CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An icon in West Virginia Broadcasting will step away from the microphone for good this week. Beth Vorhees, a longtime fixture at West Virginia Public Radio and Television will retire Friday after 32 years with the organization.
“It’s time to retire,” Vorhees told MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval on Thursday. “That’s the deal.”
Vorhees somewhat reluctantly admitted the cutbacks facing West Virginia public broadcasting in next year’s state budget played into her decision.
“Yes, yes it was,” she admitted after a long pause. “It has been a few tense months at West Virginia public broadcasting, as you can imagine, and no matter what happens with our budget, I think it’s pretty clear to all of us public broadcasting will have to tighten its belt and prioritize. I just thought this was an opportunity to go ahead and make a graceful exit.”
Vorhees indicated she got into broadcasting because she was a theater major in college who didn’t have the guts to go to Broadway of Hollywood. The St. Albans, Vermont native explained a professor encouraged her to give it a try and noticed she had a talent for the business. Soon she was off and running. She landed her first television job at KCAU-TV in Sioux City, Iowa and a few years later moved over to radio station KWSL in Sioux City.
She left the cornfields of the Midwest for the hills of West Virginia when she married her husband Rick Vorhees of Wheeling. They are the parents of one daughter, Diana who lives in Chicago. Freshly married and in a new state Beth answered a newspaper ad seeking an afternoon news announcer for West Virginia Public Broadcasting and in 1984 landed the position.
She flourished at the job, particularly in the coverage of the legislature and helped form several signature programs of West Virginia Public Broadcasting including West Virginia Today and the Legislature Today. She left radio in 1991 to try a public relations position with another agency of state government. The position didn’t work out the way she had hoped and in 1993 she returned to West Virginia Public Television and along with her co-workers largely invented the way legislative sessions are covered today.
“I’ve been covering the legislature since 1984,” she said. “Covering the legislature night after night was very rewarding work. As nervous as I got before every one of those broadcasts, I think the final night broadcast was a real achievement.”
The live coverage of the final night of the session became a staple of the 60 day session until it was discontinued in 2009 on the 30th anniversary of the broadcast. It was revived in the most recent 2017 session, but Vorhees did not participate.
The biggest change at the legislature in Vorhees’ mind is the shift from Democrat control to Republican, but she added some things never change.
“There are always disagreements, it doesn’t matter which party is in the majority,” she said. “There’s always going to be disagreements, it’s human nature. It’s a little more intense now than it was in the past, but it is what it is. This is the legislature.”
Vorhees was inducted into the West Virginia Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2015. She said the opportunity to mentor so many young reporters trying to find their way was another of the more rewarding parts of her long career.
“To pass down that knowledge to young people just coming up through the ranks, I think that’s a really important part of being a broadcaster,” she said. “To see that broadcasting continues with really good voices and really professional attitudes taking over.”
What’s next for Vorhees is still a mystery, even to her.
“I don’t know. I’m going to have to sit and think about it.” she said in speaking with Hoppy. “You and I have devoted so much to our careers and our networks and the people we work with and the listeners, when we back away from it, I’ve got to think, ‘Well what else am I passionate about?'”
The next step will eventually come, but before she signs off for good, she laughs she’s committed to one more pledge shift to solicit support for public broadcasting on the air Friday morning.