WIFR-23: Getting to Know Andy, Aaron and Danielle

Meet the trio delivering your morning news.

Aaron Wilson, Andy Gannon and Danielle Tumilowicz deliver the morning news every weekday on WIFR-23.

Every weekday, anchors Andy Gannon and Danielle Tumilowicz deliver the morning news from WIFR-23, Rockford’s local CBS-affiliated station. They’re joined by morning weather anchor Aaron Wilson, and together, the three strive to deliver information that’s accurate, fair and balanced, and at times a bit humorous.

Get to know the team behind your morning news, and catch them at 4:30 a.m. for 23 News First Edition, from 5-7 a.m. for 23 News This Morning, and from 9-9:30 a.m. for 23 Morning Blend.

LGL: Starting off, I would love to hear your origin stories. So, what originally compelled each of you to go into journalism in the first place, how did you come to WIFR, and what has your journey here been like?

Andy: I always wanted to be involved in sports in high school and college. I started here at Channel 23 as a weekend sports anchor in 1983. So, I was the Sports Director for about a decade, and then an opportunity came to move to 23 News This Morning. And I was intrigued. I filled in for a while and thought I wanted to make that move, and I’ve been on 23 News This Morning since 1994. So, it’s been a fun journey. I’ve enjoyed the morning show quite a bit. I miss sports to some degree, but I find ways to fill that void. 

Aaron: This is kind of funny for you. I didn’t intend to make this a career. I went to school to be a teacher, and I wanted to be like a guy named Vince Danca who filled in and did weekend weather for a number of years at another station. I thought if I could get the weekend weather gig before I even graduated from college, I’d get that fix, and then I’d be on my way and life would be good. Leading up to that, I would send in resume tapes done with a camcorder on VHS. And at the time, Andy was assistant news director, and his quote, I believe, was “Not a chance in Hell.”

Andy: (Laughs) That might be revisionist history a little bit. He was initially rejected for a weekend anchor position and I was part of the reason… I was the reason why. I just said he was a little too raw, a little too young looking. But he was persistent.

Aaron: Yeah, so I came here in 1997 and went full-time before I graduated. So I would get up insanely early, come do the morning show, race back to Rockford University, do school, and then race back to do the noon show. I think I did that for two and a half, three months? And it just parlayed into a full-time job.

Danielle: For me, it’s really funny because I had similar aspirations in how Andy started. I started here as the weekend sports anchor in 2016 – I graduated in 2015. And same thing, I really wanted to dive into sports. I was born and raised in Rockford, so this was home for me. So, I really wanted to kind of get in and cover all the local sports, and then move on to Chicago or Milwaukee sports. But then, probably about a year and a half later, our News Director Maggie, same thing, presented me with the morning show opportunity to join Andy and Aaron, and I thought, sure! So I went from going to bed at a certain time to pretty much waking up at that time. That was the biggest adjustment. I mean, you kind of get used to it, but you really don’t at the same time.

LGL: I’m curious what your schedules are like – when are you getting up and actually getting here every day?

Danielle: In general, I usually wake up at 2:45, 3 a.m., and then I get in around 3:30, 4 a.m. every day. Aaron and I also do the noon newscast, so then we’re here until about 12:30 p.m.

Andy: Over a year ago, I decided I would come in earlier to put the show together. The turnaround of producers was just becoming problematic – they would move on to different positions, and the hours aren’t ideal. So, I offered to add some stability by taking it on myself. So, I get up at 1:50 a.m. and get in around 2:35 a.m. Sometimes it’s 2:37 a.m., depending on traffic. (Laughs)

Danielle: And now, sometimes, maybe we’re staying up late to watch a game that maybe we shouldn’t really be awake for. But at least in the morning, we can kind of recap the sports highlights, which is a nice way to incorporate sports even though we’re at the news desk. 

Andy: I should point out that part of my deal is I said I would do the producing, but I wouldn’t do it on Fridays. And so I got that going for me, which is nice.

Aaron: He’s the Johnny Carson of Rockford.

Andy: (Laughs) Yes. All of those late-night shows only work through Thursdays. 

Aaron: If I can give you a quick nugget, though, I remember interviewing Danielle before she started, and walking away from the interview saying she’ll join us in some capacity someday.

Danielle: Oh, wow.

Aaron: She had a stellar interview. She was very well spoken at a young age. So, I do remember that very distinctly.

