Audrey Asistio checks in with the floor producer while gripping a purple mirror and fidgeting with the ends of her hair. Her clumpy microphone transmitter and battery pack are well-hidden, the studio's aglow with banks of ParaBeam lighting. She gives her earpiece a final tweak and ruffles through a pile of scripts. It's 30 seconds until KOVR's noon newscast goes live.
"Which camera first?" Asistio asks.
Asistio has gone through this pre-show drill in other TV markets, but on this day she feels more nerves than usual. She's the new face in town for TV news, not even a week into the job as Channel 13's morning anchor and co-anchor of the noon news.
Asistio, who turns 29 on Friday, has created a stir since arriving in Sacramento, leaving trails of fawning comments wherever her headshot appeared online. She's connected with locals as a former 49ers cheerleader who craves the rush of breaking news, a Northern California native who's returned home. She isn't the first KOVR anchor to have experience hyping a crowd. Asistio replaces Lisa Gonzales, a former Sacramento Kings Royal Court dancer, who joined rival Channel 3 (KCRA) in August.
As TV stations clamor to reach younger viewers, and KOVR seeks to lessen the leads of News10 (KXTV) and KCRA in the morning news races, KOVR hopes Asistio will translate to ratings gold.
"It's been so nerve racking," said Asistio following the noon broadcast. "I want to make everyone happy. I'm wondering how viewers will react. I hope my co-workers are happy with me. I hope my boss is happy with me. At this point, all I can do is be myself."
"We begin today with a developing story. Good afternoon, I'm Audrey Asistio."
We all know the TV anchor stereotype: Heavy on the makeup, making big bucks to read from a teleprompter. However, fans of the movie "Anchorman" will likely come to see Asistio as more Veronica Corningstone than Ron Burgundy. Asistio's background lies in breaking news, and she's paid her dues reporting on murders, wildfires and other general mayhem.
A recent day for her began when the typical college student goes to bed. Asistio pronounced "Assist-Ee-oh" rose for work at 1:30 a.m., left her North Natomas condominium around 3 a.m., and within 30 minutes the work began at KOVR for the 5 a.m. news. She fact-checks her scripts, researches the day's news, gets her "A" game ready.
"It's not, 'Oh, I'm the anchor and I'm just reading the news,' " Asistio said. "Sometimes there's nothing to read when there's breaking news. They might just give you a piece of paper with some information on it and you're reporting. It takes a lot to be an anchor."
Such are the demands for those who call morning TV news their profession. If Asistio's hurting for sleep, she hides it well. Her almond-shaped eyes are bright and she cuts a slender figure walking through the KOVR newsroom in a fitted red skirt and heels.
Before any would-be Lotharios get any ideas, note the shiny rock on her left hand. She's been married for 2 1/2 years to her high school sweetheart, Mark Saldana, who works as a nurse.
Asistio laughs loudly about the online praise that followed once her headshot made the media rounds with her hiring announcement. Sample comments: "That is one gorgeous woman"; "Better find some prime time for her!"
"Maybe I tricked them," said Asistio, still laughing. "That picture is obviously edited. I'm happy that people accept me and think I'm pretty, but what's more important is what I've done and who I am, and I hope they see that."
She's a native of San Bruno who graduated from San Francisco State University's radio and television program. Her first career stop: Yakima, Wash., population 92,000 and Nielsen media market No. 125 of 210. Gangs, murders and other town drama were her beat as the CBS 29 (KIMA) crime and courts reporter.
"I'd never been there in my life and it was such a different world," Asistio said. "It's where I learned to really be an adult and understand this was going to be my life. Being alone, in the middle of nowhere, I focused on my work."
After her contract ended, Asistio made a lateral move to Nielsen market No. 130, otherwise known as Chico. At KHSL-KNVN, she co-anchored the 10 p.m. news and operated as a multimedia journalist. Known in the news biz as an "MMJ," this is where a single TV reporter shoots, writes, edits and reports.
Asistio worked at Fresno's Channel 24 (KSEE) for nearly two years before coming to Sacramento in late January. At KSEE, she continued as an MMJ along with co-anchoring and taking a spin in the station's weather center.
"I love everything, but I really love covering breaking news," said Asistio. "There's the rush of being in the field, having to get everything fast and get it on the air right away. Whether I'm explaining video in front of me, or saying in the field what's going on behind me, I'm always reporting."
After the break: "It's a face fit for a king. How scientists were able to reconstruct the face of King Richard III."
Image is everything in TV news, whether it's the avuncular anchor or the wacky meteorologist. Meanwhile, attracting younger viewers while keeping a core baby boomer audience remains the challenge for TV news stations.
"Younger people aren't watching the TV news as much," said Barbara O'Connor, emeritus professor of communications at California State University, Sacramento. "Channel 13 has put a lot of energy into attracting a younger group. Channel 3 is doing that with its high school football contests. It's not surprising they've gone to cheerleaders and dancers to attract a younger demographic."
A telegenic type who can appeal to audiences of all ages helps a station's cause. KOVR believes it has that in Asistio.
"It took us months to find the right person," said Kevin Walsh, KOVR's general manager. "She complements our already solid news team."
Asistio has her work cut out for her. While KOVR dominated the 10 p.m. news in the most recent Nielsen ratings, benefiting from such popular lead-in shows as "NCIS," it ranked last in the 6-to-7 a.m. news slot.
Asistio belongs to the very demographic the station hopes to attract. But broadcast news was not her initial calling. She originally dreamed of a singing career, which she credits for teaching her the breath support and projection needed on the anchor desk. She signed to a Bay Area record label while in high school, and has been known to sing the national anthem at San Jose Sabercats arena football games.
She spent two seasons with the Gold Rush, the San Francisco 49ers cheerleading squad, while finishing her college degree and waitressing at Red Lobster and other restaurants around the Bay Area.
Her father works as a caregiver and her mother an administrative analyst, but "my teens weren't easy," said Asistio. "My family went through hardships, so bad that we didn't have electricity sometimes. We were getting that three-day notice at our apartment every month. I didn't ever want to be in that situation again, so I worked my butt off in college. I realized you have to stand out in a different way. Just having a degree wasn't enough."
Thanks for watching. Have a great day!
The noon broadcast's a wrap, and that's the end of Asistio's shift, too. Back at her desk, which has yet to be crammed with picture frames and knickknacks, she eyes a mug that was filled earlier with vanilla biscotti-flavored coffee.
"I need my coffee. Don't get me wrong," Asistio said. "But I love mornings. When I got this gig I was the happiest kid alive."
Asistio's still in that "getting to know you" phase with Sacramento. She's spent her downtime scoping out restaurants with her husband Shoki Ramen House and Mikuni are two early favorites along with entertaining her Bay Area family and visiting area landmarks.
With every turn on the KOVR anchor desk, her nerves subside a little more.
"I'm in love with Sacramento," said Asistio with the same fervor that Ron Burgundy has for San Diego. "This weekend we went to the Capitol to take pictures like tourists. I love the vibe. I love that it's so diverse. The way things are right now, I wouldn't mind staying here forever."