SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — After four decades, our very own Lonnie Wong is retiring.
Lonnie’s prolific career in journalism began nearly 50 years ago, when he started out as a reporter for the student-run radio station at UC Davis, KDVS.
He went on to cover politics at the State Capitol for several Bay Area radio stations – right around the time Ronald Reagan was finishing up his second term as California’s governor.
“When I started working at the Capitol, I was the young guy, the new guy,” he said. “You just stick a mic in there at a time when the Capitol press corps was 40, 50, 60 reporters.”
And as an Asian American, Lonnie was one of the rare minorities in the Capitol press corps.
“I never asked any questions. I figured out back then, these guys aren’t asking any of the questions that I need answered, so I started to forget about the other guys after that,” he said.
Lonnie also worked as a freelance reporter for networks and local television stations in Los Angeles and San Diego before finding his way back to Sacramento.
In 1980, Lonnie started at KTXL, known as TV-40 back then.
“I was used to covering big stories for the networks. So when I came to FOX40, all of a sudden I was covering grocery store openings or the birth of a tiger cub at the zoo,” he said.
“Lonnie was one of the first guys I met when I came to channel 40,” FOX40 Sports Director Jim Crandell said.
Over the years, Lonnie has hosted and produced several talk shows at KTXL. He’s covered natural disasters like wildfires, droughts, floods and earthquakes.
“I’ve covered many, many earthquakes,” he said. “But the Northridge earthquake was so big, I tell people it couldn’t be covered by TV. We would drive around and see all sorts of damage, and say, ‘This will never make our air. Let’s find something better.’ We got stuff that no other station got.”
He was also one of very few television reporters in Sacramento who can say he’s covered seven California governors — eight if you count Jerry Brown’s second stint in the office in 2011.
“I covered the assassination attempt on President Ford, that was before a lot of people were born. I covered that trial, the Unibomber, I could go on and on about the stories that are now just part of history,” he said.
Lonnie even reported from the Sacramento Kings’ first game at the old Arco Arena when it opened in 1988.
“The one thing about Lonnie’s career, he is one of the best news reporters that have worked at this station in the very long time that he and I have worked together,” Crandell said. “If there’s hard news to be reported, I’m telling you, Lonnie has been the best.”
“I think the highest compliment that an elected official could pay to a journalist is that he was always thorough and fair. That’s Lonnie Wong’s reputation, and it’s been deserved,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said.
Lonnie says his favorite part of working in TV news is being able to meet new people every day.
“Every day I meet three to five, sometimes a dozen people I’ve never met before. That happens day after day after day,” he said. “That’s tens of thousands of people I’ve met.”
Lonnie has worked for years with the Sacramento chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, supporting veteran journalists and mentoring new ones.
Last year, he was inducted into the prestigious Silver Circle of the San Francisco/Northern California National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
When we interviewed him for this piece, we asked him to share his experiences over the decades inside FOX40’s archive room, where thousands of stories live on tapes — hundreds of them told by Lonnie himself.
“I think that’s the thing I will remember the most. There’s stories that people will remember. I can always say that I was there to experience it first-hand,” he said. “All that is represented here.”
“I talk about news being part of history. I guess I can put myself in that category, too.”
“There’s some people in our community that become icons and institutions by virtue of the way they conduct themselves and Lonnie Wong is one of those Sacramentans. He’s achieved that kind of status,” Steinberg said. On behalf of the people of Sacramento, Thank you Lonnie Wong for loving your community. For covering it thoroughly and fairly and for always being present at the big events. You will be missed. I wish you nothing but great things in your next chapter, whatever that is. You’ve earned it.”
“Lonnie, people in Sacramento will miss you, I guarantee you. They’ve gotten to know through television and people ask me on the street all the time about you, so you will be missed, that’s for sure,” Crandell said. “And good luck away from Channel 40. I know you’ve been here a very long time. I’m sure it’ll be a little bit different, but whatever it is you choose to do, even if it’s nothing, I’m sure you’ll be really good at it.”