Indiana Broadcast History Archive

Karen Rariden

In her 42-year career, Indiana native Karen Rariden navigated the ever-changing field of broadcast journalism. Behind the scenes in leadership positions, Rariden helped organize newsrooms and made difficult decisions. At the heart of her duties, she was a storyteller.  

Her knack for storytelling took her from Terre Haute to New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. One of Rariden’s proudest accomplishments came during her time at KYW in Philadelphia, when the station won the 2006 Edward R. Murrow National Award for Station News Excellence. Though she is retired today, she looks back on her career with gratitude and remains hopeful about the future of broadcasting.  

You can watch Karen Rariden’s entire 2023 IBHA oral history interview with Maya Gray below.

Stumbling Into the World of Broadcasting 

Rariden was born February 15, 1953, in Nashville, Indiana. The close-knit community and small classes at school pushed her toward Indiana University after high school graduation.  

At first, broadcasting was not on Rariden’s radar. After switching her major three different times, Rariden landed on an English major, and enrolled in an elective Radio/TV class.  

It sparked something in her. She added Radio/TV as a second major and graduated in 1975. She stayed in Bloomington for a few more years to get her Master’s degree in Telecommunications. Rariden worked with WTIU and WFIU, and she studied under mentors including Dick Yoakam.

After she graduated in 1977, Rariden started her career with a part-time job at WAAC radio in Terre Haute. She later moved to WTHI-FM in the same city. WTHI also had a TV station and Rariden began to split her time between radio and television news. Eventually, she settled full-time in television news at WTHI.  

Rariden worked as a television news reporter and eventually became a co-anchor of the main newscasts at WTHI. 

Rariden On-Air 

But, Rariden said, “part of the story of broadcasting is jobs that come and go.” After about seven years with WTHI, her contract was not renewed. In 1984, she hunted for a job once more. 

Clips in this video

After a short period at WANE-TV, she had the opportunity to move across town in Fort Wayne to WPTA, as a producer and reporter.

 A year later, WANE’s parent company gave her a call, offering her a job at WOTV in Grand Rapids, as assistant news director. The amount of money, at that time, she said was “staggering,” and Rariden had never been to Grand Rapids, so she moved north to Michigan. 

Being the Woman in the Room 

Clips in this video

According to Rariden, it wasn’t easy to be the only woman in a room full of men. Her ideas weren’t taken at the same value as the ideas of her male colleagues. Besides that, she identified as gay. That was something she had to hide in the ‘80s, and it made her career trajectory twice as hard, she said. It was something she could be fired for. 

Yet Rariden refused to adhere to the status quo. She pressed on. 

Climbing the ladder 

One asset that set Rariden apart in her field was her eye for newsworthiness. She practiced finding the heart of the story from the beginning of her career to the end, such as this example from tornado coverage from WTHI in Terre Haute in 1981.

Video: Center Point, IN Tornado, WTHI (Timestamp: 0:00-0:27)

Even in a weather story, she said, there is human interest. Reporters have to be curious and willing to get to the bottom of a situation to deliver the best possible story to their audiences. Keeping this in mind, Rariden was able to make decisions in the newsroom and climb the ladder.  

Clips in this video

In 1987, Rariden became the assignments manager at WBNS in Columbus, Ohio. The station there was computerized, which was rare at the time. It had its own helicopter, too, and was better-funded than her past jobs. Two years later, after several of her coworkers were laid off, she left to work as the assignments manager at WTTV in Indianapolis. By 1990, ABC’s WRTV hired her as a show producer. Eventually, this led Rariden produce special projects as well.  

Her work at WRTV led to an ABC network job in New York City where she worked with affiliates on satellite live coverage of spot news and special events. One big story she remembered from that time was a three-week strike by United Parcel Service (UPS) workers. 

But New York was daunting for a young person on their own, so Rariden’s next move brought her back to the Midwest.  ABC transferred her to its Chicago operation.  

For her next job, she stayed in Chicago and became executive producer for the Morning Show at WGN-TV. She said it was the most fun she has ever had in broadcasting. During those three hours, they’d do the news, followed by whatever they could dream up. There were bands, animal acts, and celebrity interviews. Once, on the mayor’s birthday, they sent an anchor downtown on a bicycle to deliver his birthday card.  

Finding the mettle of a newsroom 

The next job Rariden took was as news director in Indianapolis at WXIN, a FOX affiliate. She’d been there barely a month when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred.  

Clips in this video

Newsrooms have to come together in times of tragedy to make difficult decisions, review graphic footage, and spread the truth to the public. Truly good people tend to step up in times of crisis, and as a leader in the newsroom, Rariden  did exactly this.  

After four years in Indianapolis, she accepted an executive producer position in Philadelphia at CBS-owned KYW. She loved the city’s history. While she was there, KYW won the Edward R. Murrow National Award for Station News Excellence in 2006 and a Mid-Atlantic NATAS Chapter Emmy for Best Newscast in 2008. After practicing for weeks, the station entered the digital era with its first on-air broadcast in HD.  

Rariden moved back to Chicago in January of 2011, taking a job as assistant news director at a sister station, WBBM-TV. Her first day of work fell in the middle of a blizzard—yet she still walked to the station.  

Navigating the modern newsroom  

With the digitization of the newsroom, possibilities opened up, but seasoned journalists had to adapt.  

Clips in this video

The newsroom evolved and adapted, and Rariden stayed at WBBM until she retired. Her nine-year stint was cut short by layoffs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and she left Chicago in May of 2020.  

During the pandemic, Rariden watched broadcast journalism struggle to succeed. But she said today’s mode of storytelling allows people to glimpse worlds they would never be a part of otherwise, whether through a royal wedding or by watching the Super Bowl.  

Today, she lives in LaGrange, Kentucky, near Louisville. Looking back at her career, her only regret was that she didn’t fight harder for her voice to be heard. She’s proud of the work she did, and she encourages young women going into journalism to stand strong and make their marks.  

Clips in this video

 January 2024

Written and Researched by Maya Gray; Edited and Archived by Cooper Hudson.

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