Anchor away: 10 questions for newscaster Marty Levin
Anchoring the nightly news in San Diego has been a big part of Marty Levin’s life for the past 33 years. All that ends Wednesday (May 26). At 11:29 p.m., he’ll sign off for the last time from NBC 7/39.
No one else has spent more years anchoring San Diego’s local TV newscasts than Levin, a University City resident. His current stint at NBC 7/39 began in 1987 and followed anchor gigs at KGTV/Channel 10 and KFMB/Channel 8. For a brief period in the early ’80s, he opted to leave San Diego for a large-market news anchor role in Washington D.C., only to return to his adopted home.
Now that Levin, 64, has chosen to retire — by all accounts, he’s made this career decision entirely on his own, without pressure — he’s one of San Diego’s last longtime news anchors. Only Channel 10’s Hal Clement now comes close. In the tradition of Ray Wilson, whom old-timers fondly recall as San Diego’s Walter Cronkite, Levin has always been there.
Through the years, he’s crafted a well-deserved reputation for anchoring a solid newscast. He was at his best when disaster or crisis struck. He was well-informed, reliable and believable.
For him, it was always the news — not the newscaster — that mattered most.
1) So how do you feel about leaving TV?
I’d say it’s sort of a combination of apprehension and a feeling of, ‘Oh, my goodness, this’ll be great!’ I’m trying to stay centered and just wait and see how it goes. I’m trying not to over-anticipate how I’ll feel, one way or the other.
2) What do you think you’ll miss the most?
Well, the sad reality of this business is that the most interesting moments and stimulating times for us are the worst times for somebody else. So when there’s breaking news and I mean real breaking news — not what everyone labels ‘breaking news’ these days, you know, when the fires are going on or there’s some really significant story — that’s what I’ll miss the most. That’s just the way I am.
3) And what will you miss the least?
Oh, the routine, the sort of daily redundancies. I think that’s true for people in almost any job. There’s a certain process and we do it three times a day for three different newscasts. And sometimes that gets a little tedious.
4) How did you feel watching John Gardner get sentenced? What was going through your mind?
My honest answer is, if I hadn’t been reporting it, I wouldn’t have watched. For me, it was anguish of the highest magnitude. I was very uncomfortable watching the suffering the parents were going through. It’s inconceivable that someone could commit those sorts of acts. I realize that’s strangely naïve. But it’s very hard for me to understand how someone could be that sick or have such a blatant disregard for human life.
5) To my eye, you’ve always been straight-forward, no fluff, no Ron Burgundy, ever. Were you ever tempted to be pompous?
Fortunately, I’ve never thought of myself that way. Last Saturday, we had a going-away party. And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Is this really for me?’ I never thought of myself as a TV ‘star.’ That’s just not who I am.
6) Do you think people will say to you, ‘Didn’t you used to be Marty Levin?’
I’m sure some people will. I think it’ll take a long time for people to figure out that you’re no longer on the air. I still have people who say, ‘I know you…You’re on Channel 10, right?’ That was a long time ago. Even Channel 8 is 25 years ago now. And they still confuse the stations. A lot of people, when they see me in jeans and T-shirt, they say they must’ve known me in high school or that I work at the local 7-Eleven. They’ve seen me but they can’t quite place where. And that’s fine with me.
7) Whom do you most admire in local TV news, either current or in the past?
You know, there’s a pretty good list. We’ve had some awfully good people in this market. Names like Ken Kramer, Gene Cubbison, Adrienne Alpert, Susan Farrell, Joe McMahon, Hal Clement. And (Larry) Himmel and I have been friends for a long time. We’ve had this running contest about who could stay employed the longest. And it looks like I let him win.
8) Are you concerned about the future of local TV news? Or do you care?
I am worried about it because I think that we’ve done a disservice to the audience in ‘lightening up’ the product, in every way — ‘we’ being the collective we. People need to know what’s going on in the city in which they live. And I don’t think they’re well-served by car crashes and crime stories. I think there’s a vacuum for serious news. I worry about people being uninvolved and I worry that, even at the national level, the news isn’t thorough enough and too opinion-based. People aren’t getting enough objective information on which to make sound decisions.
9) What’s been your best asset through the years?
Well, I do have what they call institutional memory. I’ve been here a long time and I’ve always tried for context. The thing is, nobody out there who watches regularly who could tell you whether I’m a Republican or a Democrat or liberal or conservative. Or how religious or non-religious I am. Also, when I’ve done programs when we’ve had two sides of an issue, I’m always most satisfied when both sides are a little angry with me. That’s because I probably played it right down the middle. That’s what I tried to do, be as provocative and as fair as possible. We’re not Fox and we’re not MSNBC. It’s a local news station. I’ve always had opinions about everything, but they weren’t part of my job.
10) So Marty, you’re still relatively young to be retiring. What are you gonna do next?
Good question. I don’t really know yet. I don’t have a real plan. I thought I’d cruise into it and see how it goes. It seems like the right time to do it. It’s been long enough. The workload’s been big enough. I hope I’ll get to do something in television — some place, at some time — but it won’t be doing three local news shows a day.