Turns out, there are unforeseen consequences when you end a 40-year broadcasting career.
“Now I have to figure out what to do with 45 French cuff shirts,” said Greg Jeschke, the veteran anchor who on March 29 relinquished his post as WKOW TV’s nighttime anchor.
For nearly 14 years Jeschke has been a regular presence in Madison-area living rooms, working over the years with roughly 10 co-anchors. His departure is one of several in recent months that include political reporter Greg Neumann, meteorologists Brian Olson and Star Derry, and Wake Up Wisconsin anchor Brandon Taylor.
Jeschke didn’t offer comment on the spate of departures. He said his decision to leave was prompted by his passion to produce documentaries and the fact that his contract was up.
“I know my circumstance is one of timing of my contract versus anything having to do with the coincidence of people having left,” he said.
Jeschke already has an impressive track record for producing documentaries. He’s churned out one a year for the past eight years, working with WKOW cameraman Ryan Moore for seven of them and Jason Weiss for his debut documentary in 2010. Those efforts tackled such issues as racial disparities, Wisconsin’s drinking culture, the state’s environmental heritage and last year’s timely look at climate change.
He’s a born-and-bred Wisconsinite, having grown up on a farm near Poynette before embarking on a career — six years in radio and 34 on TV — that took him to Wausau, Toledo, Reno, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, before he landed back in Wisconsin.
Jeschke, 56, lives on the west side with his wife, Carmen, a CPA. His son, Sam, just finished his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
It’s been a month since your last broadcast. Do you feel adrift?
I don’t feel adrift at all. And I think it’s because mentally in a lot of ways I’ve been leading up to this. Forty years of doing, in a lot of ways, the same thing, I don’t miss it. I was ready for the change. I suppose it would be different if it had happened earlier, but really the timing was right. Kid’s in college, things are where they are. If I don’t do it now, when?
It seems unusual that so many high-profile people have left WKOW in such a short time.
When I started here we were three brand new anchors on the air in April, May and June: Christa Dubill began in April, in May Elizabeth Hopkins started, and in June I started. It’s not unlike what’s going on now in terms of major face changes there.
You’ve worked with a lot of co-anchors. Who’s your favorite?
They’re all my favorite.
What was your first news story?
When I was 16 at Poynette High School my drama and English teacher knew the program director at what was then WIBU radio. (Wisconsin State Journal reporter) Judy Newman’s late husband George Coburn was my first news director. I bothered George enough to cover some news and he finally sent me to Lodi one night with a tape recorder to cover a city council meeting — three hours on some guy who didn’t shovel his sidewalk.
What were some of the stories that made big impressions on you at WKOW?
My first night on the air was July 23, 2004, two days before the station planned my debut. I did live reports from the south side after the first tornado to hit Madison in 25 years. Also went to the gulf following Wisconsin connections after Hurricane Katrina. The Weston school shooting was also a big story where I was at the scene. And, the past eight years of documentaries have been most memorable of all. Each was a passion project of its own, with great experiences, people and a feeling of accomplishment.
You don’t often see local news stations running hour-long documentaries. Was it difficult to produce those and still maintain your work obligations?
We did some of it on company time. I also put roughly 120 to 130 hours of my own time into each one. It took a lot of time, time I was completely willing to put in. Don’t get me wrong, this was very much a passion project, something the station gave its OK to, but we had to do it around our regular jobs.
It seems like making documentaries on your own might be a challenge in terms of funding.
I’ve got a couple of projects that I have been working on that I want to complete that aren’t necessarily money projects. But at the same time I’m also entering the world of funding and how to get people to fund projects like this. Part of what I’m doing now is ... taking a lot of meetings trying to absorb what I can from other producers who have done this.
Where do you anticipate airing your projects?
I’m looking at finding venues to air stuff. That’s part of the search I’m involved in. Because that’s the great thing about working at a TV station, right? You got some place to air it automatically.
Is public television a possibility?
I will be talking with people at WPT and I’m hopeful that there might be a relationship in the future for us, but they’ve got their changes going on right now with moving under the UW (as part of the UW’s restructuring plan.) I’m told to be patient, and as things work out hopefully there might be some talks with those folks. Local PBS stations have a great reputation for putting out documentaries.
You moved around a lot before coming to Madison. Did you steer your career toward coming back to Wisconsin?
It’s interesting. Normally you climb in markets. Being in San Francisco, obviously coming to Madison was a step down in market size. But this is my home. And my wife and I had always thought if an opportunity opened up here we would explore it, and if something worked out it would be nice to raise our son back in Wisconsin near my family. It worked out. We got lucky.