Inside the community
Read Time: 8 min

andrea roane, a media pioneer

Redux Extra May 4, 2022
Reading Time: 8 minutes

BY: ZOE RASTEGAR

Andrea Roane is a media jewel and a class act television personality in the Washington Metropolitan area. Her 37 years of stellar achievements in television media, her commitment to women’s health issues as well as her contributions to the community at large is an inspiration for many generations of women to look up to.

Andrea, a native of New Orleans, was raised in a typical middle-class family with her parents and her younger brother, Fredric Jr., while her maternal and paternal grandparents lived close by. Her late father, Frederic, retired as a supervisor at AMTRAK, and her mother, Ethel, taught second grade in the parochial public school system in New Orleans.

Later, Andrea earned her undergraduate degree in secondary education and her graduate degree in drama and communication from Louisiana State University, now known as the University of New Orleans.

Although she grew up in the segregated South, she says, “I was spared the ugliness of Jim Crow, thanks to my dad’s job with the railroad. While we were denied entry to restaurants, theaters, parks and swimming pools, I saw all of those things when we traveled outside the South.” She marvels at her travels by train all over the country as an amazing opportunity to see all kinds of people and places as well as a wonderful education.

She reminisces the unforgettable trip with her maternal grandmother, from New Orleans to Chicago, to Portland, across the breathtaking upper North West, and through an excursion trip to Seattle, Washington, crossing the border into British Columbia, Canada and finally to California and the southwestern states.

She is grateful to her parents for her source of inspiration and their good advice. When she was making the leap from the classroom to broadcasting, their support and encouragements were a positive force. “They told me to go for it, you may like it, and my dad advised me to have a backup plan to return to the classroom at my old school, just in case. Luckily I never had to activate my plan B.” Her path to broadcasting has been a series of events and opportunities. As she put it, “I am an accidental journalist.”

Andrea grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the era when television was very different and very white, and she did not have any role models who looked like her, so she never gave media a thought. Instead, she considered clinical psychology and soon switched her major to secondary education. She started teaching in high school and middle school in the New Orleans Public School System. And she loved it.

Andrea’s first formal appearance happened when she was in an administrative position with the New Orleans Public School System. As coordinator of cultural services, she was part of the team that launched the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, the school system’s performing arts high school. They were guests on a public television show. Her appearance caught the attention of Margie Larson, an associate producer at WYES-TV public television in New Orleans, and she was soon recruited to co-host a federally funded show about the New Orleans and Jefferson Parish Public School systems.

She started with very little broadcast television experience, but she would later become the programs project director. While at WYES, another great opportunity came her way: to co-host special PBS news segments on the MacNeil Lehrer News Hours, covering the emerging Black Republican Party in the South. And later, covering the Wetlands with the late Jim Lehrer. According to Andrea, “If nothing else had happened in my broadcast careers, these two opportunities would have been enough.” After these two shows, more job offers appeared on the horizon, and eventually Andrea and her husband Michael, a news photographer, moved to Washington, D.C.

She started at WETA (PBS) as host/ moderator for Metro Week in Review. And soon she got the attention of Betty Endicott, the area’s first woman news director at Channel 9, WUSA. She was hired in August 1981, and the rest would become the history of a woman, three months into motherhood and a promising career with a nearly four decades of burgeoning success and a lifelong relationship with WUSA. During her 37 years of working with WUSA9, she has enjoyed many shows and the people she has worked with, as she often affectionately mentions her favorite segment, co-anchored with Mike Buchanan, on the first 4 p.m. new cast in the DMV.

She speaks kindly and generously of her great team with producer Jack Heinbaugh and writer/guest booker, Janet Terry (“brilliant and with a Rolodex to match”), and editor, Judy Fiterman, with whom they decided the best and most current topics and personalities to bring onto the show, like Scott Turow and David Baldacci, who regularly weighed in on crime stories. Or a quiz with traffic reporter, Stacey Binn, where celebrity guests such as actor Michael J. Fox, Janet Leigh and Frank Sinatra, Jr. also took part on the set.

Among her other favorites are events she covered with her second and third morning co-anchors, Mike Walters and Mike Hydeck. She covered the memorable events of the George W. Bush Inauguration with Mike Walters and the Obama Inauguration with Mike Hydeck. She also recalls covering with them the Washington Nationals at RFK, and her solo coverage of the Baltimore Orioles in Cuba. Among dignitaries, Andrea covered Mikhail Gorbachev in Washington during Ronald Reagan’s administration, as well as the first visit to Washington by Charles and Diana, the Prince and Princess of Wales, and reported on Diana’s solo trip to NYC.

One of Andrea’s great attributes is her willingness to assist and to educate other women. She believes in women’s camaraderie. She wisely says, “The ‘isms’ are easy to stand up to when you have women standing with you. Because women and men were by my side, I paid it back by being a sounding board for the women who followed me.”

