At 57, Guy Atchley is in a good place. He says seven is his number, and so far, 2007 has been a good year for Tucson's most recognizable television-news anchor. He recently signed a five-year contract extension with KGUN Channel 9, landed the Tucson Advertising Federation's Golden Mic award and is expecting his first grandchild in July.
He's been in the same place for 22 years, but only made it by two hours.
"This job came up in Oklahoma City. They signed me to a three-year contract, but the stations had options at the end of each year, and after the first year, I was replaced by the general manager's son-in-law," Atchley said. "Just about two weeks before that happened in Oklahoma City, I received a call from (then-KGUN) news director Jeff Bartlett who said, 'We really like your work, and we'd like for you to come out here.' I said, 'Well, I'm an Okie, and I think I'm going to stick here, but if anything happens, I'll call you.'
"As soon as the station manager released me, I walked straight back to my desk and called Channel 9 and said, 'Jeff, something's happened. Is it still open?' He said, 'I'm glad you called, because I was going to offer the job to a guy in St. Louis this afternoon. It was that close, and I've been here 22 years. A couple of hours, and the job wouldn't have been available. Believe me, every day, I'm thankful."
It wasn't even a job Atchley was pursuing. He says a headhunter got hold of the tape, and from there, it made its way to KGUN. It turned out to be a fortuitous coincidence for both parties. At the time, KGUN probably had no idea what Atchley's impact would be, but they got a man true to his word who has become the face of the station.
"I had been in a different city every year for five years: Oklahoma, Miami, Fla., Milwaukee, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and here," Atchley said. "By the time I had gotten here, I was tired of traveling, and I told the general manager that if you want, you've got a guy who will stay here with you."
That was a few general managers ago, but regardless of who's at the top, they seem to say many of the same things.
"Guy Atchley is by far the most recognized, most professional, most liked anchor in the market," said current GM Andrew Stewart. "Our competition would even tell you that, based on the research."
It's not like Atchley was ever a crazed, highly strung personality, but he did endure his share of speed bumps during the early stages of his career. The KGUN job came on the heels of two firings, both political. In addition to the Oklahoma City setback, he had been released from his duties at a station in Tulsa after a misguided feature on teen drinking.
"I wrote a line that said, 'Teenage alcoholism has reached epidemic proportions in the United States today,' which it had. The photographer I was working with put in file tape of a young man drinking beer, so that word 'alcoholism' and showing that face at the same time was not good. I had failed to check the tape before it went out over the air. I think I could have and should have been allowed to apologize, because it was an accident. It wasn't a good one, and it comes back to me, but the news director was not happy when I had questioned his ethics, so he just saw this as a chance to blow me out."
Atchley struggled with the incident for six weeks.
"After that, I was terribly depressed," Atchley said. "For the three years before that, I had won the AP award for best general reporting in the state of Oklahoma. Three years in a row, and this happened to me, and I wondered: What in the world? I just took daily long walks in the Oklahoma hill country wondering: How could I have done that to the young man whose face was on the screen, and myself?"
Atchley discovered yoga during a conference some years ago. In addition to relieving the pressure on a then-ailing back, it also allows him to, as he calls it, gear down from the stress often inherent in the newsroom environment. He is a certified yoga instructor and even conducts workshops at Holy Trinity Monastery in St. David.
His standout work features stories that define the makeup of Southern Arizona. Sadly, KGUN is moving away from features like that--"More and more to make it on the air, it's going to be '9 on Your Side' related, so you won't see as many pieces, but I've always been drawn to them," Atchley said, adding that he embraces the opportunity to present stories involving successful personalities who have overcome obstacles. It's a reflection of his greatest inspiration: older sister Earlene, who died in 1992 of congestive heart failure as a result of polio.
"My very first radio newscast at the University of Tulsa in 1969, I never said a word, because I hyperventilated," Atchley said. "The disc jockey just looked at me, and after about 20 seconds, just shrugged his shoulders and played another record. I was totally humiliated. I was terribly embarrassed. I walked out of the studio with the intent to quit college. I went home, and my sister was there; she knew what had happened and said she wouldn't let me quit. Look at me. There she was, 4 1/2 feet tall, a big hump on one side of her back, heavy metal brace on one leg, and she said, 'I've felt like giving up a lot of times.' She was a role model for me, and she lived it. To this day, she's the one. I follow her example."