Family is everything to Birmingham broadcast personality Janice Rogers. And for the 36 years she’s been on air in the Magic City, her dedicated viewers feel like she’s a part of their family too.
Now the co-anchor and morning host at FOX 6 WBRC-TV is reaching out in a new way to help individuals who have suffered from the grief she’s sadly lived through with her close family members. Losing special people in her life has given Rogers a new way to connect with her larger community family.
Birmingham born and bred. Rogers is a rare breed in the broadcasting industry- a newscaster who has stayed in the same market throughout her career. A native of Jacksonville, Florida, she moved to the Birmingham area as a teenager, graduated from McAdory High School, and attended UAB; her family put down roots in the area and she never wanted to venture far from her parents, siblings, and extended family. Part of a blended family with five brothers and one sister, Rogers said that her family always felt like “The Brady Bunch.”
“My parents were each married before and had three children each, and then they married and I was born,” she said. “Growing up, we felt like such a traditional family, almost like a TV family. We were so close and happy, and I thought everyone had that kind of family.” When it came time to find her first job in broadcasting, Rogers vowed to stay close to home. “When I started working in television and thought about going somewhere else, I realized that I wanted to be able to get off work and be close to the people I love,” she said. “I was fortunate to get a job right out of school and had internships at Channel 6. I also had a paid internship at Channel 13 and before going back for my senior year I was asked to stay as a videotape editor. I was lucky enough to find a job quickly and stay close to family.”
She’s had opportunities to go to larger markets, but never seriously considered the offers. Rogers has hosted WBRC-6’s morning show, “Good Day Alabama” for 25 years and hosted the “DayBreak” show before that. Being up early with her viewers- sometimes being the first face they see in the morning- has given Rogers a special connection with them. She’s always been comfortable sharing her life on camera and, in return, has gained devoted followers. “I’ve always shared my life and I’ve always felt really close to the viewers,” she said. “When you do mornings for decades, you feel like you’re in living rooms and part of families. People can sometimes be critical, but the majority are so wonderful.” Knowing that local celebrities are “real” people is important, she stressed. She was on the phone with her co-anchors the day she went into labor with her son, Noah (now 22 years old), and viewers know about her struggles as well. “My husband has had very serious medical issues, and much of our audience knows that,” she said. “It’s important to know that people in the public eye don’t have perfect lives.”
Faith and Family. Rogers grew up in church and faith continues to be an important part of her daily life. “I was raised in church, but like everyone, my faith has ebbed and flowed,” she explained. “I’ve rededicated my life to Christ at different times. I’ve felt lost. I’ve questioned a lot. But ultimately, my faith has gotten me through so many hard times.” Rogers’ biggest challenges have been the losses of family members- especially the unexpected ones. She lost her mother and father, and then her sister-in-law five years ago in an unexpected manner when she died after knee surgery and a deadly infection. One year later, her brother Alvin, a U.S. Marine who fought in Vietnam and contracted cancer from Agent Orange, passed away from cancer after living an incredible life. But it was the loss of her best friend and brother Gene on March 1, 2021, that really changed the way she understood grief.
Rogers had just hung up from a phone conversation with her brother that day when her then 28-year-old niece (who is deaf) FaceTimed her frantically. She was signing in a panic and Rogers signed back to Rachel to show her Gene. “She took the phone and showed him to me. He was on his bed, not moving. I could tell he’d probably had a heart attack,” she remembered. “We called 911, and I jumped into my car to get to him.” By the time paramedics arrived Gene had died of a massive heart attack. The shock and grief that followed was almost unbearable. “Losing my mother was one of the most horrible things in my life, but I was able to walk through it because she was older and it wasn’t a sudden death,” she said. “Gene was my best friend. We talked three or four times a day. It was just unimaginable.” Rogers’ coping mechanism was becoming a caretaker for Rachel and jumping into action in other practical ways. By keeping busy she didn’t have time to deal with her grief.
When she was asked to do a television segment with a representative from the Community Grief Support organization, Rogers began to realize she needed to grieve properly. Her family was approaching the holidays at the time with dread, but Rogers instead learned to focus on the good things in her life. “My son said to me around that time, ‘Mom, I’m still here,’ and that really hit me,” she said. “I realized that I had people who needed me. I wasn’t working through my grief.” Rogers also leaned more heavily on her faith during those dark days. “I prayed, I fussed at God. I didn’t understand why he was taken, but I know that in time we’ll understand,” she remembered. “I have faith and I know we’ll see each other again someday.”
Growing through Grief. Today Rogers uses her experience to help others through her work with Community Grief Support, a Birmingham nonprofit that provides free counseling and mental health support services to bereaved adults (including people without insurance or insurance that doesn’t cover mental health services). The group, founded in 1996, helps people process grief after the loss of a spouse, child, friend, or family member.
Grief is different for everyone- some go into action mode, while others are paralyzed. Rogers said, though, that it’s important to talk to others as you’re going through the process. “Do talk to someone,” she said, “and if you don’t have someone to talk to personally, finding a counseling group is important. You need to be able to acknowledge your sadness to others and know that it’s okay and normal to feel that way.” Rogers was buoyed by the support of her colleagues and viewers when she lost her brother and other family members; in a way, it gave her a full circle experience, knowing that even total strangers could encourage her just as she’d tried to encourage them over her decades on the air. “I try to encourage people and be genuine,” she explained. “If I get one comment from someone who just lost a loved one or who has a sick child; if they say I helped them, it’s a huge blessing.”
-Cheryl Sloan Wray is a freelance writer from Hueytown and coordinator of the Southern Christian Writers Conference. Her latest book “Notes from a Quarantine: Essays, Stories, and Poems,” is available on Amazon.
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