CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Less than a month after being named anchor of WOIO Channel 19's 11 p.m. newscast, Chris Tanaka says he and co-anchor Tiffani Tucker are starting to settle into their new roles.
"I think we're still finding what works for the format, the time slot and what we want it to be," Tanaka said over coffee recently. "You never start something and have it be a finished product."
Tanaka and Tucker, who also team up on WOIO's newscasts at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. (on WUAB), were given the enviable but daunting task a few weeks ago of taking over for two longtime Cleveland favorites in Romona Robinson and Denise Dufala.
"Everyday," Tanaka said when asked if he ever feels the pressure of living up to the standard set by his two highly-respected predecessors. "Knowing that they had accomplished so much, knowing they're so well known and so well valued and trusted in the community."
Tanaka, however, said the first few weeks he's been paired with Tucker -- whom he calls his "work wife" -- have proven things are working.
"We're peas and carrots," Tanaka said of his co-anchor.
As far as how the newscasts are going: "I think we're moving at an accelerated pace and we're finding things about ourselves, what we like, what we don't like, what resonates, what doesn't." The key, he said, is to "make sure we develop not only a trust with the audience and the community, but a rapport too."
Tanaka, 41, arrived in Cleveland last August after five years as a reporter and anchor in Honolulu. That's not a misprint. He left Hawaii -- where news anchors actually wear aloha shirts on the air sometimes -- to come here.
"Obviously we moved here for the great weather," Tanaka said, jokingly, on what happened to be a balmy February day. "It was a great opportunity not only at Cleveland 19, but also to reconnect with family."
Tanaka, who is half Japanese, was born in Taipei, Taiwan and lived in Amman, Jordan until he was seven. His father, though, was born and raised in Lakewood.
"It's a profound move back to my father's roots if not my own personal ones," Tanaka said. "And then to join an organization that is in a growth, expansion, attack mode. It's great to be a part of."
Tanaka remembers visiting relatives in Medina and Brook Park as a youngster, but hadn't been back since 2008, when he covered a Browns game against the Broncos working for a station in Denver.
"It was two different places," Tanaka said, comparing the Cleveland of today with the version that had stuck in his memory. "I really think this is a city on the comeback.
"It's awesome, there's a lot of energy here."
That's not to say he doesn't miss Hawaii sometimes.
"There's strong cultural roots there to a sovereign empire and, depending where you are, you can feel very connected to the United States or that you're in a different country," he said. "So, besides enjoying that diversity and learning about a new culture, it was great for all the reasons you'd expect: the aloha shirts, the beaches on the weekend, the great cuisine, the wonderful people and the aloha spirit."
Cleveland, he says, is home now. His wife and two sons, ages 4 and 1, have set up residence in Lakewood, just a few blocks where his father grew up.
"Out of all the places I've lived, it's right up there," Tanaka said. "It's got so much going for it."
While Tanaka's short-term goals include exploring Cleveland more with his family and getting out on the golf course with WOIO meteorologists Jason Nicholas and Jeff Tanchak, his long-term one is more ambitious.
"To make us No. 1 in the market," he said.
It's a goal Tanaka says he and everyone at WOIO knows is not going to come overnight.
"Television viewership is a lot like steering a battleship," he said. "You make a move now and then three nautical miles down the ocean you see a turn."
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