Writer/Editor/Designer/Artist/CEO – She’s WEARING those hats!
Katrina Covington Whitmore’s road to Seasoned Chocolate has been paved with a number of careers –all of them involving some form of communication. Katrina began her first career just before her graduation from college when she was hired to work at a Country radio station in Kansas City, Kansas giving on-air traffic reports during morning and afternoon rush hour. “I was ‘Trina with the Traffic’,” she says, “I exchanged banter with the disk jockeys, warned listeners about traffic tie-ups and suggested alternate routes – the station didn’t have a helicopter like some of the others, so I had to rely on police dispatchers — and made sure that my reports came immediately after those of the station that did have a helicopter so I could piggyback off of their ‘eye in the sky’ – . Not the best way to report on traffic, but you did what you had to.”
It was also where she had her first encounter with racism framed as a joke. “I had just started and didn’t really know anyone – I started at 6 a.m. and was usually gone before most people got to work and didn’t return until late afternoon. I was invited to the station Christmas party and decided to attend. I was wandering around, not saying much when the station’s Program Director approached me. He told me that it was okay for me to mingle, I didn’t need to be shy just, and I quote: ‘don’t spit any watermelon seeds on the floor’. Shocked, young, on my first job in my chosen profession, unsure of what to do – I did nothing.” That was not the only time he was inappropriate. “I asked for a t-shirt, one of the promotional giveaways that radio stations do a lot of. I was told that I could have one provided ‘it was two sizes two small,’ and ‘you wear it wet, with no bra’. That was the environment, the climate at the time, the nature of the beast and no one who wanted to advance even remotely considered complaining.”
“The ‘Good ‘ol Boy network was alive and well, so you knew that if you did lodge a formal complaint, in the small, insular world of broadcasting you would probably be black-listed, and there goes your career,” she says. “So you learned to just ignore it.” Which is why Katrina is not at all surprised that media icons are dropping like flies as revelations of their sexual escapades are made public – “they’ve always done it – the difference is that today’s society is much less tolerant of it than it used to be. It’s a new day and the ‘old school’ media folks are old dogs being forced to learn the new trick of keeping their hands and their comments to themselves – that the work place is not a hunting ground. All I can say to that is: it’s about time.”
That “foot in the door” led to her first job in television, in the production department of the number one station in Topeka, Kansas as the noon and weekend weather anchor and the host of Dialing for Dollars during breaks in afternoon programs like The Andy Griffith Show. “We pulled names from the phone book, and if you knew the count and the amount, you were a winner,” Katrina says. Unfortunately, finding viewers often proved to be problematic. “I woke people who worked at night up – they were not happy – neither were a lot of the other people I called. I ended up talking to a lot of dial tones, pretending like I was talking to a person.”
Two years in production led to a move to the news department where she always wanted to be. “I anchored early morning cut-ins – those breaks for local news during the network news programs – which meant you had to be at work by six a.m. with the first cut-in at 7:30. I also anchored the noon show and was a street reporter on weekends. Later I was offered the anchor spot for the new five o’clock news show, and hosted a monthly newsmagazine program. That was the good thing about working at a small station – you learned how to do everything, because you did everything, including shooting videotape and editing – you were a one man band.”
The bad thing? “You made absolutely no money.” Salaries were embarrassingly low. “I actually took a cut from my radio job where my first year out of college I was hired as a receptionist in addition to the on-air work I did — to take the job at the television station. And from what I hear, years later, things haven’t gotten a whole lot better. That’s because stations can get away with it. They know that for every job opening, there are literally hundreds of people applying for it, so not only can they pick and choose, they get the best people without having to come up off of much money. The exceptions are the anchors – and the meteorologists who often command big salaries, but not the rank-and-filers.” Which is part of the reason why turnover tends to be high: “You’re always looking for that next job in a bigger market making a little bit more money.”
Which accounts for part of the reason for her move to Little Rock, Arkansas. “I loved Topeka, but Little Rock was a bigger market, a little more money – not much – but some, and a chance to do more street reporting, although I still anchored morning cut-ins.” The newsroom environment was very different, with a news director who was a tyrant. “He was knee-high to a chicken and mean as a snake,” Katrina says, “and I became his whipping person – I got in trouble every day – it got so bad my dad told me it wasn’t worth it, and to come back home. I told him I refused to quit – that they were just going to have to fire me. My blessing came when he and the assistant news director, who was cut from the same cloth, both got hired away to another station. Hallelujah, did I celebrate!”
Things improved greatly, but three years later, she realized that she didn’t want to do it anymore: “There are only so many tornadoes to chase, fires to flee, grisly murders to describe, and flash floods to stand knee-deep in before it all starts to run together.” Knowing that she didn’t want to do it anymore, but still believing passionately that news journalism should be the watchdog for society, and that that function is being lost, she decided to go back to school, and teach on the college level. “I thought that if you can instill in at least some of the up and coming reporters the importance of what they’re doing, the awesome responsibility they have, how vital it is to be fair, balanced, to present to the public an honest representation of what’s going, and allow them to make an informed decision on the way to proceed that’s in the best interest of the citizenry at large, it would benefit the country as a whole.”
