WFTV Channel 9 news anchor Bob Opsahl returned to his alma mater on Sept. 17 to share his insights and experiences from nearly 35 years of covering the news in Central Florida.
Opsahl, a 1976 UCF Radio and Television graduate and a 2001 inductee into the Nicholson School Hall of Fame, spoke to journalism instructor Rick Brunson’s Principles of Journalism class in the NSC auditorium. About 200 students, faculty members and alumni were in attendance. The event was co-sponsored by the UCF chapters of the Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.
Opsahl rose from being an obscure radio reporter to become the highest-rated news anchor in the Orlando market. In 2010 he was named “best male TV personality’’ in Central Florida by the readers of the Orlando Business Journal. During his talk at UCF, he reminisced about big stories he’s covered, including the wildfires and tornados that devastated the region in 1998 and the back-to-back-back hurricanes that raked Central Florida in 2004. He took the audience on a video tour of WFTV’s news operation and showed them how a newscast is produced.
But he also talked about the stories that had the most emotional impact on him as a journalist: covering the space program and especially the explosion of space shuttles Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003, which resulted in the deaths of the crews of both missions.
“I had been there for the very first shuttle launch. It was a hard story to cover,’’ he said.
Opsahl revealed that he is the father of two adopted children, an experience that came out of his “Wednesday’s Child’’ feature that aired on WFTV for 25 years and resulted in helping more than 500 children find adoptive homes.
He also talked about the changes he’s witnessed in Central Florida, at UCF and in the television news industry since we went to work for WFTV in 1978.
“UCF has always been known for its technology and for having good instructors who have hands-on experience in the field,’’ Opsahl said. “It was that way when I was here, and it has certainly grown.’’
After his presentation, Opsahl greeted students, who stood in line to shake his hand, take pictures with him and ask his advice about their own careers and aspirations.
Journalism major Ajeeta Khanna was impressed with Opsahl’s presentation, his professionalism and his longevity as a journalist.
“You know, it’s amazing to know that a local news anchor like Bob has been in the business for 35 years, yet he has also built a reputation by reporting the news with his very cool and calm demeanor to thousands of Central Florida residents,” Khanna said. “It almost seems like he was born with a natural skill set to remain collected in front of the camera while doing the job right and truthfully – definitely a trait that I hope I can somehow conjure up if I ever get into television reporting.”