Courtney Dempsey ’97 (Communication Studies) says she was shy as a child, something that would surprise the many Sacramento-area residents who have tuned in every morning for more than two decades to watch her anchor Good Day Sacramento.
She always envisioned a career in print journalism. It wasn’t until, while a Sacramento State student, she landed an internship at local radio station KSFM and witnessed the rapport between the hosts that she began to consider broadcast.
“Their chemistry and the way that they worked with each other, they were having fun at work to the point where I was thinking, ‘Really? We get paid to do this?’ ” Dempsey says. “I poked my head into broadcasting a little bit more and realized that I actually do like to talk, I actually do like to tell stories, and I think I’d be OK with this.”
Things have turned out more than OK for Dempsey. More than 20 years after she walked off the Sacramento State campus with her degree and onto the Good Day set as a production assistant, she has become a morning staple in the Sacramento region, leading a unique, homespun and community-grounded broadcast that is watched by nearly 30,000 people each morning.
“The connection that we have with the community, especially when people come up to us and see us in the store, especially if they like the show, it gives you a sense of purpose, that what we do is bigger than the title,” she says. “We’re actually providing a service and we take it seriously.”
A native of Vallejo, the culture shock of moving from the Bay Area to Sacramento was tempered in her first year on campus, where she had the “best experience in the world” living in the dorms and building friendships that continue today. In the classroom, she said, professors such as communication studies’ Chevelle Newsome challenged her academically and instilled in her the responsibility that comes with being a journalist.
“Courtney was an engaged and inquisitive student here at Sac State, whose brilliance and energy always filled the classroom,” says Newsome, now the dean of graduate studies and interim dean of undergraduate studies. “Her career exemplifies the importance of a college education that includes opportunities to put theory into practice, and a learner who understands what they can achieve through hard work, passion and leadership.”
The University’s location in the middle of a top-20 media market provided ample opportunity for gaining professional experience while a student, Dempsey says. That proved invaluable as she began her career.
“There are so many opportunities to see what the world of journalism is about through internships, which I think are the absolute most important thing for a college student to do,” Dempsey says. “It helped catapult me into what I decided I wanted to do.”
A few months after Dempsey completed her internship at KSFM, one of the hosts she worked with offered her a part-time job operating the traffic ticker at a new program called, The Morning Show, which eventually became Good Day Sacramento. She held that job during her last two years at Sacramento State before being promoted to full time following graduation.
Other than a brief stint at a local radio station, Dempsey has been with Good Day ever since, staying with the program and bucking an industry trend that sees anchors and reporters move every couple of years in an often endless effort to secure a job in a bigger market.
“Because I felt connected to the show from the ground up, I always wanted to grow with the show,” she says. “Good Day is different than any other show in this state. You make personal connections with people in the area that you don’t necessarily get in other parts of the country. Why would I go somewhere else that doesn’t feel like home just to say I went to L.A., Chicago or New York? I’d rather be someplace where I feel connected.”
Dempsey’s connection to the community goes beyond the stories she tells and the people she meets while working. She has remained active in her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, serving eight years as the Sac State chapter’s undergraduate advisor. She volunteers with Jack and Jill, an organization that works to empower African-American children and encourage them to be involved in civic life and community service. And she’s an active member of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Sacramento’s Del Paso Heights neighborhood.
Because she holds such a visible and active position in the Sacramento community, she is also mindful of the role she plays in the lives of young African-American women and girls, for whom she may be one of the people they see regularly on television who looks like them.
“It’s terrifying because it’s a lot of pressure, but I learned at Sac State to whom much is given much is required,” Dempsey says. “Even though it’s a huge responsibility, I don’t consider it a weight. I consider it an anchor to ground me in this experience.”