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Where Were They Before: Oprah Winfrey

July 25, 2011

You may know where they are now, but where were some of today’s most powerful and influential people before the power and fame? Many held an internship position that created a foundation for their future success!

Oprah's 50th Birthday Party at Hotel Bel-Air


There is a good chance that anyone who has been exposed to any type of media is familiar with the name Oprah Winfrey. She is hands down the most influential woman on television today. One cannot simply peg Winfrey as this or that. She is not only a television host but also an actress, producer and philanthropist. Oprah is host to the highest rated talk show in history that has been nationally syndicated since 1986. She has helped break barriers for African-Americans, women and the LGBT community. Her fame and success did not come easy; Oprah persevered through a troubling upbringing before earning her big break. What was the catalyst for this break? It was an internship with WLAC-TV, a CBS affiliate in Nashville, Tennessee.

Oprah was born to a single teenage mother who lived in poverty-stricken rural Mississippi. Her mother had a hard time caring for her, so Oprah bounced back and forth between different homes. She finally found security after moving to Tennessee with the man she called father, Vernon Winfrey. He provided a stable environment for her and placed a high value behind her education. It drove her to succeed and overcome the troubles that lay in her past. Winfrey earned the “Most Popular Girl” superlative in high school and also was crowned the winner of the “Ms. Black Tennessee Pageant”. As a part of her high school speech team, Oprah placed second in the nation for dramatic interpretation and first in another oratory contest that garnered a full-ride scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she went on to study communications.

After a successful intern period [with Nashville CBS affiliate WLAC-TV], Oprah was brought on full-time with the program as an anchor/reporter.

Her talent was quickly noticed by the local radio station WVOL. She was hired to deliver the news on-air part-time. This led her to an internship with CBS affiliate WLAC-TV located there in Nashville. After a successful intern period, Oprah was brought on full-time with the program as an anchor/reporter. Not only was she the youngest, she was also the first ever African-American female news anchor. This was a groundbreaking accomplishment, one that was made possible by an internship with the CBS affiliate.

Shortly after her time with WLAC, Winfrey relocated to Baltimore in the mid 1970’s for a 6 o’clock news program with WJZ-TV then joined Richard Sher on the talk show, People Are Talking, which premiered in 1978. Oprah proved all the skeptics wrong in 1983 with her biggest accomplishment yet. She relocated to the Midwest to host AM Chicago, a morning talk show on WLS-TV. Oprah boosted the show from last in ratings to first while surpassing Donahue as Chicago’s number one rated talk show. By September 1986, the program was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show and was broadcasted nationally.

Oprah is quite the success story, but a lot of people wouldn’t realize the hardships she endured before making it. She went from potato sack dresses as a child to now being worth over $2.7 billion, according to a 2010 Forbes report. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Color Purple, a feature film done by another former intern, Steven Spielberg. Winfrey has notched some incredible achievements to her belt and there is no doubt that she will continue to do so. She is an inspiration to many and has become a household name in America. Her passion and drive would have led her to fame at some point, but the internship early in her career really kicked down the door and paved her fast-track to success!