By CYNTHIA FUREY
For about an hour a day, KABC-TV anchorman David Ono has to put on his serious face while reaching millions of people in the Los Angeles area who want the local news. But off camera, in between working on stories and reading the news, it’s no-holds barred for the man who knows that all work and little play can make for a dull person.
“My job as a role model is to drink a whole lot and avoid any responsibility,” said Ono, jokingly. “No, really, I always believe that you just have to do your job. As a member of the media and as a person who’s known, you do have to act responsibly. You’re not going to be a bad person, because eventually, that’s going to catch up with you. But it doesn’t mean you can’t have your fun.”
Ono launched his career in Dallas at KXAS-TV, at KOSA-TV in Odessa, Texas and at KDBC-TV in El Paso – all after graduating from the Universtiy of North Texas.
In 1993, he made his big move to California, where he started in Sacramento at KOVR-TV. It was during this time he became involved in the Asian American Journalists Association.
“Sacramento is a great market because the AAJA organization had a lot of unity, even the Asian American groups in that community were very united,” Ono remembered. “They welcomed me with open arms and asked me to participate in a number of events. It just worked out, and then when I got to L.A., it was almost the same thing, only bigger.”
Ono left the capital in 1996 for Los Angeles, where he is currently anchorman of KABC-TV’s “Eyewitness News,” broadcast at 5 p.m. Currently, the station boasts the only news program in Los Angeles where there are two Asian American males, Ono and Rob Fukuzaki, in prominent spots.
“In this market, by far, we are the most diverse station on the air. In the beginning, there weren’t a lot of Asian males in the business because of the cultural influence. I think a lot of Asian men who are growing up are influenced to do other things. Another reason is that the industry, for many years, just relied on Caucasian older men to be the primary anchors,” Ono said.
“But I think the industry has changed considerably within the last 10 years. A lot of Asian males are getting jobs and are getting high- profile positions. The trend is shifting. Perhaps not as fast as a lot of people might like to see it, but it is changing, you can’t deny that. I truly believe in 5 to 10 years from now, it’s not going to be that big of an issue.”
The top-rated “Eyewitness News” is not only a milestone for Asian American males, it is also paving the way for other news stations to eventually follow suit.
“The fact that it’s paying off is an example to other stations to take the chance. They don’t need to sit by the old cliche with white males as an anchorman. We’re breaking the rules and we’re finding success with that,” Ono said. “Los Angeles is a melting pot. It has the most ethnicities and communities in the world. As a result, we, on the air, respect that. We have multiple ethnicities on the air and we reflect our community, which is part of the responsibility of news stations.”
Apart from having the most-watched 5 p.m. news program in the area, Ono also has a slew of honors, including two Associated Press awards and eight Emmy awards for writing stories and hosting “Eye On L.A.,” a television show that profiles notable things and people in Los Angeles. One of his most memorable pieces focused on a Japanese American woman sent to an internment camp during World War II during her last two weeks of high school. Ono won an Emmy for that story, which resulted in the woman receiving her missing degree more than 50 years later.
“What disturbed her was the fact that she never received her diploma,” Ono recalled. “So we looked into it and the principal of her school dug deep into her records and not only found out that she had a diploma coming, but that she was also valedictorian. But she went her entire life without knowing that.”
Even though Ono keeps busy with his day job, he still finds time to be active in the community. He’s happy to accept invitations coming his way, from being a panelist at the Rafu Shimpo newspaper conference in August, in honor of the publication’s 100th birthday – to taking the stage as co-emcee of the gala banquet at the recent AAJA national convention in San Diego, entertaining a crowd of more than 1,000.
“It was a honor to emcee. I was thrilled about it. It’s really motivating to see how many people support it and see the quality of people who come and support us,” Ono said. “What I really enjoyed about going to the conference is that I met people I had never met before who just wanted advice on how to get there, what the early years are going to be like and what they need to know. It’s a great opportunity for the young people to gain wisdom and for the older people to share a little of what they have experienced. Plus, you can go dancing and stay out until five in the morning.”
Ono will soon emcee AAJA-LA’s signature fundraiser, Trivia Bowl, on Oct. 17. The hugely popular event started out as a small mixer, but over the years has grown into a competition where teams are intense rivals for the much sought-after Rice Cup.
“Trivia Bowl is one of the most fun things we do every year. There’s a chance for all these teams to be competitive – journalists, attorneys and students all gathered to meet and have a good time and tease each other,” Ono said. “As emcee, I can ridicule all the competition and they can’t speak back because there is only one microphone, and it’s mine.”
But before he even dreamed of hosting AAJA events or becoming a journalist, Ono’s first thought was to be an athlete.
“I love sports. I wrestled in college and I love football. Even today I still do triathalons every weekend,” he said. “When I was a kid, I figured I would be a professional athlete or go to the Olympics or something. It wasn’t until later in college when I thought that I would try this journalism thing.”
It turned out for the better that Ono tried the “journalism thing” for he is now one of the leading Asian American males in the industry. One piece of advice he gives to students is that there is a story in every person. You just have to go out and find it.
“You can get a story out of anything and anybody,” he urged. “It’s just a matter of how you tell it.”