Thirty years? Really? Lisa Cooney has been living on the air at WLWT-TV since 1988, mostly as a morning news co-anchor on what was the city's top-rated morning newscast during November sweeps.
"I love the camaraderie among the team in the mornings. We are a different breed. We come in the night before or in the middle of the night," says Cooney, a Northern Kentucky native.
"Mornings are a grind, but we are doing it together, and putting on a show that we think our viewers can relate to. Believe me, there are way more people working hard behind the scenes than in front of the camera. They are the true morning warriors. The producers, photographers, reporters and engineering staff are the best in the city…
"And this past November, after a lot of hard work, we become the Tri-State’s most watched morning show!"
Cooney was hired by Channel 5 in December 1988 as a part-time writer. A week later, she went full-time. She rose through the ranks to go from an Emmy-Award-winning reporter to anchor – in the mornings, then evenings, and then back to mornings in 2004.
Her first big break came in 1989, when reporter Courtis Fuller called in sick.
"My boss said he wanted me to be the fill-in reporter for a Saturday shift, but I’d have to work a double shift because they needed a writer on the night shift. I told him I’d work three days straight for a chance. The rest just happened: Full-time reporting, then reporting and anchoring," she says.
"Oh, by the way, the reporter who called in sick that weekend almost 30 years ago was my colleague, Courtis Fuller. We still laugh about it today.'Thanks for being sick that day, Courtis!' "
As a reporter, she covered the 1993 Lucasville prison riot. As her WLWT-TV bio notes, "Cooney was at the prison for 11 days and was part of the team that stayed on the air for eight straight hours as part of the agreement between the inmates and the FBI to end the riot." She also covered Pope John Paul II's visits to the United States in New York in 1993 and St. Louis in 1999, and John Glenn's last space shot.
Is anchoring for your hometown your dream job?
"Yes. Saying 'good morning' to my family, friends and all the viewers each day has been wonderful. And I've worked with some great teams over the years. And I’ve seen so many come and go. It has been bittersweet.
"Our team now, Colin Mayfield, Randi Rico, Vanessa Richardson, our reporters, producers, etc. has become a fine-oiled machine. I am surrounded by professionals. I have had the great fortune of being on several winning teams over the years. We have an incredibly competitive morning market... probably one of the tightest in the country."
Cooney was off the air in early 2001 while donating a kidney to a family friend. Since the transplant, she has promoted the importance of the need for more donors. How is her health today?
"My health is great. I donated a kidney to Andy Thelen in January 2001. He’s doing great. He married a wonderful girl. They have amazing kids. We stay connected. The experience was just as impactful for me as it was to him. God works in strange ways. I even introduced Andy to his wife!" she says.
After all these years, how can she be so cheerful in the morning?
"I love the mornings. We are struggling to get going. just like our friends who tune in each morning," she says.
"It’s our job to be there, have energy, be professional and personable. It’s a delicate balance, but when you work with a great team like I do at WLWT, ‘being there’ is easy."