by Amanda Stutevoss
photography by Liz Lucsko
It is 4 p.m., and Rob Fukuzaki has just pulled past the security gates into the KABC Channel 7 lot in Glendale. Fukuzaki steps out of his black Lexus SC430 sports car wearing a modest polo shirt, jeans and new blue Nike Shox shoes. His hands are full: a chicken Caesar salad from Koo Koo Roo in one hand and briefcase in the other. Fukuzaki waves his security key over the sensor at the front door. He breezes through the hectic newsroom and quickly finds his way to his desk. It is decorated with old copies of Sports Illustrated, and Tommy Lasorda, Bobby Grich and Elgin Baylor bobble heads. Without hesitation, he turns on his computer and begins his night as the weeknight sports anchor for the Eyewitness News.
Not bad for a modest kid from Hawaii. “I am extremely fortunate to be in the position I’m in and to have been able to experience things that I have,” he says humbly. And that’s putting it lightly. Not many University of La Verne graduates can say that they have stood beside Shaquille O’Neal, interviewed Michael Jordan or exchanged golf tips with Tiger Woods. But for Fukuzaki, it is just another day on the job—a job that uprooted him from his Hawaiian comfort zone and thrust him into the spotlight of the No. 2 news market in the nation. It is an adjustment that Fukuzaki admits took a toll on his sanity. “At the beginning, the stress was almost physically painful, but after you get your footing, and you are balanced, you know that you can actually do it,” he says.
Fukuzaki, the only child of parents Ann and Wil Fukuzaki, was born on the Fourth of July in Torrance, Calif., but was raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his family relocated when he was 3 years old. Fukuzaki, who claims he was a shy child, had a spark of interest in sports early in life. He admits, however, that his interest in sports was different from other children his age. “I was a weird kid,” Fukuzaki says. “I wasn’t the type of kid who would always go out and play sports with other kids. If there were a game on, I would be listening to it on the radio or watching it on television, or I would follow the stats of my favorite players in the newspaper. I was really influenced by sports early.”
Fukuzaki attended the small private Mid-Pacific Institute High School in Honolulu, and after several college recruiting meetings held at his school, he decided to stick with the small learning atmosphere. The University of La Verne fit the mold exactly. “I didn’t want to go to a big university,” he says. “You tend to get lost in the crowd.” Many factors went into his decision. He wanted a smaller school with a good broadcasting program, and he wanted a place where he could hone his talents as a baseball player. After carefully reviewing his options, Fukuzaki decided to leave Honolulu to attend ULV.
Pursuing a radio and television double major kept him busy. As a freshman, he was a member of the Leopard baseball team, playing shortstop. However, a shoulder injury from his senior year at Mid-Pacific kept him on the bench most of the season. In his sophomore year, he decided that his injury was preventing him from playing baseball to his full potential. He hung up his glove and took to the sidelines permanently. However, he never wanted to leave the field completely and decided to explore other venues in baseball. One venue he had in mind: the press box. “My injury was a blessing in disguise,” he recollects. The injury allowed him to take a seat in La Verne’s Ben Hines Field as an announcer for KULV.
Being the competitive person that he is, Fukuzaki made a point to make people at ULV notice his announcing talents. And like every other endeavor in his career, he was successful. His talents were awarded with the ULV Communications Department Broadcaster of the Year award in 1986, 1987 and 1988, a consecutive three-year record that he still holds today. “Rob just seemed from the very beginning to have a very natural talent,” says Mike Laponis, ULV professor of communications. “In my senior year, Mike Laponis once jokingly said to me, ‘You know, a lot of people will be happy that you are leaving.’ I have just always been driven; I guess that is what has helped me get to where I am now,” he laughs.
Like many students, Fukuzaki left La Verne and Southern California to return home after graduation, not knowing what the career world had in store for him. However, his experiences at ULV and the Communications Department gave him a one-up on the competition. Fukuzaki’s involvement in KULV, where he served as program director, provided training that would fair well in the world outside of ULV. “When I look back to my roots and my days at KULV,” he pauses, “those days were fun.”
