You may have never heard of her, but you certainly have been affected by the legacy she built. This week, local television pioneer, Dorothy Bullitt’s beloved KING 5 turns 70. In celebration of her magnificent legacy, the station is featuring its history in their daily broadcasts and in specials airing locally and nationally. I’ve grown up with KING 5, an NBC affiliate. I knew it was a first class station that supported local principles. This is why I am featuring Dorothy. She did it her way, with determination and class.
Bullitt Foundation, Stimson Green Mansion on First Hill, Seattle, now and then
Besides Dorothy’s vision and courage, her foundation continues to contribute much to the betterment of the Pacific Northwest, especially focused on environmental, children, and peace projects (her mother, a leading socialite, is credited with starting local Children’s Orthopedic Hospital).
At the age of forty, during the Great Depression, Dorothy suffered the loss of her husband (a politically ambitious attorney and democrat), her father and her brother, and was left to raise three kids and manage the family fortune having never gone to college or having never held a job. This set her course when handed the family’s real estate holdings. She was the daughter of lumber magnate, C.D. Stimson who had bequeathed many Seattle properties to her that she made profitable. “It was a time when there was no place to go but up,” she said decades later.”
A dozen years later she turned her attention and resources to broadcasting, after meticulous research and an ability to summon the right people at the right time, and turned an unprofitable radio venture into a critically acclaimed success. Dorothy was the first woman in the United States to buy and manage a television station.
Well into her 50’s, Dorothy took the riskiest, and ultimately most profitable step in her career, when she brought television to Seattle, in 1948. Over the years, King Broadcasting Co. has won virtually every prize in broadcast journalism. Watching the daily snippets of KING 5’s impact on our community, showed how it also impacted all of television news, nationally and globally. It certainly has affected my entire life, in one way or another. And having a news outlet that is at least on the side of the local audience demand for free journalism, gives hope.
On Thanksgiving Day, 1948, KING 5 broadcast its first program, a football game between West Seattle and Wenatchee high schools. There were less than 6000 TV sets in the entire area, the picture was grainy, but the KING 5 founder was excited about the possibilities. It became the 11th television station in the nation. In 1971, Jean Enersen became the nation’s first female evening news anchor. The ratings took off and Enersen became the Queen of KING and a continued voice for Dorothy’s principles. Jean retired a couple of years ago after 45 years and is still a sought after spokeswoman for many local activities.
One of my favorite Dorothy stories is how she kept her board of directors in line at one budget meeting, when she quipped ‘Money? We’ve got lots of money. I just want to do good work.’ And that filtered down to everybody in the department. As lucrative as the television business was becoming, Bullitt believed the station was there to provide public service and encourage civic discourse. Bravo, Dorothy!
As a northwest pioneer, Dorothy carried the spirit we’ve always lived by. As a progressive, she made our region better by her vision and courage. Her legacy lives on by way of the principles she instilled in all she did.
Take a look at the link to learn more.