuts was what we were supposed to ask him about. It was a privilege to go there.”
According to Dortch, the biggest privilege in her life is being a mom to her son, Jonathan, a senior at the University of Kentucky who works in the sports department of Lexington, Kentucky NBC affiliate WLEX-TV. Thus, when major happenings occur — like the annual madness surrounding the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament — both mom and son are likely to cover the story together.
“We do get to work a few things like the NCAA tournament,” Dortch said. “Like when we went to Vegas in December 2016 with UK. If the game’s on CBS, we go. If it’s not on CBS, on our station, we don’t go. But it was; it was a CBS Sports Classic. John went with his station, I went with mine, and we were all in Vegas together… it’s kind of like a family affair. It’s fun to get to go and work with him; I don’t think there are too many moms and sons who work together in broadcasting. It’s a neat thing.”
Then, there is her on-air family, including co-anchor Rick Van Hoose, sportscaster Fred Cowgill, and meteorologist Jay Cardosi. The quartet have been bringing the evening news together for two decades, a rarity in an industry where movement is a constant.
“WLKY is full of passion… and the four of us — Rick, Fred, Jay and I — have been an anchor team for 20 years. I think that’s one of the longest in the country; I don’t know if there’s any longer. And we are so passionate about what we do, and making these newscasts number one… we’re a family. We’re close friends. We work hard. We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished… It’s a family here at WLKY.”
Dortch remains as excited about her job today as she did all those years ago, and there are no signs of her excitement waning in the years to come.<