Spence Kinard always figured he'd make his mark behind a camera, not in front of one. He was wrong.
As spokesperson for the world's most famous choir, as a local and national broadcast journalist, and now as pitchman for Utah tourism, he's carved a niche in media circles deeper than any of the wonderful Utah canyons he promotes.
But if it hadn't been for an intuitive college professor, the world might have never known the warm and familiar voice of comfort that has touched millions of listeners and viewers from the heart of Salt Lake City.
Whether as narrator, commentator, news anchor or simply spokesperson, Spence Kinard has been a Utah media icon for more than four decades. And through each of those decades, he's helped promote what he loves the most -- Utah, its beauties, and its culture.
Yet that was never the plan for Kinard, born in Long Beach, Calif., the son of a Navy career officer and his wife. As a child, he spent the first seven years of his life in various parts of the country, including time in Washington, D.C.
"My mother was from Utah, and so after the war, she convinced my father to move back here," he recalls from his office at Council Hall, located across the street from the Utah State Capitol. His family settled in the Davis County community of Layton, where he attended schools, graduating from Kaysville's Davis High School in 1959. While in junior high school, he developed a love for photography, taking photos for the school yearbook. One of those students he photographed was Lynette Layton, a member of the student council. They struck up a friendship that lasted through his high school graduation. During his first year in college at the University of Utah, their paths crossed again when he contracted to do the photography for the Davis High yearbook. Lynette, then a senior at Davis High, was on staff. They dated for one year before he left for a 30-month LDS Church mission to the Samoan Islands.
"I hoped she'd still be available when I returned," he remembers. "Fortunately, she survived BYU without getting married, and we began dating again when I got home." Kinard picked right up where he left off with both Lynette and photography. They married in 1963.
"Professionally, I planned to be a photojournalist," he says. "I was a photographer while in high school for both Salt Lake City dailies, and when I got home from Samoa, I decided to enroll for a semester at Weber State, admittedly to get my grade point average back up." He also worked as a part-time photographer for the Ogden Standard-Examiner that semester.
It was at Weber State that one of his instructors, Leonard Rowley, pulled him aside one afternoon. "He asked me, 'What are you going to do with your life?' I told him I was planning to be a photojournalist, and he said, 'You ought to consider broadcasting. You have some skill and aptitude and a voice that would serve you well in that field.' It was that little suggestion that changed my life."
He returned to the University of Utah the next fall, saw a small ad in the student newspaper inviting those interested in broadcasting to a brown bag lunch, and met Professor Dr. Rex Campbell. Kinard read for him, was immediately hired by Campbell for an on-air job on KUER, had his first commercial radio job six months later, then was hired by KSL later that year.
In March 1964, he moved to KSL-TV. "My background was in pictures (through photography) and in words (through radio), and words plus pictures equaled TV," he recalls. After four years with KSL, he earned a fellowship at Columbia University in New York with the CBS radio network. KSL gave him a leave of absence, he and Lynette and their small family moved to New York City, and he had a great professional and educational experience at Columbia. When the fellowship ended, CBS offered him a job, and he stayed in New York (much to KSL's chagrin) for three more years.
But by 1968, as the Kinard children were growing and the oldest ones ready to enter the school system while living in downtown Manhattan, the desire to return to Utah grew.
"We loved New York but didn't want to raise our children in the inner city," says Kinard. "At that time, Ted Capener, who was news director at KSL at the time, invited me back." He returned to KSL as a reporter, including covering activities of the LDS Church. That brought him in contact with Richard L. Evans, a church leader who was also spokesperson for the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir. During 1971, Kinard and Evans' paths crossed frequently, during tours the choir took, or performances. Little did Kinard realize that on November 1 of that year, his final contact with Elder Evans would be covering Evans' funeral.
"For the next few weeks following Elder Evans' death, I made a serious effort to try to find out who the Church was going to replace him with," he says. "I wanted the story, the scoop. It was a broadcasting story, and I felt KSL should have it first." The following January, Gordon B. Hinckley, then a Church apostle (and now its President), asked Kinard to audition for the role himself. He recorded two messages in the Tabernacle on Temple Square that he'd written for the Spoken Word portion of the nationwide Sunday broadcast of choir performances. A committee of church leaders then listened to the tapes of 12 men who had auditioned, and Spence Kinard was selected.
