As seen in... The East Valley Tribune's Spiritual Life section
Lawn Griffiths, Tribune
Veteran Valley TV news and sports anchor Mike Chamberlin will do his last newscast Saturday.
CAREER CHANGE: KPHO-TV (Channel 5) news and sports anchor Mike Chamberlin will pursue a career in Christian music after he signs off from his last broadcast Saturday night, Aug. 9.
After 20 years in the Valley and almost 40 years in broadcasting, he will sign off at KPHO-TV (Channel 5). He moves from TV mikes to microphones on the chancels of church sanctuaries, caressing the strings of his guitar and singing about Jesus and Mary and the timelessness of the Christmas story.
Chamberlin takes up his guitar to expand a music ministry he has been doing on the side during much of his 17 years at KTVK-TV (Channel 3) and the past three years at Channel 5, first as morning news anchor and the past year as a sports anchor. In 2000, he released a CD, "Mike Chamberlin's Christmas Collection," which contains his signature song, "The Whisper," his original work about Christ's impact on humankind.
"I decided, at the end of my broadcasting career, that maybe this is a calling," said Chamberlin, 60. "I have been given a gift, and I would be almost abusing it if I didn't follow it."
He has already alerted churches from Casa Grande to Flagstaff that he has a guitar and will travel. He offers a simple proposal - let him sing two or three songs during worship services or other events in exchange for the chance to sell his CDs. Chamberlin comes full circle from his days in the late 1960s when he had a Capitol Records contract and sang with bands and in clubs in his native California.
Born in Kansas City, he lived in Chicago and San Francisco as a boy, but spent years in California beach cities, including Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach, where his passion was surfing and music. He graduated from high school in San Clemente. But the draft in 1968 interrupted things.
After a hitch with the Army and duty in Vietnam, "I came home and started playing music again." He said he no longer wanted to do nightclubs, so he enrolled in a radio-television school and, after graduation, was placed in a small station in 1970 in Redlands, Calif.
Chamberlin moved on to stations in larger markets in California, ending up in Los Angeles. He also spent 10 years on ESPN as its water sports analyst, capitalizing on his experiences in surfing, jet skis, body boarding, sailing and wind surfing. "Who would have ever thought that those years, as kids, surfing would later pay off in my career?" he said. In 1988, Chamberlin left Los Angeles for Channel 3 in Phoenix.
"The good news is I have enjoyed going to work every day," he said, noting that his father always told him his work would make up a third of his life and would affect everything else he did, so it should be fulfilling. "I've met the Michael Jordans, a president and famous people I never thought I would meet - that's been the fulfilling part," he said. The downside has been the work schedule - 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. for late afternoon and evening news broadcasts or getting up at 2 a.m. for morning shows. "But that comes with the territory, and I quit arguing years ago," Chamberlin said. "If you want to go into broadcasting, that is the path you have to choose. There's no getting around it."
"Sports is lot more fun to cover, no question, but when you are in news, you are right in the thick of it," he said. His worst moment in news work came just over a year ago. Chamberlin was anchoring a noon newscast when two TV news helicopters collided above Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix, killing four people. "I am sitting there and slowly realizing that I knew, very well, three of the four people involved, and, that day, you just go, 'Whoa, I don't want to do this,' but you go on and find a way to do it." Chamberlin has written a book on the news business that will be out early next year, and he is planning to release a new music CD later this year.
For about three years, Chamberlin and Chris Coraggio, former Channel 5 sports director and now morning news anchor, teamed to do almost 300 singing engagements in the Valley, especially at retirement centers and senior homes. "Sometimes we were doing one in the afternoon and one at night," he said. But their schedules no longer work to continue those gigs. Six months ago, Chamberlin joined with two musicians who had lost their lead singer, and they have been "rehearsing like crazy," he said. "We are called 'The Arizona Trio.' ... We are having the time of our lives."
Meanwhile, Chamberlin has launched his "Singing TV Guy" concert series that will focus more on churches. After the release of his first CD eight years ago, he was invited to sing "The Whisper" at three Christmas Eve services at North Phoenix Baptist Church. "I had never sung with an orchestra, and it is every singer's dream to have a string section," he said. At rehearsals, he asked the conductor to abruptly stop partway into "The Whisper." The puzzled conductor asked what was wrong. "Nothing," Chamberlin said. "I heard the strings, and I think I am about to cry.
"To hear a song that you wrote with these strings. Oh my, it really is just heaven," he said.
Chamberlin mixes conversation with his music.
"One church called me, and the minister goes, 'I want to forgo my sermon the Sunday you are here and give you the 20 minutes to sing ... and your ministering through music," he noted. The response to his recent blitz of e-mails to churches about singing has been amazing, he said. "I hate to say it is out of control, but I wasn't ready for this response," he said.
"I could almost sing each Sunday if I wanted to," he said. "I don't know if I could do that and be retired, too." Sometimes the format calls for him to have a dialogue with the pastor on faith issues. He may admit to, for example, knowing little about the Church of the Nazarene, if asked, but he tells them, "I know God, and I know how to sing to them. I think there is one God for all people."
Chamberlin waits until he is finished playing to sometimes tell audiences that his index finger ("my money finger") was broken in a tennis accident and rebuilt with plastic. It doesn't bend, and he spent eight months teaching himself to play guitar without it. "It proves if you want to do it bad enough, you can do it," he said.