Worse, she came to quickly believe that the older man sitting next to her, the biggest star in local TV, did not want her to succeed.
She says Turner, who died in 1987, ultimately made no secret of his hostility to her.
"At every chance he could get, he would embarrass me or, like, try to make me feel bad about where I went to school," Winfrey says. "That's when I first learned that, oh, where you went to school is an important thing, because he'd go, 'Where'd you go to school again? What little college or university?' So I would have to say my memories of Jerry Turner are not fond ones."
Richard Sher, her ultimate WJZ onscreen partner, says her time with Turner was "an almost impossible situation" for Winfrey.
"Well, she was paired with the king, King Jerry, right?" Sher says. "They brought in this young, African-American Miss Tennessee State from Channel 5 in Nashville, Tenn., and the show did not do well. And Jerry certainly did not get blamed for it. I mean, what's different about it? Well, for the first time, somebody was sitting next to the king of local television, the ruler, the best."
So impossible that she was dropped from the 6 o'clock newscast — a huge, public failure, especially in the way it was handled.
"I was removed from the 6 pm. news exactly April 1, 1977," Winfrey says. "The general manager called me upstairs, and I thought it was an April Fool's joke when they told me, 'We have bigger plans for you; we're going to put you on the morning cut-ins.' (In the 1970s, that involved reading headlines for a few minutes at the top of the hour early in the morning — a job of near-invisibility.)
Winfrey roars when she says, "And he said that to me with a straight face." She repeats the phrase "with a straight face" two more times to make the point that green as she was, even she knew reading news cut-ins on morning TV was a long way down the food chain from co-anchoring the evening news.
"I'll never forget the way he said, 'We're going to put you on the morning cut-ins where you can shine all by yourself,'" Winfrey says, clearly still channeling some of the emotions from that day. "As you know, when you're humiliated that way, you never forget."
'I was so sexually harassed'
Things would get even worse at WJZ as Winfrey cycled through a series of jobs ranging from news writing to street reporting after her fall from the anchor desk.
"Oh my God, I was so sexually harassed," she says of her time in the newsroom.
Winfrey didn't speak of catcalls or sexual advances, but she did speak about being singled out as a woman and being treated with less respect than her male colleagues.
And she recounts an incident involving a supervisor whom she declines to name.
"I shall not name him, because he'll be trying to sue me," she says.
This supervisor ordered Winfrey to let his girlfriend live in her two-bedroom Cross Keys apartment free of charge, she says. (The management team from Winfrey's era is long gone. The station that was then owned by Westinghouse is now the property of CBS.)
"He said to me one day, 'You have a two-bedroom apartment, and my girlfriend is looking for a place to stay, and I don't want her living with me,'" Winfrey remembers.
"So he says to me, 'You need to make room for her and let her have that space — and not charge her.'"