Not that everyone made the connection that Cleveland’s own Brandi King is none other than Sarah Jennings, the anchor of Good Morning Chattanooga as well as anchor and producer of the News Channel 9 Midday show.
The Cleveland native was known by many as Brandi Poteet before marrying Richie King in 2009 and becoming one of the most visible personalities in Bradley County.
King, who graduated from Bradley Central High School with honors in 1995, said her career in journalism started with the Cleveland Daily Banner. She said it was initially one of the most exciting moves she made right after graduating from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. There she majored in television and radio broadcasting and received her bachelor degree in communications in 1999, graduating Magna Cum Laude.
“I remember wanting to be in broadcasting so badly but also wanting to be at home,” said King. “Often when you start in television news you have to go to a very small market and then work your way back. I remember the editor (at the Banner) was so nice. I was looking through the newspaper and saw they had an opening.
“I walked in that day and I was so anxious because I had just gotten out of college. He gave me a job right there on the spot. It was part-time, but working at the Banner taught me a lot in the short time I was there. It was just through the summer.”
King said she remembers her first published article with the Banner in the summer of ’99, regarding Tinsley Park and a Native American group in town and how proud she felt to see her name in print.
“I have to say thanks to Goldie. He was a very special person,” she said of the late Pledger Wattenbarger, a longtime Banner publisher. “I absolutely respected and adored him. I remember I got a job offer to go into radio news at US-101 in Chattanooga. This was a full-time position. But being at the Cleveland Banner was a really fun and amazing part of the journey.”
One career move led to another as King went to work at US-101, then radio station WIVK-FM in Knoxville and Adventure Radio Group in Savannah, Ga.
In 2003, however, King landed her current job where she began traffic reporting and general news assignments. The following year she added anchoring “Good Morning Chattanooga” to her list of achievements.
King is now a professor at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, in her second semester. The outgoing media writing professor said she is telling her students there is still room for more responsible journalists in the field.
“I tell them ‘You can do this,’” she said. “It’s a fun field to be in but there are definitely challenges. I try to keep them motivated and teach them things that I’ve learned. They’re a great group. I tell them it’s their job to go out and report, to be seekers of the truth, to be accurate and be there for the people.”
In offering one piece of advice for students interested in getting into journalism, King said, “I recommend internships, internships and internships! I did a series of internships throughout college. Be able to network with people in the industry, because it really is a small industry. People from every different market know each other.
“I think getting your foot in the door and getting real experience is indispensable. We offer many internships in the class I teach. Of course, having the desire to start at the bottom and being willing to pay your dues is very important. Know that in the end you are really a public servant and you can do good things.”
King, 33, said even when she was in the sixth grade at Waterville Elementary School she remembers her teacher going around the room and asking the class about their future aspirations.
“I was in Mrs. Jill Brock’s sixth-grade class. At that age you’re saying I want to be a fireman or scientist or whatever — and I remember saying, ‘I want to be the next Barbara Walters.’
“I can remember it like it was yesterday. I don’t know why, but I’ve always wanted to do this. I feel so blessed because I get to do it in the town that I grew up in. Being given opportunities to pursue this and living in my hometown is just awesome.”
In describing the difference between Sarah Jennings and Brandi King, the high-spirited King said Sarah Jennings was “born” in 1999 at US-101 in Chattanooga.
“At the time I was Brandi Poteet,” said King. “When I began working in their news department there was already a woman, who had been on the air for a number of years, whose name was Brandi.
“It was my first day on the job and Dave and Dex, who did the afternoon drive, came back and said, ‘We need to talk to you.’ Since the listeners were already familiar with one Brandi, they told me, ‘We do not want to confuse the listeners.
“So they decided to change my name. ‘We decided you are now Sarah Jennings,’ then they joked, ‘The illegitimate child of (ABC News Anchor) Peter Jennings.’”
From that point on, Brandi King became known in news circles as “Sarah Jennings,” the mild-mannered reporter with a super personality who family and friends appreciate as the same kind, caring and outgoing person who loves being the wife of Richie, mother of her son, Jacob, and step-mom to Camden and Kelsey King.
Juggling her personal and professional life, however, can still be a challenge.
“With everything I do, it’s about time management,” said King. “Whether it’s with the kids at home or in the classroom or at Channel 9, it’s about staying focused, balancing your time and trying to be fair. I do better when I stay busy. I love my job. I’m also happy to help people because so many people helped me along the way.”
With more than 10 years in the field of journalism and news reporting, King has found the perfect way to give back to her industry and inspire a new breed of journalists as a UTC professor.
Her childhood desire to emulate Barbara Walters has served her well as another successful woman with an exciting career in journalism and in creating a life of balance, respect and happiness in a town proud to call her their own.
“I have lived in Chattanooga, Knoxville and in Savannah, but Cleveland, to me, is the most beautiful place there is — it’s home,” said King with a smile. “Cleveland is home. This is where my family and support network are. Sometimes I would cry when I would drive back home because I missed the mountains. We just love it here.”