Her amazing success — in spite of the era and challenges that she had to overcome with very few media role models — is commendable. She stands out as one of the first woman minority journalists to shine and make sure that she is the mentor for the next generation of journalists of color. Andrea’s instincts as an educator took her beyond the television studio to community health issues and, specifically, the early detection of breast cancer.

In 1993, the District had an unenviable reputation when it came to breast cancer and Black women. While the incidents of cancer among African
American women was lower than white women, their breast cancer mortality rate was the highest in the nation. To turn those numbers around, WUSA 9 initiated Buddy Check 9 in partnership with the Prevent Cancer Foundation and the Georgetown Lombardy Comprehensive Cancer Center, focusing on women’s breast health.

“Our message was simple: early detection saves lives.” On the ninth of the month, she would remind women to take charge of their breast health by performing monthly breast self-exams, to schedule their annual mammograms, then call a “buddy” and have them do the same. The effort resonated with women in the DMV and had a great impact in saving their lives.

During the 25 years of Buddy Check 9, Andrea met so many amazing and courageous women and men alike. Jacqueline Brown Woody was the very first buddy, detecting her cancer at its earliest and most treatable stage as she had a lumpectomy to remove the growth. Later, she advocated on behalf of women in PG County. Other women, like Joyce Huber, told her, “She just wanted to talk to other women so they wouldn’t end up like her.”

When Joyce first discovered her lump, it was the size of a 50-cent piece. When it was removed months later, it was the size of a softball. She told her story on television because she thought women would believe other average persons over a celebrity survivor. Many women lose their lives to cancer only because they are afraid of hearing, “You have cancer.”

Andrea remembers that Joyce even helped to locate a male survivor who was willing to talk about his experience because it was very hard to get men to talk about having breast cancer, as they felt they would be stigmatized. Also part of the Buddy 9 program were Joni Relyea, who used her artistic talents to raise awareness and to celebrate warriors, and Debbie Lowe Fornwalt, a nurse who happened to be home and watching the channel 9 news at noon when she heard the buddy check reminder. Debbie found a lump, had surgery and today is a beautiful survivor who also pays it forward. She spreads her monthly message of early detection on a local radio station in Cumberland, Maryland.

Another example among many is Maimah Karmo, founder of the Tigerlily Foundation, who was 30-something when she was told that she was too young to have breast cancer. Wrong!

These families and their willingness to help others has inspired Andrea to continue in her path to health awareness. Though retired, Andrea still uses social media to remind her “buddies” that “early detection” saves lives, and by following a healthy lifestyle, you can even prevent some cancers. Whether it was breast cancer awareness or heart health, covering these stories made her realize what she needed to do to take care of her own health. “You can’t just talk the talk. You have to walk the walk.” The COVID-19 pandemic and loss of so many precious lives has inspired Andrea to stay in the mix by “Zooming” on pandemic issues as well.

Currently, she is working with MedStar and the Heart and Vascular Institute, hosting a monthly Facebook live event on how women and men can protect their hearts and their health during these challenging times. “When I take on a project, my passion comes from my desire to do my best and hopefully have a positive impact on a person, group or worthwhile cause.”

When asked about Andrea’s views on today’s changes in media and newscasts in particular, she said, “The biggest change is the viewers’ choice of new outlets.” She remembers when the “Big 3 ruled the roost and local ratings were tied, in part, to network news and entertainment programming.” She adds, “The presence of CNN and Fox News changed everything, followed by other outlets enticing varying viewers. Added to this is social media and the insatiable appetite for reading and responding to an avalanche of opinions, resulting in a bigger change, for better or worse.” As she elaborates on the contrast, she notes, “I saw news as what we needed, wanted and should know. And we worked hard to get all sides to the story in order to get at the truth.”

In her opinion, this is where a growing segment of people are getting their news almost exclusively. And more and more people are gravitating toward sites that primarily re-enforce their views. She regrets how misinformation is tearing the country apart.

When asked about her most vivid memories, she said, “The events of 9-11 is the one that stays with me. While broadcasting the 9 a.m. show and watching the second plane go into the tower, we knew this was not just an accident. We were on the air almost immediately. We eventually went to network coverage, but came back live after the plane slammed into the Pentagon. The Network couldn’t believe what we had done until they realized why we were taking over coverage. For me, it was especially a tough and an emotional day because my daughter was a student in New York City, and her dorm was very near ground zero. I couldn’t get a call through but had to keep steady on air. I did it. She finally called at 1 p.m. Such a relief.”

Aside from that she adds, “Nothing could top the parrot on my head that drew blood when it plucked my eyebrow. No more parrots or snakes, OK!”

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