Welcome to another edition of “People Pulse.” Always hoping to bring you interesting folks doing even more interesting things in the Orlando and Central Florida area, we present Karla Ray. She’s pretty awesome, if I do say so. More than awesome, actually. Karla’s a great voice in our community (more on that later) and an all-around cool lady. In full disclosure, I’ve known Karla personally for about five years (or more?), and wanted to help share a little more of her with folks who don’t know her. So huge thanks to her for playing and here we go….
Q. First off, what brought you to Orlando, and how long have you lived here?
A. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) and I moved to Orlando almost seven years ago, in the fall of 2012. We were living in Fort Myers and both working in TV news, and had the rare opportunity to both move for positions at the top-rated news station in a much bigger market. I started as a morning reporter, getting up at 3am to be on the air by 5 and he worked as a web producer for a few months before moving into show producing. I did NOT expect to be here this long, as people in our business live contract-to-contract, but we absolutely fell in love with Orlando and Central Florida as a whole. When we first moved to town, we rented a 17th floor condo overlooking Lake Eola – what’s not to love about that? After a year, we became homeowners in Mills 50, and we hope to be there for a long time.
Q. What’s one of your favorite things about living in Central Florida?
A. I love how even for a large TV market, living here still feels like a relatively small town. I think the way each neighborhood has its own identity, particularly near downtown, lends itself to that hometown feeling. I have a record shop and Thai food on the other side of my fence, a winery and brewery around the corner, and art and science museums just a short bike ride away via the Orlando Urban Trail. If you’re bored here or only think of the theme parks when someone asks you for things to do, you’re doing it wrong.
Q. For those who aren’t yet familiar, you have extensive experience in the news community here in Orlando and are currently one of the faces of WFTV as an anchor. What originally sparked your passion for the news industry, and how did you get to where you are?
A. One of my earliest memories was writing ‘books’ for my parents at around age 4. I still have journals from 4th grade and up (which are embarrassing and hilarious!). I have always been a writer and a bit of a loudmouth, so I knew I wanted to go into a field that allowed me to tell stories in some way. I thought that would be as a print reporter, but I failed miserably when given a shot as a writer at my college newspaper at the University of South Dakota. I couldn’t nail the writing style, and clashed with my print professor. I was encouraged by a sorority sister to try out as an anchor for the college newscast, KYOT News, not thinking I would be any good at it, but found broadcast to be my niche.
The road to the anchor desk at Channel 9 was a long one. I filled in as an anchor for more than a decade in various markets before getting the shot here. An internship at KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, South Dakota led to my first on-air job, as a part-time weekend reporter during my senior year of college. When I graduated, KELO hired me on full-time to run the Rapid City bureau, covering 19 counties as a ‘one woman band,’ meaning I shot all my own video, edited my own stories, and ran my own live shots, even in blizzards. A competitor-turned-friend I met in Rapid City moved to Fort Myers for a job at WBBH in 2010, and helped me get hired at the same shop a few months later. That’s where I met my husband, who was a producer at that station, and where I made the move into investigative reporting.
After 2.5 years in Southwest Florida, we made the move to WFTV. I am proud to be one of the members of the 9 Investigates team, working on quick-turn and longer-form investigative pieces that matter to our community. In January, I took over the weekend morning anchor duties, meaning I am up at 3am every Saturday and Sunday morning and couldn’t be happier. I am very grateful to be at such a well-established station as one of the people trusted to bring you the news every weekend.
Q. “I am not here to just sit at a desk. I am here to force change in the communities in which I work.” This statement is bold and upfront on your personal website (and I love it!). How do you feel you’ve forced change in the Central Florida community.
A. It is an awesome responsibility to hold the title of an investigative reporter. People call and email us daily for help navigating the systems that are not made to be user-friendly. With the help of brave whistleblowers in our community, we’ve had the opportunity to create big impacts through reporting…including exposing deplorable conditions at a local elementary school that led to it being torn down and replaced years before it was originally scheduled, creating a safer environment for underserved students. We’ve done extensive reporting on inmate deaths in our local jails, giving a mother answers about her son’s last moments and uncovering major neglect by the people who were supposed to be watching him. We also exposed misconduct by a local police chief, prompting his resignation and a state investigation into his actions. These are some of the ‘big’ stories that have forced change in our community and made it a better place.
Not every story makes a big splash. I feel a lot of what we do is simply a community service, making calls for people who can’t get the doors to open on their own. For example, we’ve helped two families get access to their loved ones’ remains after red tape held up the process, allowing them to grieve and say goodbye. In one of those cases, the man’s niece sent me the nicest note, saying “Your team makes an inquiry, and poof, magic happens!” That feels really good.
