By Judith Salkin
Growing up in Peoria, Ill., CBS Local 2 morning news anchor Jenifer Daniels never dreamed of being a television news anchor or doing weather.
“I wanted to be a rock star!” Daniels said with a laugh earlier this week. “I wanted to be Britney Spears. If they’d had auto-voice back then I would have been a star! Since I didn’t, I decided to play music.”
Instead, Daniels thought she had a face that was more suited for radio (she was wrong) and started out as a rock jock in her hometown.
And while her dad always thought she should have been on television, “I never thought I was pretty enough for television when I was younger,” she said. “Unfortunately by the time I finally was doing weather on television, he’d passed away and never got to see me on-air.”
Daniels, who celebrated a birthday this week and was feeling a bit protective of herself when we talked, moved to the Coachella Valley in 2003 as a weekend weather anchor at the CBS affiliate in Thousand Palms. Even her transition from weekend weather to morning news anchor, like much of her career, was a series of happenstances that have pushed her forward.
Her career started at a Peoria radio station where she worked as the afternoon drive-time jock. The radio station was owned by one of the local television stations, and the local news and weather anchors did cut-ins on her show. They tried to convince her that she should try working where she could be seen.
“The TV guys finally coerced me into trying it out,” she said.
Since the station was a union shop, when Daniels finally did start filling in doing weekend and holiday weather spots, it was eye-opening. Local radio, like non-union television stations, doesn’t really pay all that well. “I think my first day was New Year’s Eve and when I got my paycheck I thought I could do this,” she recalled. “I figured I grew up in the Midwest and understood the weather.”
Another plus, “No more Friday nights in bars and I thought I’d be a better example for my kids.”
When a weekend weather slot opened up, she took the offer. But she admits at the time, “I really didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “Trying to fill four minutes, I was just blathering.”
Daniels got more comfortable being on-air. “It was a matter motivation and being more comfortable with myself
on-air,” she added.
Her old radio boss offered a daily gig at a cross-town station. “But I was told that I was terrible and really needed to go back to school,” she laughed.
Always fascinated with the idea of living in California, Daniels started looking job boards until she found the notice for the Coachella Valley CBS affiliate. With no idea of what Palm Springs was like, she sent in a demo tape. “I was totally flabbergasted when they responded and wanted to see me!” she said.
Her ex agreed to the move, “Mostly because I promised him that we wouldn’t be dragging him and the kids all over the place,” she said.
Her first stint at the station started in September 2003 and Daniels started out as doing weekend weather and fill-ins. But while she’d learned about weather and forecasting, “Weather out here is nothing like the Midwest,” she said. Conditions like verga rain (rain that changes to vapor before it hits the ground) and strange wind pattern didn’t make sense to her.
“I called my old professor who told me that to learn the weather anywhere I’d need three years living in that place,” she said. “Today it’s nothing. I understand desert weather.”
Her first stint lasted six years, “when I left to get a grown up job,” she said, when she left for a promotional job with a local charity.
A few years later she was asked to fill in on weekends and started picking up shifts here and there, eventually coming back to the station as a web reporter and fill-in weather.
When KPSP merged with KESQ last year, Daniels lost her job for a couple of months. “They really were heavy with weather people,” she said.
But when Todd Piro left the CBS morning news show, Daniels was offered the co-anchor position alongside Tom Tucker. And since there was no weather person, she did double duty.
“That changes on Monday,” she said. “We’re getting Rob Bradley.”
The move to the Coachella Valley has been more than just a place for a job for Daniels. “I love being a part of the community,” she said. Even before her grown-up job, she found several organizations to give her time to. “That’s the great thing, I’d like to give money, but I’ve had the time and been able to do that and that’s very rewarding.”
She’s grateful that her three children are growing up in a place that is more accepting of people of all walks of life. “We’ve gone back to Peoria several times and I hear them with friends’ children and I am so happy for the life they’ve gotten to live here and to know and accept people for who they are, not what they are.”
“It’s been good for me, too,” Daniels added. “Living here has changed me. I see things so differently now.”