Sheila Murphy is back in the news business, and it beats vacuum cleaning.
"I'm 59 years old and I can't sleep at night," said Murphy, a pioneering female news anchor at Channel 2 during the mid-1970s and early '80s. "I get up at the 3 in the morning and start vacuuming the rug. I figure if I get up this early, I've got to do something better. Why not radio?"
After about 20 years away from a microphone, Murphy recently returned to her radio roots and began anchoring morning weekend news reports on WBEN-AM 930. In a local radio commercial-news universe dominated by slave wages, inexperience and lack of savvy, Murphy is the exception to the rule.
She knows Western New York and she understands the concepts of news and journalism.
"No matter how old you are, you don't forget those values," Murphy said. "Some kids in this business have no idea what news is all about. You can also say the same thing about people who have been in this business for 20 years.
"But some people are just born with a sense of news and they are dedicated to it. You see it in kids and you see it in people who have been around a long time."
What is Murphy's sense of news?
"I'm a nosey person, I always have been," she said. "I think being nosey is a fundamental trait for all reporters."
Murphy, who grew up in Kenmore, began her career at the old WYSL and then moved to WGR radio in the early '70s. Her television break came in the mid '70s, when Susan King, an anchor at the station, left for Washington, D.C. Murphy stayed at Channel 2 for almost eight years.
"I learned so much in television," she said. "It's different than radio but not necessarily better. It's a visual medium, so you have more visibility. People feel like they know you, and they don't forget you."
That has been evident by the response of listeners to WBEN. Murphy has been receiving phone calls for the past few weeks from old fans.
"They keep telling me they're glad I'm back on the air," she said. "They talk about Channel 2, and that was 20 years ago. People think I've been doing news somewhere all that time, but I haven't."
Murphy left Channel 2 to work for then Gov. Mario Cuomo and New York State. She spent nearly a decade in state government before leaving about 10 years ago, after the deaths of her parents. "I was very close to them, and after they died, I just needed some time for myself," she said.
During the past decade, Murphy dedicated herself to charity work, including doing public relations for "Gilda's Club," to help those afflicted with cancer. Earlier this year, Murphy was at a Gilda's Club event, where Tim Wenger, program director at WBEN, appeared.
"I've lived here all my life and when I saw Sheila I just remembered what a great job she did at Channel 2; everybody remembers her," Wenger said. "People trust her, she's got all this experience and she's a terrific news person. So I asked her if she wanted to come back to radio."
At first, Murphy wasn't prepared to answer.
"I didn't know what to say," she said. "My life is pretty well set right now. I work out, I take care of the house, and I'm involved in causes I believe in."
Murphy talked it over with her husband, Tony Tarquini, and decided to take the radio news plunge.
Wenger is glad she did. "What Sheila gives us is credibility," he said. "She speaks with authority. You hear that voice and you know her history. People trust her."
Murphy usually arrives at the WBEN studios at 5 a.m. and is on the air from 6 to 11 Saturday and Sunday mornings.
"I love it; it's a lot of fun but it's still hard to believe I'm back doing this," Murphy said. "The hardest part for me is learning the new technology. Everything is done on computer. It's easy for the kids, they grew up with this stuff. I have to learn everything from scratch."
She may be learning, but Murphy is also teaching. For many in the news department, Murphy is not only mentor but a role model.
"I'm thrilled to be working with her," said Monica Wilson, news director at WBEN. "Sheila is one of the women who really changed broadcast news in Buffalo. She had a tremendous influence on me and a lot of other women who wanted to be in news. I watched her doing news on television and I wanted to be like her."
Murphy takes such comments in stride. She's too busy immersing herself in new technology and a new job to rest on past accomplishments.
"I've been around a long time but so much of this is new to me; you stay away for 10 years and everything is different," Murphy said. "I've still got the pipes. One thing radio people have in common is we love hearing the sound of our voices."