"President Harold B. Lee later told me that everyone on the committee was asked to write down the name of the individual they thought was the right person for the role," Kinard relates. "He said there was only one name on everyone's list -- mine. I was humbled by that and felt there was some divine influence telling me that that was what I was supposed to do." His first broadcast with the choir for "Music and the Spoken Word" was on Feb. 27, 1972. He still has a kinescope recording of that broadcast which Bonneville Corporation is making into a DVD as part of the 75th anniversary celebration of the choir's broadcasts.
Two months after starting that assignment, Kinard was named news director for KSL-TV. For five years he toiled at both jobs, managing news operations for one of the nation's strongest and most respected local affiliates ("my paying job"), and writing and delivering, as a volunteer assignment, weekly messages to accompany the choir broadcasts that aired nationwide on the CBS radio network and on about two dozen television stations across the country. Eventually, the duties of writing those messages were spread to five other writers, but Kinard put his finishing touches on each weekly message, still writing many of them himself. He continued in that role, along with the news director position, until October 1990.
"Those were great years working with the choir and with KSL," he recalls. The choir involvement included trips to almost every continent, and as news director, he continued to strengthen his strong ties with CBS and the national news media. Nowhere was that more clear than in 1983, the year of the great floods in Utah. Largely through Kinard's affiliations in New York City, the volunteerism of Utah citizens in building the river of sandbags through the streets of Salt Lake City received huge national coverage. By telling the story of the floods, he was helping networks tell the stories of the people of Utah, their resourcefulness, and their dedication to helping one another.
After leaving KSL, working in marketing for two years and spending another as assistant general manager of KJZZ-TV, the next great chapter in Kinard's life came in 1994. He'd gotten to know Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt while helping develop a public affairs program for Leavitt at KJZZ-TV. When word arrived on Capitol Hill that Kinard's position at KJZZ had been eliminated, Leavitt asked him to come to work for the State of Utah.
"I was originally part of the state's Centennial Passport program, which encouraged travel to all 29 counties," he says. "I worked on the state's sesquicentennial committee, and then of course the Olympics of 2002 were coming. One thing continued leading to another, and I wound up where I am today."
That's as assistant director for the Utah Division of Travel Development, more commonly known as the Utah Travel Council. Kinard focuses on in-state programs for the council -- publications, travel guides, calendars, maps, media relations, and the welcome and call centers the council uses for tourists, or potential tourists. He was instrumental in creating the Utah Media Center for the 2002 Games, the first time non-accredited press had a media center of their own for an Olympic Games. The center was warmly received and heartily praised by writers from across the world that came to Salt Lake City two winters ago. He still smiles when reflecting on the memories of those 17 days in 2002, when everyone had their eyes on Utah.
"I think probably the lasting impression of the people who were here for the Olympics, in addition to the beauty of our mountains and canyons, was the kindness and helpfulness of the people and volunteers," he says. "It made all the difference in the world. Our challenge is to try to communicate that to those who weren't here, so they'll say, I would like to go to Utah, because it's a fun, friendly place to go."
To that end, Kinard is hopeful that SB208, which was introduced at this year's Utah Legislature, would be approved. It never made it out of committee in the House for debate or vote, so a similar measure will undoubtedly be considered next year. The measure would have put a small increase on the hotel tax and restaurant tax of the state, with that revenue being earmarked for advertising for Utah tourism across the nation. "The best thing we can do is to advertise and promote the things that Utah has to offer, which are terrific. We are an icon of clean, better living."
The Kinards still live in the Fruit Heights neighborhood where their five children were raised (and all attended Davis High as well). His writings as part of Music and the Spoken Word have been published in several books, including "Messages from Music and the Spoken Word," published in 2003 in conjunction with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's 75th anniversary of broadcasting. He is just one of three men (Evans and Lloyd D. Newell being the other two) who've served as regular announcers for the longest running continuous network program in history. Each of them has messages of their own in the book.
Today, just as he did when his career in the public eye began as a photographer in the 1960s, Spence Kinard offers his snapshot of Utah, its people and its culture to all those whom he reaches. He prefers not to think of himself as an icon at all, rather simply as the communicator of a message millions have cherished.
"There is a strong familiarity to something they love -- whether it be the choir, the Mountain West, the Church, but certainly not me," he says. "Those words that Richard Evans wrote that we've quoted so many times, 'Within the shadows of the everlasting hills...,' portray that feeling that yes, we're at home here. It's been terrific, because I've had the opportunity to be a messenger of those memories, those feelings of good things."
And he still is, sharing that message from the Crossroads of the West.