February 25, 2024
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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
2/5/2024

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.

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"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 musician.

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 time.

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 family.

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 generations.

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.

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