Growing up in the heart of Detroit, Michigan during an era when Motown ruled the recording charts, KCAL 9 broadcast journalist Patricia Harvey was raised a “bicycle ride away” from “Hitsville USA.”
Harvey fondly remembers neighborhood block club parties, where there was food, music, and entertainment. “Some of the Temptations lived right down the street from me,” said Harvey, who will serve as moderator at Bakewell Media’s “Power, Leadership and Influence of the Black Woman” event on Saturday, April 15, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
It was the kind of community, Harvey says, where everyone knew everyone, and it was so heartwarming. But she also remembers the 1967 Detroit Riots and the collapse of the automobile industry.
“I remember the National Guard coming down my street and following a truck full of stolen goods,” said Harvey. “I also remember my father telling us to turn off the lights and how we slept on the floor because we heard gunshots.”
Harvey continues, “I also remember the auto industry losing its greatness and the economy in the city taking a downturn.”
Now based in Los Angeles, Harvey visits her hometown often and says she is pleased with all the new development happening in Detroit to revitalize and restore the city to its former greatness.
Harvey says she never dreamed she was going to be a journalist, that she grew up playing classical piano and loved the dramatic arts. “I thought I might even go to Broadway,” said Harvey.
Every morning during breakfast, says Harvey, the family read the newspaper and discussed issues of the day. Her parents were blue collar people who were also community activists.
“My mother used to write everyone about the welfare of our communities,” said Harvey. “She even wrote to — I think it was President Johnson at the time — and he wrote her back.”
Harvey says she absorbed so much being around her very conscious parents, including hot buzz topics like utility costs, education, and civil rights.
The church Harvey grew up in had oratorical contests and she entered them often. “I made it to the regionals. I was on stage so to speak, and speaking publicly,” said Harvey.
This faith-sponsored, speech-making exercise was the beginning of Harvey’s informal education in communications.
News anchor Carole Simpson was one of Harvey’s first “sheroes.” Harvey says she was astounded by how “commanding” Simpson was as a Congressional correspondent.
“She really knew her stuff,” said Harvey. “She knew politics, and the right questions to ask… she was so darn articulate.” Harvey continues, “I thought, well, this [broadcast journalism] might be something of interest to me.”
Harvey’s first job was at the Black-owned radio station WGPR in Detroit. While she was in college, she says, she took a job in sales at the station as a pipeline into broadcasting.
“I knew how to type. I certainly knew how to talk. And said to myself, I’m going to go down there and interview,” said Harvey. “I got the job.”
While working sales at WGPR, Harvey stood out for taking initiative and making tough decisions. “I took a huge risk while my boss was out of the office,” said Harvey. “A huge contract was on the line with General Motors that needed his signature, I didn’t want us to lose the deal, so I signed it.”
It was a big risk for Harvey, but one that paid off. Harvey says her boss liked her “gumption” and that it was exactly what it took to be a news reporter.
But for Harvey, serious news would take a brief backseat because the first opportunity that opened for her in broadcast was a local dance show on WGPR-TV called “The Scene,” which was similar to the iconic “Soul Train.”
“WGPR bought the first Black-owned television station in the nation, Channel 62, WGPR-TV which still exists today. CBS bought it. How about that,” said Harvey.
The host of “The Scene” was going to be on vacation for two weeks, says Harvey, so her WGPR boss offered her the opportunity to fill in. “Who me?” said Harvey. He believed in Harvey’s ability to do it and she hosted the show for the two weeks.
Harvey says they called her “The Disco Lady,” and Johnnie Taylor’s song of the same name was her intro.
“I was able to interview some very special people because everyone wanted to come on the first Black-owned TV station in the nation,” said Harvey. “People like Ozzie Davis, Ruby Dee, Billy Dee Williams, politicians and so many people of stature.”
Harvey completed her two-week stint on “The Scene” and WGPR-TV gave her own show called “Woman’s World,” which aired twice daily.
“So, what did I talk about on ‘Woman’s World?’ I talked about the same things I grew up listening to my parents talking about around the table,” said Harvey.
Harvey says she hosted “Women’s World” for about a year, and it “catapulted” her into her next venture, CBS-owned WJPK. “I went in as a Community Affairs Assistant,” she said, “which meant I would ascertain interviews for the hosts, but at the same time I was also allowed to write my own scripts.”
Harvey says she “parlayed’ that position into a staff announcer position, and she worked that job for two years. Her first news reporter job was in the small city of Saginaw, MI. “I knew I should start somewhere small, because you’re usually forgiven for making mistakes,” said Harvey.
Harvey says her first standout story was a racially motivated double homicide. “That story was huge and went nationwide,” said Harvey. “We were an NBC affiliate, and I made the national news!” The story was very popular, and Harvey would ultimately become an anchor.
After Saginaw, came CNN Headline News in Atlanta, GA, where she was one of the original anchors for four years. Harvey then worked for WGN in Chicago for four years, and she was instrumental in helping to change legislation regarding cytology.
“You’re talking about a journalist’s dream,” said Harvey. “You’re making a difference and you’re saving lives.”
“I first came out to Los Angeles to help Walt Disney start this new prime time news station,” said Harvey.
It was a huge change for her because Harvey was used to reporting serious news, but in Los Angeles at the time, she says, the news was entertainment heavy and covered things like “tanning booths.”
“Disney wanted KCAL to cover the type of news I like doing, and it was designed to be progressive,” said Harvey. “We could talk about education, economics and the environment.”
Harvey says it was an opportunity to expand local news. She also says KCAL offered huge budgets to do international stories and to bring those stories back to viewers in Los Angeles.
“That alone made me entrenched in the [Los Angeles] community,” said Harvey, the Black community if you will.”
Harvey says that feeling of community was solidified by relationships with then-Mayor Tom Bradley, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., First AME Church, and many more area leaders.
One of Harvey’s standout stories with KCAL was traveling to South Africa to cover the end of Apartheid, she says. Another story that really hit home for her was the April 1992 Los Angeles uprisings.
“Remember, I told you earlier, I lived through one [in Detroit],” said Harvey. “I never thought in a million years I would cover one personally.”
Harvey continues, “It was hard reporting on the riots as a professional… witnessing this and having to keep my emotions out of it was very difficult for me to do.”
Harvey says another story she was very proud of was one she did when she first started with KCAL. “Instead of talking about all of the gangs in Los Angeles, I wanted to highlight children who were making a positive difference in spite of their circumstances,” said Harvey.
The feature was called “Against the Odds: Diamonds in the Rough.” Harvey visited schools around the city in lower socioeconomic communities and found kids who were thriving in incentive programs like Upward Bound.
“Because of this program, many of them were able to go on to college,” said Harvey. “I want to continue doing stories like that… helping people and helping to empower people.”