Bree WalkerBree Walker interviewed by Chet Cooper

Celebrated news anchor, social activist and disability rights leader Bree Walker is one of Los Angeles' best known and most respected public figures. Her ability to combine the roles of wife, mother, media professional and helpful contributor to social causes has made her a role model for many. Her successes have given her a life of excitement and good fortune. For six years Walker co-anchored early evening and 11:00 P.M. nightly newscasts for KCBS-TV Channel 2 in Los Angeles. Walker came to Southern California in fall of 1988 from New York where she had anchored daily newscasts at WCBS-TV. Arrival at Channel 2 signaled something of a homecoming for Bree Walker, who had been San Diego's most-watched and most decorated news personality for several years prior to moving to New York. In eight years as consumer reporter and 5:00 and 11:00 P.M. anchor at San Diego's KGTV Channel 10, Walker built a devoted personal following and helped elevate both newscasts to number one ratings.

Her prominence at KGTV brought her frequent offers to leave and she went to New York in 1987. It was also in her years in San Diego that Walker earned a national reputation as an activist for people with disabilities. She served on the President's Committee for Employment of the Handicapped, the California Governor's Committee, The Board of Directors of the Women's International Center and a variety of other civic and philanthropic groups oriented towards disability rights. Throughout the eighties and into the nineties, she made speeches and appearances aimed at heightening awareness of disability issues. Now mother of two children with an inherited genetic hand and foot anomaly called ectrodactyly, Bree Walker continues as a disability and reproductive-rights activist.

For her work on behalf of this and other causes, Walker has won a wide variety of awards and honors. Among the most significant distinctions are the 1992 National Courage Award from the Courage Center in Minneapolis and the Senator Robert Dole Foundation's Media Awareness Award, given in Washington, D.C. in 1992. These recognitions help to underline the distance Ms. Walker has traveled from her broadcast beginnings as an FM rock and roll disc jockey, "rock's lady of the night" in Kansas City in the middle1970's.

Raised Patricia Lynn Nelson in Austin, Minnesota, Walker created the name "Bree" as a word play on her father's "Breeze Automobile Service Station" when the radio program director who first hired her in Kansas City ordered her to come up with an unusual and catchy on-air name. It worked. Walker's stint as nighttime jock on KUDL-FM was a sensation, and after less than two years on the Great Plains she was off to New York.

From 1976 to 1978 Bree built a reputation as one of New York radio rock's hottest jocks, scoring winning ratings at WPIX-FM, WKTU-FM and WYNY-FM, where she became the BIg Apple's first-ever female morning drive rock personality.

When she moved to San DIego in 1978, she immediately became that market's highest-rated FM disc jockey at the memorable album rocker KPRI. She also got her first television exposure as the on-camera centerpiece of KPRI's TV advertising campaign. And deep in her heart, Bree Walker had always thought of herself as a newscaster. When KGTV needed a consumer advocacy reporter in 1980, an astute news director named Ron Mires gave Bree the job. She began winning awards almost immediately.

For the first four of her six years at KCBS-TV, Walker anchored with her husband, now NBC and HBO sportscaster Jim Lampley. Those newscasts won various Golden Mike and Emmy Awards as best half hour and hour long newscasts in Southern California.

Bree Walker Lampley lives in Hollywood with her husband, daughter Andrea Layne Walker, age seven, and four year old son Aaron James Lampley. She has two stepdaughters, Brook and Victoria Lampley, who live in London. In her rare hours of spare time, Bree pursues a life long passion for jumping horses. Her instructor believes her horseback riding skills may in fact be her greatest God-given talent.


Chet Cooper: Did I hear that you injured your back in a horseback riding accident?

Bree Walker: I broke my back. I broke two vertebrate in my back a year ago November. I had a long period of rehabilitation with it. The vertebrate healed okay because they were just hairline fractures. When I say, "Break our back", it sounds like a very big deal, but these were just two vertebrate which had small hairline fractures. I landed really hard when I fell off my horse after a jump. I was much luckier than Christopher Reeves. But I continued to ride in a horse show the following weekend and really started to make the problem worse. Eventually what happened was that I developed chronic low back pain. I have been through all of those therapies which people with back problems do; massage, acupuncture, chiropractors, physical therapy, intra muscular therapy, and an experimental therapy procedure that the FDA is investigating right now. I have done it all except surgery. It is slowly getting better I feel like I am on that treadmill where I am just looking for new back cures. I now really appreciate and understand people when they say they have a bad back. I never really understood that before. It is one of those things we laugh at a little bit, like migraine headaches, because they are easily used as excuses. Now I know that a bad back is not something you laugh about because it effects you everyday of your life and most of the time the best you can do is keep the pain mild. In my case I haven't found that it is important enough to go after the "big question mark" of surgery because you don't always get relief from that either and can make some problems worse. I am very much a person who holds off on surgery until everything else has failed me.

CC: Can you still ride your horse?

BW: I just resumed riding within the last month. I was completely off from November until April.

CC: Do your children ride horses?

