Rick Bentley

TV & Radio: KMPH’s Liz Gonzalez on covering pope’s visit to Mexico

Alex Aguirre and Liz Gonzalez were the only Fresno TV news team to travel to Mexico to cover the Pope’s visit Feb. 12-18.
Alex Aguirre and Liz Gonzalez were the only Fresno TV news team to travel to Mexico to cover the Pope’s visit Feb. 12-18. Special to The Bee

As soon as Liz Gonzalez, the FOX26 anchor/reporter, saw the official itinerary for Pope Francis’ February trip to Mexico, she pitched the idea of covering the event. Because Gonzalez has reported on religion stories, she knew it would be a big event because the Fresno diocese is one of the fastest growing in the country.

Despite the large commitment of time and money, station management was quick to OK the trip. That made Gonzalez, a Sanger High and Fresno State graduate, the only local reporter to travel to Mexico to report on the pope’s visit Feb. 12-18.

“It didn’t take a lot of discussion inside our building because we understood how important the pope’s visit was to a huge segment of our audience,” says Jim Turpin, KMPH news director. “We also found that a lot of people who live in the Valley have family members in the Juarez area. So we made the decision that Liz would go there and do her stories on how excited people were about the pope’s visit and about the preparations they were making.”

Gonzalez and photographer Alex Aguirre flew to El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, Feb. 13, and crossed the border to Juarez the next day. While waiting for the pope’s arrival in Juarez on Wednesday, Feb. 17, Gonzalez worked on stories about the town’s preparation and local interest.

“We knew the networks would provide coverage of the masses the pope officiated, his visits and so on,” Turpin says. “But they wouldn’t go into the towns and communities affected by it all and tell stories about real people. Liz did that and more.”

Gonzalez has a connection to the community. She spent two years working at KVIA in El Paso. After a brief stint there, she returned to Fresno to work at KSEE24 and then moved to KMPH in 2006.

One thing that struck Gonzalez was how much Juarez had changed in the dozen years since she would travel there from El Paso after work. An increased police presence and the way the city was being cleaned up showed efforts to get away from the violent image that has plagued the region. Yet, that didn’t stop some families in the hotel where Gonzalez was staying from hiring their own private security.

Much of the reporting she did was planned, but she says some stories just fell into her lap.

One day she was in a park doing a story on a woman whose niece lives in Fresno. A woman, who traveled 16 hours by bus to come see the pope, came up to her and asked where they were from. Gonzalez had gone to school with the woman’s daughter.

Gonzalez and Aguirre stayed in a hotel a mile from one of the roads the pope traveled. On Wednesday, they claimed a spot along the route and spent hours reporting. At one point, Gonzalez couldn’t get access to any social media platforms because she lost her wi-fi signal. She quickly worked out a deal with a woman nearby whose phone battery had died. Gonzalez provided her phone with a charge and the woman allowed her to use her phone’s hot spot.

Gonzalez only got to see the pope for less than a minute as his car sped down the street.

She never dreamed she would cover an event this big. It wasn’t until days after the reporting that she let her personal feelings show.

“I am Catholic. But, you have to remind yourself that whatever faith you are, this is a world figure,” Gonzalez says. “It was exciting. That’s hard to deny.”

It was also a lot of hard work. She and Aguirre she spent 17 hours filing multiple reports for KMPH and local talk radio station KMJ on the day of the pope’s visit.

On the air

Two new shows will launch on Rewind 105.5 (KJZN, FM) during the first week of March.

“West Coast Wednesdays” will debut March 2, hosted by Fresno’s Aesop, who is the voice of Rewind. On March 4, “Femcee Fridays” will launch with MC JB (Juana Barnes), the founder of JJ Fad, the first female rap group to earn a Grammy nomination.

Aesop has toured for 20 years, including with the group Living Legends. MC JB has performed in dozens of old-school concerts in the past year around the country.

On the air: Part II

Sanger High School graduate Jill Simonian is on the KCBS news in Los Angeles as the host of a new segment called “The Fab Mom on 2,” which airs during the 5 p.m. Wednesday newscast.

Simonian will present parenting and lifestyle trends and discuss common parenting dilemmas. The goal of the segment is to inform, inspire and support parents.

This is the latest TV job for Simonian, who previously co-hosted “America’s Worst Driver” and has been an expert on anything that has to do with motherhood on the Hallmark Channel daytime show “Home and Family.”

You can watch a segment at http://cbsloc.al/1QlRbh3.

What’s cooking?

The casting for the eighth season of “MasterChef” begins Saturday, March 5. Open auditions will be held across the country in search of home cooks who enjoy preparing everything from delightful desserts and hefty main courses to fine French cuisine, great tasting burgers and more.

The closest place to try out is Los Angeles on April 30. Details about the event can be found at http://www.masterchefcasting.com. Your first step is preregistering at the website.

If you can’t make it to Los Angeles, home video may be submitted at http://www.masterchefcasting.com/videos.

Don’t foget that all applicants must be 18 years or older on or before Aug. 1.

Other news

Hear me, see me: Cocola Broadcasting is broadcasting radio station AM1680 The Answer (KGED-AM) on its analog TV Channel 13. The conservative talk radio station is owned by Compass Broadcasting.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1