Doreen Gentzler prefers a normal bike; Jim Vance rides a Harley. On the air, they've been through a lot together. Illustration by Kyle T. Webster
Jim Vance and Doreen Gentzler can’t remember what line it was that they both refused to read one night on the 6 o’clock news. She says it was his line, it wasn’t a good one, and he was trying to foist it off on her.
“We got into a contest at the end of a broadcast,” says Gentzler. “We played chicken on the air.”
They sat there, two seasoned newscasters on live television, until a producer yelled into Vance’s ear from the control room: “Somebody say something!”
“She’s incredibly stubborn when she wants to be,” Vance says. “It occurred to me that I might as well give up.”
“I won,” Gentzler reminds him. “And you could not believe it.”
In 22 years together co-anchoring the evening news, there have been lots of unscripted moments. If she mispronounces a word, he’ll ask her to repeat it; if he fumbles a line, you might hear her laughing.
They used to play what they call the dictionary game: Before newscasts, Gentzler would point to a random word and see if she could find a way to use it on the air before Vance did.
Vance, 69, rides a Harley, smokes after newscasts, and takes his 14-year-old grandson to the shooting range. Gentzler, 53, goes to the gym, bikes the Capital Crescent Trail, and doesn’t want her teenage daughter to get her driver’s license. She comes to the news desk with extra notes and wire copy; Vance likes to wing it. He trims his mustache and leaves hair on the makeup-room counter, which drives her crazy.
When Gentzler joined News4 in 1989, she was fresh off the crime beat in Philadelphia, eager to sit next to an anchor she’d watched for years. She had lived in Arlington as a child before moving to South Carolina, and her family came back to the area when she left for college at the University of Georgia.
“You’ve got to come to Washington and work with Jim Vance,” her mother told her.
Vance grew up in suburban Philadelphia and graduated from Cheyney University before going to work as a newspaper reporter. By 1989, he had been at News4 nearly two decades and was known for his on-air antics with sports anchor George Michael. Gentzler, who had grown up with brothers, wasn’t fazed.
“I don’t know that there are too many people who could have come in and dealt with me and George like she did,” says Vance, who was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame four years ago.
A father of three, Vance has been married to former Channel 4 news producer Kathy McCampbell Vance for 24 years and lives in DC’s Spring Valley. He battled a cocaine addiction in the late ’70s and early ’80s, later going public with the ordeal.
Gentzler, also the station’s medical reporter, lives in Chevy Chase with her husband, Bill Miller, a former Washington Post editor who is now a spokesman for the US Attorney’s office. They have a 16-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son.
No local news anchors have been together as long as Vance and Gentzler, who have both won multiple Emmy Awards and whose 6 and 11 o’clock shows are the top-rated local newscasts in their time slots. On a slow news day at their studio on Nebraska Avenue in DC, they talked about what they’ve learned.
Next: Memorable moments from the beginning