Spokane native Sean Owsley began his career in broadcast journalism 31 years ago and currently serves as morning anchor of KHQ Local News Today. As a student at Eastern Washington University, Owsley called Spokane Valley home. He has also established a successful career in music.
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At Home on Air – Media fixture Owsley relishes local roots
Sean Owsley's first big break in the media world came when
he was living in a modest apartment on Skipworth Road in Spokane Valley.
At the time Owsley was a senior at Eastern Washington
University majoring in broadcast journalism. When he learned of an internship
opportunity at KHQ-TV in Spokane, Owsley jumped at the chance. The fact that it
meant keeping farmer's hours to write scripts and feed the teleprompter for the
station's morning show didn't matter. The Spokane native had a foot in the door
of the industry he would call home for over three decades.
Owsley's busy schedule included a part-time job for
Valley-based Elite Travel, dropping off tickets in his blue Honda Prelude. His
apartment was within walking distance of popular stores like Halpin's, White
Elephant and Hastings.
"I loved the location," Owsley says. "Plus, I had a lot of
friends around that had gone to West Valley (High School)."
Growing up, Owsley spent part of many summers in the West
Valley area where his aunt and uncle and cousins lived in a home on Bessie
Road. The care-free time and welcoming
terrain produced many fond memories.
"I have a lot of ties to the Valley," Owsley said. "I
remember running all over Millwood, playing pick-up football games on the field
at West Valley High. I remember East Sprague Drive-In nights with my friends,
Straw Hat Pizza, playing full court pickup games with the crew on the outside
hoops in the summer at Pasadena Elementary until dusk."
Owsley's first memory of the Valley was when his father Gary
served as music director of Four Square Church on Park Road. In the 1980s, his
dad was the most listened to radio deejay in Spokane and an accomplished
musician who had once tried out for the Chad Mitchell Trio only to be nudged
out by a then-unknown crooner from Roswell, New Mexico named John Denver.
The third of three boys, Owsley followed in his dad's
musical footsteps, learning three chords in third grade, enough to play folk
songs. An elementary school pal played congo drums and, soon, Owsley's first
band was formed. In junior high, he put his guitar on the shelf and didn't pick
it up again until college when he asked his dad to teach him how to be a
The journey of picking and strumming would find Owsley
playing solo acoustic gigs years down the road as well as being part of bands
like the Blue Mustangs and The Rising featured at local benefits, concerts and
events like Pig Out in the Park.
Owsley migrated to the westside of the state with his mom
and two brothers as part of a move to West Seattle in 1977. He graduated from
Chief Sealth High School in 1988 and studied at Highline Community College and
later the University of Washington – but eventually, Owsley traded in his Husky
gear to become an Eagle.
"It wasn't a good fit for me," Owsley recalls of his time at
UW. "I had roots over here and knew I could come back."
Owsley earned his diploma from EWU in June of 1991 and moved
back to the Puget Sound area but headed east across the mountains before long. His
first real gig in journalism came at KHQ in January 1993 when he signed on for
17 hours a week at $5 per hour, editing tape overnights on weekends.
By 1994, Owsley had moved into a producer role at the
station and was also doing some local commercials that garnered positive
reviews, including a truck ad with a jingle that became his calling card for a
KHQ then approached him about moving to the full-time sports
desk. He would cover Washington State's appearance in the 1998 Rose Bowl as
well as the Gonzaga men's basketball team's historic run in the 1999 NCAA
Tournament. Many years later, Owsley reported on the 2010 Vancouver Winter
Olympics from opening to closing ceremonies.
Owsley's career path ventured outside Washington in 1999
when he accepted a morning anchor job at WATE in Knoxville, Tennessee. He would
return to KHQ in 2002 despite having competing offers from several Spokane
stations. Owsley worked as a reporter and fill-in anchor until a full-time
anchor position finally opened up.
Over the years, Owsley has cemented his standing as one of
the area's most trusted broadcast journalists, earning an Emmy along the way. When
he is recognized at the grocery store or on one of his regular trail runs, he
takes it as a compliment.
"It's not a burden," he said. "Everyone is so respectful. To
me, it means, I'm approachable, that I've built a trust. If people trust and
respect me, that means I'm doing my job."
Owsley and his wife Sara have five children in their blended
Q: It doesn't sound
like the field of media was always the obvious career pick for you, despite
having a dad that earned a living in radio and was considered a local celebrity.
When did you make broadcasting your professional avenue and why?
A: It wasn't until I
was a sophomore in high school that I started searching for a calling. Something that I was passionate about. I remember clearly being in a class and
thinking, I like to write and I like to engage and learn about people. I, at that time, thought about my dad and
that is when it all came together almost in a flash. Broadcast Journalism. I've never regretted that decision. I started 31 years ago at KHQ this
month. I'm as dedicated and as
passionate about clear, ethical, objective journalism as I've ever been.
Q: You moved from
Spokane to Seattle as a kid, then came back to go to college. Then after
working as an anchor in Tennessee, you returned to the Inland Northwest again.
