BYU broadcasting alumna Suzie Wiley shares story of on-air success
From left to right: King5's Jim Deaver, actor and comedian Damon Wayans, New Day host Margaret Larson and Suzie Wiley. Suzie Wiley on the New Day Northwest show prepares with a guest for the segment called Hot Topics. The wheel in the background includes topics that relate to a story in the news that day and once the topic is picked, it is open to the crowd for discussion. (Suzie Wiley)
Snipers stood on the rooftop of the courtroom, waiting to protect the attorneys and defendants walking out the front doors. The crowd of white supremacists rallied with their political signs, standing next to national and state reporters who were conducting interviews.
Suzie Wiley remembers the day clearly.
In the cool of the morning, microphone in hand, she anxiously waited for the courtroom doors to open.
The Lafferty brothers’ murder case was taking place in Provo.
The Lafferty case involved two brothers who murdered a young mom and her toddler. The murder case was important to residents because it involved excommunication from the LDS Church and federal implications with the state of Utah.
Wiley, an anchor and reporter for BYU’s news channel KBYU, conducted interviews and reported during the Lafferty case.
“I remember thinking what an opportunity I was having, not quite realizing how incredible an opportunity it was to actually go live from a trial like that,” Wiley said. “I remember how many opportunities BYU tried to give us to let us go live was pretty phenomenal.”
She and five other BYU broadcasting students covered the Lafferty case every morning during September 1984. No other universities in the state of Utah, besides BYU, could provide the equipment for their broadcasting students at the time, according to Wiley. However, BYU was able to provide the students with a news channel truck and equipment.
Wiley wrote programs for BYU broadcasting and anchored for KBYU nightly news during her senior year. She had the opportunity from 1984 to 1985 to compete in the Society of Professional Journalists Awards with BYU professor Dale Cressman.
“I am still amazed that they let these five people come up with an original program — like what were they thinking?” Wiley said.
Emeritus professor in the BYU College of Fine Arts and Communications Tom Griffiths also helped the students start BYU’s first cable station, Cougar Cable.
Griffiths provided the students with funds to produce the channel and helped the students start another news program called “Weeknight,” patterned after commercial network news programs.
“Suzie was one of my favorite students because she was a talented reporter, a good writer and energetic,” Griffiths said.
Wiley graduated from BYU in broadcast journalism and went back to work at the company she interned for between her junior and senior year as a TV reporter for KFDN in Beaumont, Texas.
She was asked to do a live interview on her first day. Wiley said KFDN was amazed she knew how to do interviews, but it was easy because of the education she received at BYU.
At the same time, Griffiths said, there was a similar program being aired on KCRA-TV in Sacramento, California. Wiley ended up working for the producer of KCRA, John Reim, after graduation.
She moved to Sacramento after three years to produce long-format stories for KCRA-TV. She worked as the front-end producer, interviewing subjects and helping put together the shoot.
“This was wonderful because we got to do 15 minute pieces, and I got to research and develop the stories,” Wiley said. “It was pretty amazing.”
She then decided to change her career path and pursue public relations. She used her public relations skills in politics to sell an idea to media outlets, an idea involving passing or stopping legislative bills.
“I was grateful that I came from TV first in the sense that I knew what they were looking for,” Wiley said. “When the assignment editor picked up the phone, I knew how to handle it because I knew they didn’t want me to change the story or pay them a lot of compliments, but they just needed to know the story — and I needed to sell the story.”
Wiley then moved to Seattle and paused her career for 10 years as she raised three children. She worked a few freelance jobs from home for KBYU and PBS. A friend of Wiley’s from KBYU asked her to interview Mike Murry, investor in the non-profit organization called the Wikimedia Foundation, to see if a story could be written up about him.
The story turned into a six-month long project to create a small documentary about microcredit, which BYU would produce for PBS.
Maddy Wiley, public relations student at BYU and daughter of Suzie Wiley, said her mom is amazing at what she does because of her communications career.
“She spent hours editing and helping me rewrite papers while I was growing up,” Maddy said. “Her journalism career definitely crossed over with PR, so I knew that PR would be something I would enjoy.”
Suzie is now back to working in television for a daytime talk show called New Day Northwest, for KING 5 in Seattle. She helps produce segments and occasionally helps host the show when the main host is gone.
“I was always given an equal opportunity to succeed, and I felt comfortable confronting my professors about new ideas to add to the program because they never degraded me for being a woman in the program,” Suzie said.
She will never forget the experiences she was given at BYU, whether she’s using her broadcasting or public relations skills.
“I still think about the opportunities we had when they asked us what we wanted to do, and they gave us money and tools and the confidence to do this,” Suzie said. “We would fail and get right back up and do something differently, and it’s been a lesson all my life.”