Walt started off at KCRA doing sports and then moved on over to the anchor chair. He left the cozy confines of KCRA to host a morning radio show at KSEG-FM. It was a really bold move. After his brief encounter at the Eagle, he’s back in the anchor chair of his new home, KXTV News 10, where he “has the keys to the 5 p.m. newscast” as Walt put it.
He also gets to work with his wife, meteorologist Monica Woods, who’s a popular TV personality in her own right. Walt and Monica reside in Land Park with their three children.
Wanna know Walt’s favorite craft beer, most memorable story, and who should join the Deadbeat Club? Check out the Land Park News Q & A with Walt Gray.
Q. Let’s get to the important stuff first. You seem to enjoy a refreshing adult beverage. I’ve run into you at Track 7 in City Farms and I saw you tipping back a pint at New Helvetia on Broadway with some co-workers. What is your go-to local craft beer?
A. New Helvetia’s Buffalo Lager is my favorite. I like the location and I’d been talking to David Gull about his “project” before the doors opened. I can walk home from there if I have too many. It doesn’t take much anymore. I like lagers and avoid light beer. Light beer is like flavored yellow water.
Q. How long have you lived in Land Park and what are some of the things you enjoy about the neighborhood?
A. Seven years in LP. I like our friends…the schools…the zoo/golf course… everything. The Broadway vibe with the ethnic restaurants is great too. Plus, we’re five minutes from News10!
Q. Lots of great places to grab a bit in Land Park; Tower Café, Jaime’s, Willie’s Hamburgers to name a few. When you get the hungries where does Walt go?
A. The kids order Famous Pizza on Freeport every Friday night, so I get what they don’t finish. Iron Restaurant for a bite and Riverside Clubhouse too. I used to live in India so I hit the Katmandu Kitchen on Broadway for some tandoori and a Kingfisher or Taj Mahal lager.
Q. You were at KCRA for over 25 years. Then you transitioned to Morning Radio on the Eagle with the Walt Gray Show. What made you decide to leave KCRA and do mornings at KSEG besides getting to wear shorts and a t-shirt?
A. I had been at KCRA for 25 years and would have been fine dying there. I’d always been part of their current and future plans and didn’t feel that was the case anymore. That’s not acceptable, at least to me. Being relevant to a station is relevant to me.
Q. Seemed like they pulled the plug a bit early on the Morning Show. Did you see the handwriting on the wall or were you completely blind-sided?
A. I was surprised, sure. The show was highly rated for men 54-plus, but the other demographics needed work. The big boss who hired me retired shortly after I came in…and my immediate boss was let go a week before my show was canceled.
It went from handwriting on the wall to blaring, flashing neon lights. The new big boss was brought in to be a *^%*, and he did perform his role quite well. Had I known the two guys that hired me would have departed so quickly, I’d have stayed at KCRA.
Q. What music are you listening to these days?
A. Current pop (100.5 FM) and New Country (105.1). When James Taylor passes away, I may have to take the day off. I did when Sinatra died.
Q. You’re an avid biker. What kind of motorcycle do you have and what are some of the rides you like to go on?
A. I am in-between bikes right now. I’ve had a Harley Softtail and Dyna wide glide. It’s tough to ride on weekends when the kids have soccer, theater, play dates and sleepovers. I just can’t take off for five hours on the bike and tell Mom “good luck.”
Q. Now you’re back at it with News 10. How is News 10 different than KCRA?
A. As of today, I have the keys to the 5 p.m. newscast and a mandate of “go out and be myself.” That’s very unusual for a newscast anchor. They want me to opine and guide viewers through the newscast with my experiences. I’ve often said I think I’ve been to every tavern on every road within a two hour drive from Sacramento. I’ve met lots of good and real people. They want me to tell those stories.
Q. What is it like working so closely with your wife meteorologist Monica Woods? “Lets go to Monica in the weather center and yes I forgot to pick up a gallon of milk.”
A. We drink vanilla almond milk to be specific! She’s very passionate about everything she does and keeps me on my toes during the newscast. We don’t see much of each other during the day…She’s in her “weather zone” and doing KFBK radio hits.
It’s not much different for us getting the kids off to school or making dinner. We’ve known each other for 17 years so familiarity helps on TV.
Q. Do you ever keep in touch with the old school Sacramento TV broadcasters like Dave and Lois, Stan Atkinson, or Bette Vasquez?
A. I see Stan Atkinson on a semi-regular basis. He really was my mentor. He taught me about community service and giving back. He didn’t do it because he had to. He was in a position to help those who needed it and he chose to go all in. I served 11 years on the Mercy Foundation All-Star Weekend board with him, and then I transitioned to my own charity for 12 years, the “Walt Gray Ride for Make a Wish.” I was lucky to clear $600,000 for kids. I follow Dave and Lois’ retirement travels on Facebook. They’re an amazing couple on and off the air.
Q. How is local TV news different today than it was back in the “Stan and Margaret Era”?
A. It’s not all that different, except people have many more choices of how they get news. As recently as the mid-80s, you didn’t have cable or satellite. It was just the local stations. Budgets are tighter now because the ad dollars are smaller (but still good). We, like all businesses, try to do more with less.
Q. Which broadcasters do you look up to and admire?
A. Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio is incredibly gifted with the word. I love listening to him but wonder why couldn’t I be like that! I think ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir is what the future face of network news. Young guy who gets out of the studio a lot.
Q. You’ve covered many stories over your career, but I’m sure the Jaycee Dugard kidnapping case must have been the most memorable. I remember convicted rapist/kidnapper Phil Garrido contacted you at KCRA. He even wrote several letters to you personally. That must have been strange and creepy. How did you feel about that?
A. I don’t know why he contacted me, except that he lived in Antioch which meant he did get Sacramento TV. Once we talked on the phone, I became his media contact to the outside world. I wasn’t opposed to that because it was a huge story which I was on top of. I was live on CNN, MSNBC, the Today Show and national radio. It was surreal, but the only upside was my folks got to watch me more on TV back in Rhode Island.
Q. Way back when you were the sports anchor on KCRA you had an entertaining feature called “The Deadbeat Club.” You’d call out a sports figure for being a deadbeat underneath the song of the same name from the B-52’s. Who would make the Deadbeat Club these days?
A. I think I’d put the Sacramento Kings in it today for retiring too many players’ jerseys these days in order to promote those nights to sell tickets. The Kings have more retired jerseys than the Lakers now. That’s just silly.
Q. What do you think of the Sacramento River Cats switching AAA affiliates from the Oakland A’s to the San Francisco Giants?
A. I can see why the River Cats made the switch, but I feel bad for the A’s organization that was nothing but loyal to the River Cats ownership and moved the team her from Vancouver. Once again, another defeat for the A’s organization versus the Giants. It’s the tackle of those two cities. Everybody loves San Francisco.
Q. I read where your Dad was a Rhode Island State Senator. There were actually some rumblings and whispers that you might run for public office in Sacramento. Was that just a rumor or are you still considering running for office?
A. I talked to my Dad and he was actually angry it even came up. Serving in public office is difficult…you actually can’t win. I’m not in a position right now with a young family to be spending time in Washington and flying back and forth. I wouldn’t want to miss Land Park Soccer games. Time goes by quickly with the kids and I don’t want to miss that.
Q. Okay, last question. Vic’s Ice Cream or Gunther’s?
A. Vic’s is down the street. Love it. I’ve had lots of grilled cheese sandwiches. Plus, they give you a ton of potato chips!