What kept bringing you back?
A: Spokane is where I
was born and Spokane is my foundation. I
moved back to attend and graduate from Eastern Washington University. I left in 1999 and anchored morning news in
Knoxville, Tennessee for three years. But each time I moved away, Spokane was a place of comfort, familiarity,
a thread that wound through me. After three years out of state, there was
always a pull to move back home. The
quality of life, the outdoor recreation, but most importantly the bedrock of
family and many generations of my family that have called Spokane home for
Q: You lived in
unincorporated Spokane Valley as a college student and have covered
incorporated Spokane Valley as a reporter. How has the Valley changed over
those 30 years or so in your mind?
A: I lived off Skipworth and Sprague during my
college years. Spokane Valley has
progressed and grown. But if I drive it
today, it looks so similar to 30 years ago. U-City still stands although obviously the retail landscape has
changed. I used to sing many a karaoke
nights at Percy's or buy clothes from Frederick and Nelson. Fast forward to
today and I was there for the groundbreaking of the new Spokane Valley City
Hall building that is up and operational now. It has changed with the years. At
the same time, it looks and feels as familiar as it did in my youth.
Q: I think some
people see a face on television talking about the news and assume all they have
to do is read from a teleprompter. Can you describe in general the research,
reporting and vetting of stories that someone like yourself tackles before ever
going on the air?
A: Reading from a
teleprompter the right way takes time and effort. Inflection, delivery, pacing
are all part of it. The trick is to not
sound like you're reading but having a conversation. There is so much detailed
work behind the scenes before each broadcast. Each and every single day, I'm conducting in-depth detailed interviews
with key newsmakers. My approach has
been to not script questions. Instead, I
read and absorb as much information on any given topic and then have a
conversation with the expert I'm interviewing. I find they relax and share more and you learn more. My goal with each broadcast and each
interview is to learn and I hope it's educational for those that watch KHQ.
Q: Along with being a
well-respected broadcaster, you have also achieved success as a musician. What
are some of the parallels, if any, between the two?
A: There is a synergy
between live broadcasting and a live audience. In news and music, you have to entertain and hold interest. My first time anchoring on TV I was
petrified. Many times starting out playing music in front of a crowd I felt the
same. Pushing yourself is how you grow. If you stop growing, you stop living. I find that things you fear the most, if you go right at them, become
things you love the most. It's all about
growth. Luckily, I've worked with
talented and helpful mentors in news and it's been the same in music. People that take the time to guide and help
you learn. It's a blast when you pick up
a guitar and play a song that touches someone.
Q: It sounds like
you've continued to give back to your alma mater, EWU, over the years,
especially as it involves mentoring students who are just starting in their
journalism careers. What is some of the best advice you can give to a young
journalist beginning their journey in a field known to be competitive and
demanding while not paying abundantly, at least at first?
A: Giving back what
you've learned is the ultimate reward. My mentor at EWU, Steve Blewett, was instrumental in my success. He's asked me to come back to classes over
the years and I always say yes. If a
young student wants to learn I'm all in to help them grow. Isn't that how we all should be? I strongly believe so. My best advice is, no matter what, say yes. Yes, to an internship. Yes to going outside your comfort zone. Yes to
spending an hour picking the brain of someone who is an expert in the field you
want to go into. Yes to learning. Yes to growing. Yes to absorbing as much knowledge as you can
as fast as you can. Most importantly,
say no to any ceiling, limits or doubts someone wants to try and put on you.
Believe in yourself 100 percent even if you don't have all the answers. That
belief is the constant thread that will help you overcome, achieve and
ultimately be successful.
Q: You are one of the
most recognizable current faces of KHQ along with colleagues like Kalae Chock
and Leslie Lowe. With mainstays like Dan Kleckner and Stephanie Vigil retiring
in the last few years, do you see yourself as someone who should, in some way,
be carrying the mantle of this station?
A: There is a long
line of torch bearers that came before me and the great team I currently work
with. Dan Kleckner, Stephanie Vigil,
Leslie Lowe, Shelly Monahan, Dave Cotton, George Maupin and so many other
talented folks. KHQ was the very first
TV station on in Spokane. Every single
day of work put in since before I was born matters. The journalists that came before me are truly
the building blocks of a legacy. You
have to respect the work and the people before you. It gives you context and
inspiration. Then it's up to you to say.
"What can I add?" How can I enhance a
legacy and a body of work that started well before I was ever around. I try
every day to do just that.
Q: Finally, what do you enjoy most about living and working
in the Inland Northwest?
A: The list is
long. I still love running the trails in
Riverside State Park. I love seeing the
pavilion downtown that I was in the shadow of during Expo '74. I love the outdoors immensely here. I run year-round in heat, snow, ice and
rain. But what I love most is the
people. I find it is the people, in high
times and hard times, who step up, care, and show a selflessness and kindness
that is hard to find. I've seen that
during Firestorm, Bloomsday, Ice Storm '96. I've seen the human spirit shine in the most adverse situations. Iti's real and it's why this is my home.