She enrolled in the PhD. program at the University of Tennessee – without a Master’s degree. “There was a special provision where one could apply for the program and based on work experience, the evaluation and completion of the application and entrance exam scores be accepted without a Master’s – I applied, was admitted and six years later walked away with a PhD. in Communications.” The year before acquiring her degree, she moved to Montgomery, Alabama, serving as the Acting Chair in the Communications Media department at Alabama State University, an HBCU – Historically Black College and University. “I loved ASU,” Katrina says, “I loved the students, the environment, and felt like I was truly making a difference.” She was recruited by the University of Georgia one year later, but in retrospect thinks that if she had it to do over, she would have remained at Alabama State. “They really needed and appreciated what I could offer, and I had a great rapport with my students there – not so much at Georgia.”
Five years at Georgia, and then came the move to the west coast. “My husband, who I met in a Marketing class at Tennessee, had completed his course work, defended his Master’s thesis, and was recruited by Intel in San Jose – silicone valley. We were there for a year – I never got over the sticker shock – and then transferred to Phoenix, Arizona which turned out to be what I had imagined California to be like.” Living in Phoenix led to two of her next communications careers – the first as the cable manager for the City of Glendale, Arizona, a city on the west side of the Phoenix metro area.
“I managed a full time staff of five white men, including one who thought my job should have been his, a part time staff of up to twenty people, and was expected to keep the mayor, five city council members, a city manager and countless city departments and their directors happy. I also did some on-air work and developed a number of programs highlighting popular city departments, there was a library show I created called More Than Books, for example. Health problems ultimately led to retirement from the city, and freed up time for Katrina to do something she had been thinking about for some time, namely writing a book. An historical novel featuring a woman of color as the main character.
“I’ve always loved historicals, and I’m a prolific reader,” she says, “but there was rarely a book that featured any characters of color unless the book was about the Civil War or the American South or West. Even characters you knew had to be black, or of color, suddenly weren’t. So I decided to write one.” One turned into three – the Bride of the Desert Trilogy, featuring an African princess as the main character, and her cousin Zenobia, an actual historical character, one who took on the Roman Empire and almost won. A fourth book was a contemporary novel set on a college campus, “Say Yes answers the question of what happens when a 22 year old star football player falls in love with a 30 year-old graduate student.” A fifth novel, also a contemporary will be out in the spring.
A major change in her life’s circumstances led to a cross-country move from Phoenix to Atlanta, Georgia. “I was married for many years, happily for most of them, very unhappily for the final few. The relationship deteriorated, getting worse and worse, until one morning while putting my key in the front door, I realized I didn’t want to go on – my heart couldn’t take it – that what we had was finished.” It wasn’t easy – “I cried and cried and yelled and hoped…and finally let go.” She’s been in Georgia four years now and has come back into her own. “Atlanta took some getting used to – the traffic is a nightmare – and meeting people can be difficult – which is actually how Seasoned Chocolate came into being. There are a lot of transplants here, people who don’t really know anybody, the places to go, what’s going on, churches to attend, that sort of thing. So I thought, why not provide a service that offers all of that? A chance to meet people in a comfortable environment, the opportunity to attend events or to travel with like-minded people in a fun group setting, discussing the issues on a public forum that invites and respects your opinion, or even exploring romantic opportunities, all on one fun, interesting website — and Seasoned Chocolate was born.”
Public comment and participation is encouraged. “We want to know what you think. You disagree with something we said? Let us know. Found something funny that made you think of something? Tell us about it. You’re a poet and want the world to know? Submit your work to The Poet in Me. Have a question, comment, criticism, suggestion, gripe, moan, groan, complaint, or just want to vent a little? Put it on our blog, aptly named I’m Just Sayin’… We encourage, we want you to make your voice heard.”
So what does the future hold for Katrina? More of the same. “I’m working on a couple of historicals, a couple of contemporaries, a suspense and a fantasy. I also have a few ideas for a series of children’s books. I want to see Seasoned Chocolate grow and expand – more events, exotic locales, active members — the sky’s the limit. We’ll be visiting other cities as well…you will know who we are.”
When she can squeeze some additional time out of her busy schedule, Katrina has a business with a partner called Kreative Kouture – she sells knitted dolls that she makes herself; her partner Lisa sells jewelry. “We attend arts shows and festivals selling our wares — we’re brand new, but learning and enjoying the experience.” Katrina also likes to paint, and is currently designing the covers for a reissuing of the Bride of the Desert trilogy. “I stay busy,” she says, “staying active keeps you young, engaged and much too involved to feel sorry for yourself. You realize that life is good, and you still have a lot of it to live. You learn to count and appreciate your blessings.”
Katrina’s final words? “We invite you to savor the flavor of Seasoned Chocolate…you’ll be happy you did.”