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Family anchor: 10 favorite things with WJZ's Denise Koch

Take 10 is a series of occasional features on prominent local residents and the possessions they treasure.

As the anchor of WJZ's 4, 6 and 11 p.m. Eyewitness News, Denise Koch knows the value of visuals when it comes to telling a story. So it's no surprise that in looking at 10 of her favorite possessions, we see some of her own story.

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That story began in Los Angeles, where Koch grew up living with her mother and stepfather, while spending summers in New York City with her father. Los Angeles is also where she attended college and planned for a career in theater.

"My whole life was acting," she says.

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It was in college that Koch met her future husband, theater director Jackson Phippin. The couple married in 1976 and landed in Baltimore as members of the experimental theater group Kraken, founded by the late director Herbert Blau, who was teaching at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

"When we saw his work in Chicago, both of us said, 'We'll go anywhere to work with this man.' It was so brilliant. It was avant-garde experimental theater. It was the '70s and that's what we were into," Koch recalls.

Three years later, the company folded. Phippin took a job at Center Stage as its associate artistic director, while Koch took on various acting jobs in Baltimore and elsewhere.

In 1979, she was working in a play at Center Stage when she was asked if she'd like to audition for a part-time gig on WJZ's "Evening Magazine." The big draw wasn't the job so much as a certain perk. She could continue working onstage wherever, and the station would pay for her travel back to Baltimore to tape her segments.

"You don't make a lot of money in the theater. So the idea of somebody paying for me to fly home twice a month was worth it," she says, with a laugh.

Initially, Koch viewed the role of "Daring Denise" — who would try any athletic endeavor presented to her — as just a side job to her acting career. That changed in 1982.

"I got to this critical point in my life. I was working with wonderful actors in their 50s — wonderful actors — who were traveling with a cat in a carrying case and a suitcase, and lived in a studio [apartment] in Greenwich Village. And I thought, is this my future? I thought there's got to be something else I could do. At that time, they were looking at someone in the newsroom to review movies and plays," she says.

Koch left her own acting behind to review that of others full time at WJZ. In 1987, she graduated to news anchor.

As much as she is devoted to her role as Baltimore's longest-enduring female anchor, none of her favorite things reflect much about what she has done professionally. There are no playbills, no souvenirs from a reporting trip or story, no photos of her with a famous somebody-or-other.

"Most have a memory attached to them — a memory I would never let go of," she says.

All of those memories relate to family, especially 20-year-old twin daughters Meg and Jo Phippin. They now take center stage for Koch and Phippin. The couple moved from their Ellicott City home to one in Owings Mills in 2007 because it was "36 seconds away" from Garrison Forest School, which the girls attended. Both are now in college, but spending the summer at another cherished spot, the E Bar L Ranch near Missoula, Mont., where the family has gone every summer for years.

"It's my daughters' happy place. They both love it there. I love it there," she says.

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Judging from the story these 10 items tell, Koch seems to be in her own happy place these days, no matter her actual location.

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