Q. Speaking of community, it’s one word I immediately think of when I think of Orlando. What does community mean to you as it relates to this great City of ours?
A. I think our community was really defined in the days and weeks after our darkest moment. Covering Pulse and being so close to the scene for the first week, I was able to see Orlando United grow from the ground up. On the first full day of reporting, people were already out showing support with signs at the scene, wrapping lines around the block to give blood…then days later organizing vigils, making t-shirts and painting murals, and packing the lawn at the Dr. Phillips Center. I’ll never forget seeing that crowd of people.
Beyond that, I love how creatives are driving community involvement through fun classes and meetups. I recently attended a My Enlighten Class at the Evening Exchange at East End Market, and even though I wasn’t very good at the craft (macrame), it was a great way to meet new people and do something different. My dogs (Murrow and Emmy) have custom-made Freehand Goods collars because of one of these classes!
The way Orlando rallies behind its sports teams is pretty awesome, too, especially with the wave UCF Football has been riding the last few years! Combine that with the fanbases of Orlando City and the Pride, and old-school love for the Orlando Magic and Orlando Solar Bears — there’s always someone to cheer for.
I also love how Orlandoans give back! There are all kinds of volunteer opportunities and community outreach events that show we are so much more than Mickey Mouse.
Q. So much has changed in Orlando over the past five years. What has been something you’re most surprised about?
A. The growth of Orlando’s downtown, both in terms of physical buildings and also things to do, has been interesting to watch. When I first moved here, my impression was that downtown was only for the partiers, but now it’s a place for the arts, a growing food scene, festivals and sports, and most recently, students at Valencia/UCF’s downtown campus.
I like that both sides of I-4 are seeing investments, but I hope that the development happening in Parramore and near Camping World Stadium does not negatively impact people who have lived there for years by driving up the cost of living. I think it’s incumbent upon decision-makers to keep these long-term residents in mind when moving forward with strategic improvements and development.
Q. What are some of your “best kept” secrets for things to do in Orlando and the Central Florida area?
A. Is anything really a secret anymore? Aside from my hood (Mills 50/Ivanhoe) – I love taking day trips to some of the towns on the outskirts of Orlando. Sanford is one of my favorites because of its quirky downtown shops and growing brewery scene, and Lake Monroe is just gorgeous. I think Sanford is underrated when it comes to its potential!
Also, this is a little out of the way, but there is a great golf resort hidden in Polk County where my bff from Tampa and I like to meet halfway. It’s pure bliss, middle of nowhere, my kind of place. I can’t tell you its name because that would spoil the secret 😉 but a quick search online will probably give it away.
Q. What’s one thing you’re always sure to do or share when someone’s visiting from out of town?
A. As cliché as this sounds, Lake Eola is a must! It’s great people and swan watching, bonus points if there is a festival happening or the Sunday Orlando Farmer’s Market.
Q. OK – one of my favorite questions: What are your go-to and just-can’t-live-without food places in town?
A. This is my favorite topic, because I think Orlando’s food scene is growing and living in Mills 50, I get to be surrounded by great options at all times! Whenever people are here from out of town, I take them to one of the following:
- Old School Breakfast: White Wolf Cafe
- Brunch: Santiago’s Bodega, Outpost, Hammered Lamb or Se7en Bites
- Lunch: Pig Floyds, Too Much Sauce, or East End Market
- Dinner: Hawkers, Prato
- Late night: Gringos Locos, Tako Cheena
- Food truck: I stalk Sushi & Seoul. Seriously.
Q. What are some of your favorite places in Orlando to be inspired, or just to be motivated?
A. I try to spend some time outside every day on the portion of the Urban Trail near Lake Highland, which I LOVE because it overlooks the skyline. If you get there early enough for the sunrise (or late enough for the sunset) it makes the prettiest reflection. If I’m having a rough day at work, I’ll grab an iced coffee and take a quick drive through the Delaney Park neighborhood. I love the houses over there and the view of downtown from Lake Cherokee. I also go to Pet Alliance once a week to see the dogs and cats available for adoption, featuring them on my instagram on #FureverFriday- and it is a huge mood booster for me! You can’t help but smile when you see a pound puppy.
Q. What is one thing you personally hope to achieve during the remainder of 2019 and on into 2020?
A. Does being content count as a goal? I have been trying to train myself to be happy in the present, and at peace with what I have. My husband and I lived apart for two years, just reuniting in April, and when I look back on where we were a year ago and what we wanted then, I’m in awe to say we have it all now. I am really grateful for that.