Debbie Roberson was barely 18 years old when she began her career in the television industry, though that wasn’t her initial goal. After graduating from Butler High School, she applied for work at Manpower Employment Agency. When she’d been with the agency for just a few months, she received a call assigning her to a temp job at WLKY-TV as a sales assistant. The assignment was for 10 weeks, but as things were about to wrap up, the general manager asked if she’d like a full-time job. She accepted, and, as they say, the rest is history. Debbie’s been with the station for 43 years, working her way up from sales assistant to her current position of Executive Assistant to the General Manager and Program & Community Affairs Coordinator.
Debbie is not only beloved around the station, but she’s also well-known throughout the community, working tirelessly to promote agencies and organizations through partnerships with WLKY. She’s the coordinator for the station’s annual Bell Awards, and two years ago she was honored with the title of Kentucky Colonel. Meet Debbie Roberson, our latest FACE of Louisville.
After high school, you chose to jump into the business world. Tell us about your decision to work with Manpower.
When I graduated I honestly did not know what I wanted to do. I had a strong affinity for organization and administration, and I knew I wanted to do something in business. I sat down and had a conversation with my mom and dad, and they were very supportive of whatever I wanted to do. When I started at Manpower, I told the company to send me on as many different assignments as they could. I wanted to go to different businesses and sectors and get a feel for what they were like.
Tell us about your position at WLKY.
I wear several hats. The primary portion of my day is divided between programming and the community affairs of the station. From a programming standpoint, I serve as a liaison between the station and the network with regards to programming matters, such as preemptions and special programming changes. The station does a lot of local specials for March Madness, Thunder Over Louisville, the Bell Awards, Wednesday’s Child and political debates, so we need to be in touch with the network and notify our program providers that list us on cable and various systems about the changes.
I work with our employees internally, notifying them if there’s going to be a deviation from our regularly scheduled programming. And I’m also the point person for our community partners. We have more than 22 partnerships with organizations that have fundraising events or special programs. I’m the stopping point where we determine if we’re going to produce a PSA for them and promote their event on air, and I work to determine if one of our anchors or talent will be the emcee for one of their events. We also schedule interview segments with our community partners.
What are the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of your job?
It’s challenging, at times, trying to settle a disgruntled viewer. Those are very few and far between, but sometimes people are very passionate about their opinion of something, or if their program was interrupted suddenly. The rewarding part is feeling like you’ve played some small role in helping to resolve an issue or providing people with a resource.
You are in charge of WKLY’s annual volunteer recognition program, the Bell Awards. How and why did the program begin?
The station started the Bell Awards 42 years ago as its signature community project and as a way to give back to Louisville. They gathered community leaders who formulated a program to honor local grassroots volunteers who are making a difference. People were suddenly hearing stories about those who are investing time in after-school programs or visiting shut-in, elderly people. In our day-to-day lives, we sometimes don’t realize that there are people out there dedicating their time to making others’ lives better. I’ve had the honor of attending the Bell Awards every year, and over time, it became my job to coordinate the program.
Kentucky Colonel is an honor bestowed by the Governor of Kentucky to someone who has a commitment to public service and the advancement of the state. Did you have any idea you were selected for this?
It was a complete surprise. I am not 100% sure who nominated me, but both WLKY news anchor Rick Van Hoose and I were awarded together. Rick and I work together on several of our community projects. Members came into the station and presented us with our awards. It’s quite an honor.
Who are the most interesting people you’ve met while working at the station?
The first big star I met was John Wayne. He was in town to be the grand marshal for the Pegasus Parade. I’ve also met Frank Gifford, Dale Evans, Bruce Jenner, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Dick Van Patten, Olivia Newton-John, Howard Cosell, Don Johnson and Richard Simmons.
Do you have any hobbies or pastimes you enjoy?
I enjoy running. I live by Iroquois Park, so I like to go running there. I enjoy going to the Kentucky Center for the Arts, and I love going to the city’s annual WorldFest. I also play piano and sing at my church.
What are your favorite restaurants in town?
If you weren’t working in television, what would you like to do?
I love clothing and fashion. I would have loved working at Cosmopolitan magazine or something in the fashion industry, like being a personal stylist or a personal shopper.
If you had the opportunity to leave Louisville and move to a new city, where would you go?
I love tropical and beach areas, but to say I’d pack up and move somewhere, I don’t know. I have so many roots here, so many friends and family, it would depend on what those circumstances would be.
What advice do you treasure?
What’s important to me is to find something you can be passionate about. That’s been key for me. Passion keeps you inspired, even when there are stressful or difficult times. When you have a passion for something, you’re able to press through.
Besides faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
A good cup of coffee in the morning, living a purposeful day and reflecting on my day with a good glass of wine
Thank you for chatting with us, Debbie, and thank you to Gretchen Bell of Gretchen Bell Photography for the beautiful photos!
Explore more of our inspiring FACES of the South HERE!