BW: Yes, Andrea rides. Aaron doesn't ride yet because it is still a little early for him, but he is expressing interest in doing that.

CC: Can you talk about the controversy over you having your second child.

BW: Well, surely for a magazine that is health and ABILITY oriented there is a certain audience that may be aware of the KFI radio broadcast in 1994. This was the time that my family was really raked over the coals because of my decision to have a second child knowing the deformity that I have (Ectrodactyly) could be passed along. It's a rare congenital deformity. About 1 in every 100,000 has some form of Ectrodactyly. The kind I have is pretty severe, but not as severe as it can get. The thing you don't know when you have children is: A. Will they be the 50% that is affected by Ectrodactyly and B. Will it be any worse than this. Those were the two things that my husband and I were paying attention to when I was pregnant with Aaron. He was my second child. My first child did inherit Ectrodactyly. I was just the luck of the draw. Well the same thing happened to Aaron. Seeing that I did have a child with Ectrodactyly, the talk show hostess decided that Jim and I would be an easy target. We were, after all, on the air live at the same time she was on the air live and it was pretty safe bet that we wouldn't hear broadcast if we were in the middle of our broadcast. So we were a pretty easy safe target.

Her whole subject for the evening, which was a National broadcast, was "Is it fair for Bree to have children knowing that she might pass Ectrodactyly along to her children." What happened next over the next couple of hours during the broadcast is what got me furious, even keeping in mind that this was simply controversial, shock talk radio. What happened on the air was misinformation about not just my deformity, but about people with disabilities in general. I felt that it would be wrong for me to just pull the wool over my eyes and pretend that this didn't happen, because I have built myself up as a disabilities rights advocate for 15 years. Could I now, being on the sharp end of the poking stick, just pretend this didn't happen and let it go away? Which is what Channel 2 wanted me to do. They didn't like that I objected to this talk show. But when Jim and I went public with our protest and filed a complaint with the FCC, it was on the basis that we have a proper balanced forum in which to discuss issues as important as reproductive rights for people with disabilities. This was not, as far as we were concerned, a first amendment right issue at all. It was really more about having balance and fairness in important discussions about people with disabilities. When people with disabilities who claimed to understand more about what my family might be feeling called in to issue their opinions, the talk show hostess would refuse to put them on the air or cut them off. When we heard the tape and heard that this is how she was handling these callers, the callers who really might have some expertise about the quality of life when you have a disability, we were outraged. That was when I felt like I really could not let this go. It took me two weeks after the broadcast, in which I decided to go ahead with some sort of public protest. That is when we brought into the picture The Western Regional Law Center for Disability Rights. We got about 200 people to sign on the complaint to the FCC. The complaint simply said that we request that when our families are being discussed on this issue that there is a balanced forum in which to discuss it. I felt that much of what was happening in terms of accuracy of the discussion was really a forgotten thing. Nobody paid attention to the accuracy. For example, was ectrodactyly a disease or a deformity? According to the talk show hostess it was a disease and leads people to believe that this is possibly contagious or that I am deliberately passing along a disease to my children. This is something that you may say is splitting hairs. It was all about allowing the forum to be shared by an equal opportunity audience. The people with disabilities who were calling to give their opinion, either pro or con, about our right to have children were just simply cut off. Particularly when they said, "You know, this isn't your business Jane. This is something you don't know anything about, and it shows, and this is not your business." So, as a disabilities rights leader, I couldn't let it go away. I also wanted to make sure that if my children ever heard about this incident, which they probably will because it has remained something that has eaten away at me for sometime, that I wanted them to be here, and that they have every right to be here. It was extremely important to me that they know that, regardless of what happened with the complaint. The FCC ultimately decided not to hear it, which was really okay by us, because we had accomplished what we set out to do. Which was to get many organizations of disability rights activist together to sign on to this complaint. We had the Vice President at that time, Dan Quayle, sign on to it and many politicians from all over the country who had been active in the ADA, as well as many individual signed on to it. So we felt like we had created a unified voice on this particular issue.

However, the Yin to that Yang is I know that it definitely did not earn me any brownie points with CBS management. Shortly after that time, I was told by CBS management that this was a troublesome issue and that my choosing to speak out instead of just letting it go away presented a thorny issue for them. They said I was all of a sudden a "Controversial Issue" as opposed to a news reader. Which is what news anchor in LA are now. They don't have any input about the copy. They don't change the copy most of the time. This is the way the business run now. So, I had to become much lower of a high profile controversial personality than they cared to have around. Knowing that, feeling that, sensing that, it was time for me to move on. I didn't wait until my contract was up to negotiate an out. I negotiated an out early and I was able to do it on my own terms. Of course, the same as they were unhappy with me for speaking out, I was unhappy with them for not being proud of me for standing up for this issue. Now I understand what my parents meant. I heard my whole life that," When you speak out or when you stand for something, understand you'll make enemies, and it better be worth it to you."



More stories from Bree Walker issue:

Americans with Disabilities Act

Wilderness Inquiry

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