Mary Jo West has been called "the First Lady of TV News in Phoenix." She became the first prime time anchorwoman in Phoenix in 1976, thus opening the door for the women who followed her. She was born in College Park, Georgia and received her degree in journalism from the University of Georgia in 1973. At that time of her graduation the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had recently ruled that stations had to allow minorities and women on the air. She came to Phoenix in 1975 and worked as a producer-host at the Public Broadcasting Station KAET-TV in Tempe. In 1976 Mary Jo accepted a job at KOOL-TV Channel 10, the CBS affiliate.
Her first years there were not easy. Her male co-anchor was not happy having a woman sitting next to him on the evening news. He saw the newsroom as a “man’s domain” and wasn’t pleased that a 27-year-old woman would be sharing his anchor desk. He made things difficult for her. In the beginning, she received hate mail from viewers who were did not like hearing a female voice on the air. One of them was from a woman in Sun City who said, “Tell that blonde headed tomato to go straight home and cook supper for her husband.”
Mary Jo was determined that she wanted to be more than an arm decoration. She wanted to talk about issues that were vital and to report stories of substance. She learned all she could from her co-anchor, trained herself to lower her voice when she spoke on air and reported on substantive topics. She did not just stand in front of the camera; she went out and worked on issues that until then were not in the forefront. She was the first woman to go into the Arizona State Prison in Florence and interview inmates for her documentary on sexual assault, for which she won a Rocky Mountain Emmy. Another of her Emmy Award winning documentaries was “Take me to the River,” which dealt with the first group of disabled individuals who rafted down the Colorado River. In 1982, CBS News asked her to come to New York to be one of the anchors of their Night Watch show.
Mary Jo has won her industry's top awards including the Peabody, two Rocky Mountain Emmys, 13 Arizona Press Club awards, and the national "Gracie Allen Award" from American Women in Radio and TV. She was the first news woman inducted into the Arizona Broadcasters Hall of Fame. The City of Phoenix honored her with the Martin Luther King Living the Dream Award for her work fighting discrimination against the mentally ill.
Mary Jo has been a staunch supporter of mental health throughout her professional career as well as in her private life. She received the Ben Franklin Medal from the Maricopa County Medical Society to honor her for devotion to promoting awareness and understanding of mental health issues. She was invited to the White House to speak at a Conference on Mental Health. She also received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Arizona Mental Health Association.
Mary Jo has made a difference. She led the way for female television broadcasters in Phoenix and has made a change in mental health awareness in our state and in the country at large.