Bay Area Homecoming: New Nikkei KPIX anchor feels at home in the Bay Area


Ryan Yamamoto. courtesy of KPIX 5

Ryan Yamamoto. courtesy of KPIX 5

After more than two decades since leaving the San Francisco Bay Area, Ryan Yamamoto comes home to serve as KPIX 5’s new evening news anchor as of Jan. 6. The Sansei journalist, born and raised in the East Bay and an alumni of Pinole Valley High School and San Francisco State University, comes home to the CBS affiliate touting an impressive resume that’s taken him all over the country.

Yamamoto recalled his childhood growing up in the East Bay and said coming back to work in the Bay Area made him feel comfortable. For one, coming from his job as morning news anchor at KOMO in Seattle, the Bay Area native and Raiders fan said he no longer has to fake being a Seahawks fan. Professionally, being familiar with the Bay Area helps him jump right into his job in ways anchors from out of town might not.

“Throughout most of my career, you go to places where you’re the new guy in town, … I don’t know the areas,” he told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “I mean, just little things like: last night there was a car wreck on the Carquinez Bridge, and right away I knew to ask: I said ‘which span was it? Is it the westbound or the eastbound, because I know there are two spans.’ Someone new here would just assume it’s just the Carquinez Bridge, right? And it’s little nuances like that, that you feel more comfortable talking about.”

Yamamoto graduated from San Franisco State in 1994, he got his start in TV news reporting at the university’s Newsline 49 class, as well as internships at KRON and KGO. Initially aiming to go into sportscasting, Yamamoto recalled interning for Gary Radnich and his crew, including Vern Glenn and Dennis O’Donnell, at KRON, but he also went out on assignment during the weekdays with reporters, notably with Vic Lee.

He was aware that Asian Americans, especially Asian American men, are rarer on TV news. He felt his new position as a full-time male Asian American weekday anchor was owed to those who came before him, like Lee and other reporters in the Bay Area such as David Louie, Lloyd LaCuesta, Robert Handa and John Sasaki. They, along with anchors such as Raj Mathai and Wendy Tokuda, and even David Ono in Los Angels, have shown the industry an Asian can do the job.

Taking on the mantle of anchor, Yamamoto said he knew of the pressure on him to succeed.

“I am very well aware that people are watching me for that, and I know a lot of people are proud to see it, but it forces me to stay on my game because it holds me accountable — because I can’t mess this up for the next guy — and it’s also just very humbling,” he said. “I’ve had these random Yamamotos hit me up on IG, like ‘you’re the first Yamamoto I’ve ever seen on television.’ It’s really sweet.”

Mostly, however, Yamamoto said he was trying not to think about the pressure.

“I just want to go there and do the job, because there’s the other side, because there’s gonna be a lot of people who say I only got the job because I’m Asian American, I was a POC hire. Right? And I’m already hearing that too,” he said.

While Asian American TV news reporters are few and far between, especially outside of the West Coast, Yamamoto said he found pockets of Asian Americans wherever he went on the job, sometimes in the most unlikely ways. While he was the only Asian at the stations he worked in Columbia, Mo. and Pocatello, Idaho, Yamamoto said he was surprised to meet with the Japanese American community in southeastern Idaho.

“So I’ve been there for about a month, I get this phone call. ‘Hi, we’re the local chapter of the JACL (Japanese American Citizens League),’ and I thought it was a joke. I was like, ‘in Idaho? There’s JACL?’ And I completely forgot, I forgot there was Minidoka just down the road,” he said.

Yamamoto seemed to have a knack for finding interesting people and places. Aside from meeting with Pocatello’s Japanese American community, his work in Seattle took him to Ontario, Ore., where he did a story on a community of Japanese Americans who moved to the small farming community to escape the wartime incarceration.

“I said, ‘Hey, I need to go to eastern Oregon and do this story on this little town,’ and they’re like ‘huh, why?’ And so the only way I could pitch it, I said it was ‘the first sanctuary city, but it was a sanctuary city for Japanese Americans.’ And that was kind of the keyword back then for immigrants. And they were like, ‘Yeah! go!’” Yamamoto said.

One of Yamamoto’s proudest achievements was creating “Arnold Knows Me – The Tommy Kono Story,” a documentary on Tommy Kono, a two-time gold medalist weight lifter. Yamamoto first met Kono at the Tommy Kono Classic in Sacramento while working at KXTV in Sacramento. He had initially gone to the high school weightlifting competition as a favor for the coach, but his chance meeting with Kono left an impression on him.

“It bothered me for years. Like I just kept thinking about it, like somebody needs to do something about this guy. Why is nobody doing anything about this? And then it was my wife that says, ‘you should go do something about it.’ And, this is like five, six years later,” Yamamoto said.

Yamamoto edited together the 30-minute documentary in 2016, just before Kono passed away in April that year. While Kono was unable to watch the completed documentary, Yamamoto said he was proud to have been able to tell people about his life. He felt his documentary helped prompt the California Museum to do an online exhibit on him, as well as the Google Doodle published on Kono’s birthday last year.

“I was like blown away. I was so happy about that. Like that is the coolest, I made it to Google. You know, I got his name out,” he said. “If I do one thing in my career, if I can do one story in my career and walk away, that was it.”

Yamamoto initially wanted to go into sportscasting, setting his sights on working for ESPN. As KXTV’s sports anchor, he was able to cover the San Francisco Giants during their three World Series wins as well as the 2013 New Orleans Superbowl with the San Francisco 49ers.

He thought he would spend the rest of his career in Sacramento, where he had worked since 1998, save for a year and a half when he moved down to San Diego to work at KSWB, but a chance opening in the weekend news anchor position at the studio opened doors for him.

“At first I was like, ‘Absolutely not. I don’t want to go back to news,’” he said.

After talking about the opportunity with his wife, also a TV news reporter, and others, however, he thought the new position could “re-jumpstart” his career and he was right. As his contract finished, Yamamoto found himself interviewing with several stations and he landed a job as morning anchor for KOMO in Seattle. Yamamoto left for the Pacific Northwest just days after finishing editing the Kono documentary for PBS. He stayed in Seattle for six years, where his crew won multiple Emmys for their show. Yamamoto said the work in Seattle was not easy, (he was in bed by 6 p.m. and up at 2 a.m. to be on air at 4:30 a.m. every day), but he was not sure he wanted to leave the job.

“It was a really good team. Like everyone really got along, it was a very well-oiled machine, that show,” he said. “I’ll tell you, before I got the job here, I was almost hesitant to leave up there because, as you get older, you go through this business, you begin to realize, getting along with your co-workers, having chemistry, having no drama in your life at work, is really important. Especially nowadays, as we talk more about mental health and COVID and everyone’s kind of stuck, it’s really important to have this really tight circle around you. If you can create that at work, that’s even better. And so, when when I started getting offers in San Francisco at KPIX, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I wanna leave this.’ Like, this is good.”

Coming home to the Bay Area, however, was too good to pass up and Yamamoto is now striving to settle in to his new job. Thankfully, he feels the station management and his coworkers have been supportive as he works to find his voice.

“I don’t have that prototypical voice, that deep baritone anchor voice and I know that, so that’s a little bit different,” he said. “I am older than I look, but I look young. I know I look young on television. So they’re probably like, ‘Who’s this kid that’s trying to tell me about these murders in Oakland?’ So I’m slowly just kind of gaining my stride,” he said. “We’ll see how this ride goes, but I’m planning on being here for a while, so it’s like, ‘hope people get used to me.’”

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