By Wade Coggeshall
— It's soon after the end of an "Eyewitness News Sunrise" broadcast and Bruce Kopp, one of its co-anchors, is looking at the radar with morning meteorologist Chuck Lofton in the WTHR Channel 13 studio.
It's worth a gander because it's displaying something rarely seen this summer - rain. In fact, green practically covers the screen. Since both live in Avon, they pan over from downtown Indianapolis to Hendricks County to see what the weather's looking like at home. Sure enough, green blankets the western suburbs too.
"Now I have to call my wife to make sure it's working," Lofton said with a laugh.
It's a lighter look at what is a serious newscast. When Kopp arrived at WTHR in the spring of 1983, the station was mired in third place in the ratings. That may sound bad - and it is - but there was a benefit.
"You could pretty much do anything - push the envelope and have a good amount of freedom to do what you wanted," Kopp said.
Those days have been over a while now. Since 1999 Eyewitness News has been No. 1 in Nielsen ratings in multiple time slots, and all of them since 2002 - prompting the new slogan "Indiana's News Leader."
With that, however, comes a strong, focused game plan with no letup.
"There's always more to do," said Kopp, who still does some reporting, including a series called "What's Cool in School."
He attributes much of their success to a staff comprised of both industry veterans and fresh faces possessing good instincts for the job.
"We're on air two and a half hours every morning," Kopp said. "Inevitably, every couple weeks, breaking news happens."
He and co-host Julia Moffitt rely on a behind-the-scenes front line that knows whom to call to feed them information when they're live.
"We have people who've worked here a long time," Kopp said. "It's second nature to them."
As well, unlike most of today's media, WTHR is privately owned by the Wolfe family out of Columbus, Ohio.
"They've put a lot of money and resources into this place," Kopp said. "That allows us to do what we do."
Even with the pressure of being No. 1, the staff of WTHR still keeps it loose behind the scenes. Just before a photo shoot, Kopp checks his makeup (he calls it "war paint" to make it sound more masculine), using a handheld dollar store mirror on a multimillion-dollar set. Asked if that part in the Will Ferrell movie "Anchorman" - when newscasters at competing stations meet in a parking lot to brawl - is true, Kopp jokes, "We haven't had that in a while. I think the movie spoiled that."
The part about "Anchorman" where broadcasters are held in high esteem, though, has a ring of truth to Kopp. Initially, though, radio was what he wanted to do.
Growing up in Northlake, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, Kopp slept with a transistor radio under his pillow, listening to DJs spin the popular hits of the day. He also absorbed TV news and worked on school newspapers as he got older.
During his freshman year of college, Kopp was working at a Chicago-area radio station when he learned of a hostage situation near his home. He went to the scene to report on it. Several of the TV reporters he often watched were also there.
Kopp quickly found himself working alongside those reporters, even holding a light for them. When the hostage-taker walked out of the house waving a gun, everyone ducked behind a squad car. Fortunately, the situation ended peacefully.
"That was my reality television right there, of what their job is like," Kopp said. "That got me hooked."
He transferred from a junior college in Chicago to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale - known for its broadcasting program. The school has its own TV station, WISU, complete with news broadcasts. Kopp auditioned for a spot on the news team upon arriving, and got one of the anchor positions, which were normally reserved for seniors. It was fun, he said, but a lot of work.
"I'm not sure how we got our homework done," Kopp said. "Most of our time was spent in the basement of the communications building."
After graduating with a bachelor of science degree in radio-TV/journalism, Kopp's first professional gig was co-anchoring the 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts at WEHT in Evansville. There was a short stint as a weekend evening anchor for Grand Rapids' WOOD-TV before he signed on with WTHR as a business reporter. Kopp joined the Sunrise team in 1990.
That broadcast is on the air from 4:30 to 7 a.m. every weekday. It entails Kopp waking up at 2 a.m. for work - no explanation needed for the difficulty therein. The toughest part is going to bed on time. Kopp should be asleep by 6 p.m., but it's more like 8 or 9, he admits. After so many years, he's grown used to getting by on five hours of sleep and catching up on the weekends.
"I get to sleep in until 6 in the morning on Saturdays," Kopp said. "Usually by Friday night, I'm spent."
But there are advantages to working the early shift.
"The traffic's nice," he said, adding that he also has most of the afternoon to do whatever he wants. Oftentimes, that's playing golf. He didn't start playing until he was 30, but since then he's hit three holes-in-one (four if you count the one this year at Prestwick Country Club that was only witnessed by him).
"There's nothing like the feeling of watching a ball go in," said Kopp, who plays in numerous golf charities and hosts his own for the Little Red Door Cancer Agency in Indianapolis. "It's supposed to be the perfect golf shot, but what it truly is, is just luck. I've known people who've golfed their entire lives and never hit a hole-in-one and don't understand why. It's just luck."
His schedule also allows him time to watch his two sons play soccer in the Westside United Football Club. In fact, many weekends are spent on the road watching them compete. Kopp often catches up on sleep in hotel rooms while waiting for games to start.
"The morning shift has at least allowed me to see my boys play soccer," he said. "That's the trade-off. If I worked an evening shift, I probably wouldn't be able to enjoy that."
Kopp, who moved to Avon in 1995 when he and wife Paula were expecting their first son, considers himself a "transplanted Hoosier" at this point.
"I still like the Cubs," he said. "I love going back to Chicago and taking my sons to Wrigley Field."
But at this point, more of his life has been spent in Indiana than anywhere else.
"I wasn't born here, but I'm proud to live in Indiana and raise my family here," Kopp said. "It's much more economical (than Chicago) and safer. I wouldn't have it any other way. I've been lucky to be in one place for such a long time."