Soon after arriving in Hawaii, Fukuzaki began looking for a job in the communications field. After sending demo tapes to various television and radio stations, he finally received one positive reply and started a job at the Top 40 radio station 92 KXPW as an on-air personality. Working odd hour shifts (midnight to 4 a.m. on Saturdays), he learned the ropes of radio quickly. It was through his experiences at KULV and KXPW that gave him a strong love and appreciation for radio, he says. “In radio you are a one-man band. It’s like you’re working, but it’s therapeutic at the same time.” Still, Fukuzaki knew that his true career love was television. He soon received word from KITV in Hawaii that there was an opening as a sports reporter and fill-in anchor. He took the job at KITV, an ABC affiliate, and also worked full time at 92 X.
It was the spring of 1994 when he first heard about an opening at KABC. An acquaintance from Hawaii called and told him about it. Although he was reluctant to send in tapes because of the fierce competition, he did, and it paid off. Nearly 300 applicants applied for the sportscasting position. After a nearly four month process of sending demo reels and specified newscast tapes, the 300 candidates were narrowed to five, which included Fukuzaki.
In August of 1994, KABC decided it wanted to fly him to Los Angeles for an interview. A nervous Fukuzaki accepted the invitation. He met with news director Cheryl Fair, an interview that he remembers only as a blur. “I don’t even know what I was saying,” he admits, laughing. “For all I knew, I was stumbling through the interview. I came away thinking that I blew it.” Fukuzaki did nothing of the sort. After another trip to Los Angeles, he was offered the job. “Right when they offered the job to me, I remember the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders, and I just said, ‘Wow,’ “ he recollects.
Despite the relief of finally receiving the job, he still felt the pressure build. Fukuzaki remembers the transition as difficult and overwhelming moving from a No. 70 market to the No. 2 market in the nation. “I wouldn’t recommend moving so fast. I went through two of the most stressful years of my life,” he admits. “But obviously you can’t turn it down if it is offered to you.”The transition of moving from Hawaii to living in Los Angeles was difficult for Fukuzaki. That, on top of the pressure of proving himself as a sportscaster, was challenging, not to mention the obvious: He is Asian in a competitive, predominately Caucasian profession.
The Many Men Inside the Man: The Japanese Sportscaster
He was born to second-generation Japanese parents. Coming from a Hawaiian culture, where there are many Asians on the air compared to the Los Angeles melting pot, was intimidating. “One of my concerns was that people would think that I was hired just because I am Asian,” he confesses. “I didn’t want people to think that I was the token Asian at the station who doesn’t know what he is talking about.” He is one of two Asian broadcasters on KABC, the other being weekday anchor David Ono. Fukuzaki was the first male Japanese-American television anchor ever in the city of Los Angeles; a fact that he admits is impressive. “I felt that even though I had obstacles to overcome, all I had to do was do what I know how to do, and eventually I would be fine. And that is how it turned out.”
Six years ago, Fukuzaki wanted to give back to his community of viewers the best way he knew how. His answer: The Rob Fukuzaki Foundation, a non-profit organization that has many different approaches to help at risk or disadvantaged youth. It serves as a program that mentors through sports internships, sports clinics, sports leagues and scholarship programs. “Supporting kids is the best part,” he says. “You can’t help everybody, but I think that if we can help even a few, we are doing our part.”Although Fukuzaki does not consider himself a celebrity, he does have some advantages in the sports world. Because of his public image, he is able to get pro-athletes to come and help him with the clinics.
And then there is his private life that is sometimes in the public spotlight. The handsome Fukuzaki was featured recently on the Oprah Winfrey Show as an eligible bachelor. While the show highlighted the 10 most eligible bachelors in television news, Fukuzaki swears his selection was a fluke. “I was one of the very few eligible bachelors at the station,” he explains, shaking his head in embarrassment. “I am sure they would have picked someone else.” However, Fukuzaki admits that he is not single by choice, like some men in the limelight. “I want to get married,” he says. “My grandmas are ready and waiting.”
With his ever-growing success, it is hard to imagine that Rob Fukuzaki would ever leave the television screen, even with the uncertainties of his profession. But one thing will remain constant in his life, and that is the stability and modesty that he has been able to keep amidst the lights of the Hollywood sign. “I am just enjoying what I do now and worrying about everything else later,” he says.