Walking the Walk to Talk the Talk

Nationally syndicated talk show host Whitney Reynolds (BA '07) is an Arts & Sciences alumna who used opportunities at Baylor to launch her award-winning career

Walking the Walk to Talk the Talk

Whitney Reynolds does not lack confidence. When she was working briefly after college at a shoe store in Chicago, the most popular woman on television — Oprah Winfrey — was filming a segment across the street on Michigan Avenue. Reynolds struck up a conversation with one of Winfrey’s staff members, an audience producer, and Reynolds told the staffer, “I’m going to be the next Oprah.” 

“Yes, you are,” Reynolds recalls the producer saying back to her. 

That might seem like bold talk coming from a recent college graduate working at Nine West, but Reynolds has proven she was more than a clerk in a shoe shop.  

Whitney Reynolds
Up the TV Ladder

After graduating from Baylor in 2007 with a BA in communications, Reynolds successfully completed a professional internship at “Good Morning America,” and then became a TV news anchor — at 21 years old — in the No. 161 television market in the country, at station KETN-TV in Ardmore, Oklahoma. She relocated to the Windy City in order to take a new job in television. 

“I moved to Chicago right as the recession was starting to hit,” she said. “And the job that I thought I was going to get no longer existed.” 

Pondering her next move, Reynolds considered staying in Chicago and taking a job in South Bend, Indiana, a 95-mile trek around the southern tip of Lake Michigan from Chicago, “but even that job got furloughed.” That’s how she ended up working for a brief time at Nine West Shoes while searching for other opportunities in television. She finally landed an anchoring job at WREX-TV in Rockford, Illinois. 

News anchors typically sign multi-year contracts with the stations where they work, and Reynolds had a clause written into her contract at WREX that said she could leave if “this little online Facebook show” she had started got picked up by another station. Sure enough, about six months into her gig in Rockford, the NBC affiliate in Chicago came calling, “and through that, I got my own show.” 

That new show — “Weekends with Whitney” — ran for about a year in Chicago. Reynolds then decided she no longer wanted to do “around-the-town stuff,” although she loves that genre of television. Instead, recalling a “delicate situation in my childhood,” Reynolds opted for a show that dives deep into serious topics, looking at them from multiple perspectives. 

“That’s when I developed ‘The Whitney Reynolds Show,’” she said. “It started on local PBS 11 seasons ago. And then in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, I got a call that my show was being syndicated.” 

Baylor Days

Whitney Reynolds grew up in Durant, Oklahoma, and entered Baylor University in 2004 as a provisional student, needing to “prove my grades” in order to stay. 

“Sally Firmin really took all these kids, including me, under her wing at Baylor and wanted to make sure that we transitioned well,” Reynolds said. 

Firmin, who recently retired as director of academic support programs at Baylor, even went as far as helping Reynolds after the student’s store-bought hair dye job went awry. 

“She called me one day and I said, ‘Oh, Whitney, what's wrong?’” Firmin said. “She had bought a hair color kit, and had tried to dye her hair and it turned orange or purple or something. And she was just panic-stricken. I said, ‘Well, there’s nothing we can really do, but I’ll call the guy that cuts my hair and we’ll find out what to do.’ He told me what to buy for her that would counteract the color she ended up with. I relayed that to her, and it all turned out okay.”

Reynolds’ career at Baylor went well after the hair incident. She signed up for heavy class loads and ended up graduating in only three years. She joined the Pi Beta Phi sorority, took part in Sing and worked on the video team in the athletic department. 

“Through that job, I started working with John Morris (BA ’80), and I became the State Farm women’s update gal on Baylor radio,” Reynolds said. “I traveled with the football team some, and I collected the [video] tapes when we actually used tapes and not SIM cards. And in a part of my job that doesn’t exist anymore, after a football game, I would drive the tapes at one o’clock in the morning to the Waco airport to make sure the next team got them.”

Driven to succeed

Reynolds was “one of the most driven students I think I have ever been around,” said Morris, Baylor’s assistant athletic director for broadcasting. “But she did it the right way. She wasn’t obnoxious. She just wanted opportunities to do work and learn and get better at her craft. I would like to take credit for her growing into the person and broadcaster that she is today but all I did was crack the door open a little with opportunities and she did the rest.”

While Reynolds entered Baylor knowing she wanted to go into the television business, she ended up as a communication major, thanks in part to John Cunningham, a senior lecturer in communication.

