In the wee hours, Bethany Crouch brings energy, sincerity to morning TV

Bethany Crouch and her husband, Stephen Leopold, share their affection for their 3-year-old Australian shepherd, Charlie, in the living room of their Sacramento home.
Bethany Crouch and her husband, Stephen Leopold, share their affection for their 3-year-old Australian shepherd, Charlie, in the living room of their Sacramento home.

To get the scoop on Bethany Crouch, the beloved local TV journalist known for her infectious warmth and energy, you have to understand a few key parts of her life.

Sleep. Her dog, Charlie. Her recent marriage. Her many friendships all over the world. That time she was ready to quit the business. And perhaps most important, the difference between her on-air persona and her real-life personality.

Let’s start with sleep. Crouch, 35, created a stir in local TV news when she announced in mid-September that she was leaving the morning news program at Fox40 – without saying where she was going.

Had she been sent packing? Was she unhappy? Did she decide to leave the business and try something else? Viewers wanted answers.

It turns out, after nine-plus years at Fox40, her contract was up and she was looking for a change. A big part of that was something she craved – the chance to wake up later and know what it’s like to enjoy something of a normal life.

It may be lost on viewers, but to be upbeat and effusive at 5 a.m. doesn’t just happen. Crouch had been waking up for years at 2:30 a.m., getting to work by 3:30 or 4 and then dialing up that smile and energy by 5.

When she and her husband returned from their Hawaiian vacation in early October, Crouch was ready to announce she had accepted a position at CBS13 and sister station CW31. The new job would expand her duties in morning news, give her new challenges and, not to be overlooked, allow her to sleep in – until 4:30 a.m.!

Her talent is to be kind and genuine and optimistic once the cameras are on. While most of us are loathing the rising sun and fumbling around for coffee or Red Bull, Crouch is in the studio acting as if today is the greatest day ever.

“I’m a naturally energetic person. You get a cup of coffee in me and I’m extra energetic,” she said after working a shift at her new job.

While the rest of us don’t think of 4:30 a.m. as sleeping in, apparently people in morning TV news see it differently.

“Believe it or not, there is a world of difference between getting up at 2:45 and getting up at 3:45,” said Paul Robins, Crouch’s friend and on-air cohort at Fox40. “At 3:45, you can come close to having a semblance of a normal life.”

Still, the hours are a challenge for Crouch and her husband, Stephen Leopold, a former Sacramento Kings executive who recently became vice president of sales for a Sacramento-based tech company, DialSource.

By the time he gets home from work, she’s often winding down and ready for bed. And when she has to dash off to work, he’s still snoozing.

“We haven’t known anything different,” said Leopold, 34, who met Crouch when he appeared on the Fox40 morning show representing the Kings. “We value our weekends and we are usually pretty protective of how we spend our time.”

When they met on live TV, Crouch’s co-workers noticed she was practically gushing as she was interviewing Leopold. One thing led to another and the two found themselves on a first date at an East Sacramento restaurant, 33rd Street Bistro.

“It was a 2 1/2 -hour lunch that I didn’t want to end,” he said with a laugh.

Their second date was hot yoga, which Leopold said was “way outside of my comfort zone.” On their third date, Crouch brought her Australian shepherd, Charlie. Leopold grew up with a cat and again was in unfamiliar territory.

“I asked if I could hold the leash because I had never walked a dog before,” he recalled.

That was three years ago. The couple got married in June.

Surely, Crouch’s significant other sees the real Bethany she doesn’t want anyone else to know about.

“What you see is what you get. She’s probably even goofier and more fun off the air,” Leopold said. “She is genuine when we are alone, when she is on camera or when a fan comes up to her on the street.”

It was no surprise when those who know her now learned Crouch took a year off between high school and college to travel and perform with Up With People, an international troupe focused on community service. Crouch visited 11 countries during her stint.

“My life is a patchwork of friends and friends of friends. As an only child, I envelop people into my fold and collect friends all over,” Crouch said.

She says she got her outgoing personality from her dad, Kenneth Crouch, a retired minister and community theater actor who’s on the city council in Billings, Mont., and is running as a Democrat for the state Legislature. Her mother, Carolyn, has for years watched Crouch’s work by streaming every broadcast online.

In 2004, after earning a degree in film and television from Chapman University, Crouch went to work in TV news at a small affiliate in Rapid City, S.D. She later moved onto another station in Washington and by 2007 had worked her way up to Sacramento, the 20th largest TV market in the country.

While she was excited about the move, her early days were so unpleasant she was ready to leave the business. Here was a feature reporter and people person being asked to report stories about all kinds of bad news.

“I was covering fires and dead babies and things like that. I was miserable. It was haunting me,” Crouch said. “I just thought, ‘I have to leave TV. I’m not good at it and it’s killing me.’ 

Morning news tends to be more casual, and the pace is slower. Viewers are looking for that human touch. Brandon Mercer, the station’s news director at the time, noticed hard news was an unnatural fit for Crouch.

“He called me into his office and said, ‘I really like you as a person. When you’re sitting here talking to me, you’re fun and charismatic. Then I watch your reports and they’re just flat. It seems like you can’t wait to be off TV,’ ” Crouch recalled.

He was right. Mercer moved Crouch to mornings and she thrived right away. In her new role, she found herself skydiving, bungee jumping, swimming with dolphins and having a blast.

“She was amazing at that. She has this way of connecting with people,” Mercer said. “She would turn one story into three other story ideas.”

It wasn’t long before the competition noticed. When her contract ran out, Crouch wanted to work things out at Fox40 so she could sleep a little later. But it didn’t happen. In her new role, she will anchor the news at CBS13 first thing in the morning, then move on to “Good Day Sacramento” and its ensemble news and features cast.

“We wanted to give her the opportunity to expand her role a little bit,” said Kevin Walsh, vice president and general manager of CBS13 and CW31.

With her new job, hours and marriage, you might wonder where that leaves Charlie. In fact, the Australian shepherd is getting as much attention and love as ever.

Even when she’s not home, Crouch uses her cellphone to interact with Charlie via a remote video camera and speaker set up near his bed. When it’s time to eat, another touch of the screen sends kibble tumbling into his dish.

“I can be at work,” she said, “and he’s right there having one of his meals.”

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob