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Denny Bounds interviewing the Dalai Lama in 2008. His was the only interview granted in the Seattle area.
Alumni Spotlight: Dennis Bounds, '74
For many students in the liberal arts, their time spent in college is a process of investigation and discovery, exploration and challenge. In some fields, students do their work, graduate, and get a job doing exactly that for which they were trained. For liberal arts graduates, this is the exception rather than the rule. Charting their own course takes grit and determination--qualities liberal arts graduates have in abundance.
For Dennis “Denny” Bounds, North Dakota was not an automatic choice for his college education. Growing up in Northern Virginia, near Washington D.C., Denny had never traveled to the Upper Midwest, nor had he any family in the area. In fact, Denny spent his first year at George Mason College (now George Mason University) before trying to transfer to Virginia Tech. When he wasn’t admitted, he began looking to northern schools so he could, in his words, “experience winter.”
Denny initially came to UND expecting to pursue a teaching degree. When the sequence of education courses presented a bigger obstacle than he expected, he started to look at other options. “A friend in the dorm was studying sociology, and I got interested in that, and it’s where my educational path took me,” he says. Denny graduated in 1974 with a degree in sociology and a concentration in philosophy after three years.
During his senior year, Denny became interested in media, and asked if he could do something with KFJM, the campus radio station. A very shy young person, he challenged himself, asking “why don’t I give this a shot? What can it hurt?” For the first semester, he produced morning sports reports for the radio. At the beginning of the second semester, former UND professor Myron Curry asked Denny to anchor the morning program.
“As a youngster, I was fascinated with listening to far-away radio stations,” says Denny. “Listening to people’s voices, and the fact they were able to talk to many thousands of people interested me.”
Finding a Home on the Air
After graduating from UND, Denny moved back to Virginia and took a year to figure out his next step. He worked for an airline, did some construction work, until finally making the decision to get back into radio. His first professional job was with a small radio station in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, for $2.10 an hour. His father served as head of security of the iconic Greenbreir Resort.
In the end, the call of the Midwest—and his college sweetheart—were too great, and Denny returned to North Dakota, eventually being hired as the main anchor at Channel 11, KTHI, in Fargo. “They were the number three station (out of three) in Fargo at the time, and they hired someone who had absolutely no television experience at all,” says Denny. “I was scared to death,” he says, laughing.
As it turned out, Fargo was only a temporary stop on his journey. After a year and a half, Denny and his wife moved and he took a job at the ABC affiliate in Orlando. When he was offered a job doing the weekend news in at the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis, they moved again. A short time later, Dennis took another job, this time across the street at the ABC affiliate, to anchor the news, staying for about five years. “[Management at the ABC affiliate] said I had no anchor future at that particular station,” Denny says, smiling. So, after a few months, he left to take a main anchor position at the CBS affiliate in Shreveport, Louisiana.
In March of 1991, Dennis was hired as the morning and noon anchor at KING 5 News in Seattle. On December 14th, 1994 he was promoted to the evening anchor where he’s been ever since.
The Real News Business
Public speaking is often listed as our number one fear—that we will be put in front of our peers and subjected to their criticism in a situation for which we aren’t entirely prepared. In broadcast journalism, there is no place to hide. On air, in front of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, making split second decisions about what to report in a breaking news story is a skill developed over years, and not for the faint of heart.
For Denny, reporting on a breaking story could be a part of his job any day of the week. In those moments, the most important thing is keeping perspective, and staying professional. “If there’s a big story that occurs, we’ll go on the air and cover it wall-to-wall.” In 2009, on a clear Sunday morning in November, a man entered the Forza Coffee Co. coffee shop, in Lakewood, Washington, and opened fire on four police officers as they prepared for their shift. Denny, and others, were brought in to cover much of the two-day manhunt. “It turned out to be a fairly extensive search.”
As shocking as the events of that day were, says Denny, covering the memorial service was even harder. More than 20,000 people attended a service for the officers, with more than 1000 emergency vehicles and police cruisers following the family to the Tacoma Dome. “We were on the air for seven or eight hours…. It was a particularly emotional memorial service…. Emotionally draining.” At the end of the broadcast, at home, thinking about the service and the magnitude of loss, Denny says, brought him as close as ever to leaving the business.
However, there are other moments, Denny says, that will stay with him the rest of his life. In 1996, Denny reported from the summer Olympic games in Atlanta, and again from the winter Olympic Games in Vancouver in 2010. He’s flown with both the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels, and even traveled to Bosnia after the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accord, to report on western Washingtonians' involvement in that part of the world.
In 2008, his was the only local interview granted during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Seattle. “Here’s this guy with a world-wide reputation and he walks into a small room with me. I talked to him for about 20 minutes about life, and philosophy, and how to make the world better. It was pretty impressive,” says Denny. “You can’t help but think ‘here’s this man who’s important to millions of people around the world.’ You’re awestruck, sure, but perhaps not as awestruck as I would have been when I was younger.”
One of the most common reasons the news team stays on air, he says, is to cover breaking weather news. “It is amazing, when it snows a couple of inches in Seattle, the whole world stops,” he says with a smile. “We don’t know how to deal with snow the way folks in North Dakota do.” In perhaps one of his most memorable on-air moments, a King 5 reporter was doing a live shot from Queen Anne hill, a popular, though not necessarily legal, spot for sledding in the city. When the reporter was accosted by a passerby, and called a “killjoy,” Denny, back in the studio, said “Wah, Wah, Wah!” The video has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, and has endeared him to many in the Seattle area.
The Right Approach
It is a fallacy, for an outsider, to look at the story of one’s career and assume that many of the choices made were obvious—that some of us set ourselves on a natural trajectory that makes past decisions look easy. For Denny, his confidence to pursue the path on which he set himself has been rewarding, but the choices weren’t always so obvious. “In my life I thought I wanted to be in law enforcement or like my father, a teacher…. I graduated when I was 21 years old. I was a young single man and didn’t know where my life might take me.”
More than 30 years later, considering the lessons he’s learned, Denny sees his education as integral to his success. “Those four years in college allowed me to develop the kinds of habits that would pay off in any business down the road,” he says of the rigor required to earn a degree. “I learned to become interested in a lot more subjects in life, and become more well-read. All of that I acquired in my years at UND.”
In fact, Denny credits skills he developed in his liberal arts disciplines (sociology and philosophy) with providing a basis for his career in journalism. “If you’re in the liberal arts, you’re not studying a specific technical subject, but it teaches you to approach a variety of subjects with great interest and an open mind, and to critically challenge some of the things you read and talk about,” he says. “My college experience, as a whole, allowed me to become a more critical thinker.”
Denny certainly isn’t ready to hang up his microphone just yet, and with his critical eye, he’s prepared for the future of journalism, whatever may come.
By Craig Garaas-Johnson
From the Northern Plains to the edge of the Pacific, Dennis “Denny” Bounds career in broadcast journalism has taken him across the country and back again.