“I knew that technology was changing faster than we could even grip,” Reynolds said, “so I just connected some dots. And John helped me understand that I wanted to be on TV. [He said] as great as it would be to know how to edit and all that stuff, which I do know now, I should really learn how to talk. And so, John and I worked on switching over my major to speech communication.”

In addition to his Baylor teaching duties, Cunningham spent 15 years teaching dog training classes at PetSmart, and Reynolds would often practice her interviewing skills on the dog owners there. 

“Whitney would create sample video news
stories that she could show to prospective TV stations in job interviews,” Cunningham said. “I would watch in amazement at how skilled she was. She was a natural, and it was clear she was born to be in front of the camera. It was like watching Joanna Gaines in her father’s old Firestone commercials. You just knew that Whitney was going to use that same God-given ability to become a success in the television industry, and with those skills and a heck of a lot of hard work and determination, she has.”

Reynolds said that speaking in public “was not natural for me.”

“Talking on TV and then talking [informally], like chitchatting — there’s a difference in the two, and [Cunningham] helped me understand that I needed to learn how to talk in a professional way,” she said.

And she did learn how to do that — well. In 2015, “The Whitney Reynolds Show” was nominated for an Emmy Award in the category of “Outstanding Interview and Discussion Special Programming,” and the show won a bronze award at the Tellys in 2020 for the episode “Overcoming Racism.” 

Whitney Reynolds and her husband celebrating their twins’ fifth birthday
Whitney Reynolds and her husband celebrating their twins’ fifth birthday

Reynolds and her husband, David Heiner, who works in software sales, have 5-year-old twins, Marlowe and Archer, and a Shih Tzu dog, Puffy Doo-Little, which Reynolds acquired at the end of her freshman year at Baylor. Puffy Doo-Little attended many Pi Phi events, and possibly spent a few nights in Reynolds’ room in Collins Hall as she was wrapping up her first year of college.

“She probably might have,” Reynolds said, noncommittally. “Yeah. Maybe.”

Bears on TV

A partial list of other Arts & Sciences graduates now working in television

Meredith Aldi reporter, WRCB-TV, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Molly Atchison morning show producer, WFTX-TV, Cape Coral, Florida

Jessica Babb reporter, WBBH-TV, Fort Meyers, Florida

Emily (Hanzus) Bates casting executive, Apple TV+

Bailey Brammer news producer, WCPO-TV, Cincinnati, Ohio

Jakob Brandenburg sports director, KOSA-TV, Odessa

Michael Brandt and Derek Haas television series creators, producers and writers (“Chicago Fire” and spinoffs)

Richelle Carey news anchor, Al Jazeera English

Bianca Castro anchor and reporter, KXAS-TV, Dallas/Fort Worth

Kennedy Dendy anchor and reporter, KEZI-TV, Eugene, Oregon

Valerie Dillingham creative director, CBS Television

Charly Edsitty multimedia journalist, KTRK-TV, Houston

John Elizondo sports reporter, WOAI-TV, San Antonio

Rebecca Fiedler news reporter, KRHD-TV, Bryan

Randy Flagler motion picture and television actor (“Chicago Fire”)

Lauren Freeman news anchor, KPRC-TV, Houston

Susan Funderburk manager of music, Warner Brothers Television

Joanna Gaines co-founder, co-owner and show host, Magnolia Network

Derwin Graham archival producer, ESPN Films

Melissa Harrison news reporter, NBC Universal Media, Dallas/Fort Worth

Caly Johnson publicity, IMDb TV at Amazon

Kara Killmer motion picture and television actress (“Chicago Fire”)

Ashley Killough news producer, CNN

Angela Kinsey television actress (“The Office”)

Rachel Neyland production supervisor, “The Magician’s Elephant” (Netflix)

Shaun Patterson freelance TV writer, producer and director

Charles Poe senior vice president, global production and emerging technology, Smithsonian Channel

Lori Prichard news anchor, KSL-TV, Salt Lake City, Utah

Jordan Richard associate director, NBC News, New York City

Claire St. Amant development producer, CBS News

Lilly Sechrist line producer, Netflix

Jim Siebert chief meteorologist, KRIV-TV, Houston

Grace Smith news reporter, KEZI-TV, Eugene, Oregon

Christy Soto reporter, WBBH-TV, Fort Meyers, Florida

Liz Suggs writer, “Disenchantment” (Netflix)

Allison Tolman motion picture and television actress (“Fargo”)

Melissa Wilson news anchor, KRIV-TV, Houston