Danielle: Thank you. Yeah, I remember that we had a live interview together when I was – I was Miss Winnebago County Fair Queen – back in the day. It’s funny looking back – that was like, five, six years ago? I remember thinking, ‘How can I do a live interview at 6 in the morning?’ Now it’s like, that’s sleeping in! So, it’s kind of funny.

Andy: And you know, before I got on the show and before Aaron got on the show, we had always been the No. 1 rated Morning Show. And every now and then it would come up that we needed to add a woman to the show. And I was like, ‘OK, whatever,’ you know.
Danielle: You were just used to how it was.

Andy: Yeah, I was used to how it was, and I didn’t want to ruffle anything up. And eventually it was like, yeah, we’re adding another voice to the show. And when Danielle’s name was suggested, I said she is mature beyond her years, and she’s easy to chat with – sometimes that’s an issue with people who may not have as wide a breadth of knowledge – and she’s adept. So yeah, she’s been an asset and it’s been fun. We’re still No. 1, by the way.

LGL: So, before you’re on air, what are you doing to get ready for the show every day?

Andy: I’m curling my hair. 

Danielle: (Laughs) We’re fighting over the makeup room. I just can’t get Andy out of there! I do my own hair and makeup, by the way. I get asked that all the time. But yeah, we’re getting ready, and like Andy mentioned, he’s producing the show.

Andy: She’s re-producing the show. 

Danielle: (Laughs) Everyone has their differences in how they want to present a story. So, that’s part of it. He writes it how he wants to present it, and I do the same, and I think that’s a good thing. But, for the most part, it’s reading over scripts, making last-minute video edits, or graphic edits – so editing what graphics appear on the screen.

Aaron: I like to get up and sit down and actually have breakfast. I know. It’s weird. And I get up at 2:30 a.m. to do it. But just jumping right up and rushing doesn’t work for me. I just like that time to look at what the day is, this day in history.

LGL: Do any of you have any pre-show rituals?

Danielle: Coffee. (Laughs) I don’t know if that’s a ritual. 

Andy: Let’s see, one can of Mountain Dew on the drive in. It’s down from four back in the day, but it used to be four cans of Mountain Dew I’d have during the course of the day. But now I’m down to one.

Danielle: I remember someone saying that Andy doesn’t like coffee. And I was like, “How do you do this job without coffee?”

Andy: I guess Mountain Dew would be my ritual. 

Aaron: I haven’t had a long-standing ritual. But I think the ritual that’s lasted the longest, when we moved things to start at 4:30 a.m., it would work out that I could get a snippet of Joel Osteen. And so it was always good to catch his “I Like to Start with Something Funny” segment while pulling into the station parking lot.

LGL: So, what would you say your goals are for each morning show? Or, what do you hope the audience experiences each morning?

Danielle: I think that’s good to remember, because we can get caught up in all of the details. You know, it’s hard sometimes, you have to remove yourself from the news because you want to make sure things are all in line to present it properly. But then I think it’s important to also remember how the viewers are receiving it. You want to make sure you get the information right. And you know, sometimes there are other things to worry about, like, “OK, do we have the right camera shot?” But you do want to make sure that there is an accurate story and it’s something they’re going to care about. But also, it’s a morning show. We always end each half hour with a story that will make you smile. So, I think that’s important, too, to have that balance. 

Andy: I think over the past five years or so, CBS News has kind of changed their focus to not be, you know, six guys sitting around the couch telling stories. And we’ve adopted that. But also, we are well aware that people can get news from various other devices, let alone other TV channels. So, we also have to be “somebodies” that people want to invite into their homes. And therefore, we don’t get all that opinionated, we don’t do all that forced humor that sometimes morning shows try to do, and I’m sure we tried that at some point and fell flat. But we try to not force our mindset and our attempts at humor onto our viewers. We want them to be comfortable with us, and leave feeling somewhat informed when they go on to start their day. 

Aaron: I agree with both of them. I think that it’s being real, and I know that can be a term that gets thrown around a lot. But I try to think about what people are seriously doing at home while we’re delivering the news and the weather. There are so many things going on, from breakfast, to kids, to pets, to getting ready for a day. And I think we forget that life is happening. They might not see every little word and every little picture that we’re putting up every forecast. And there’s a lot of information that can get missed, just because people are brushing their teeth, running to this room, out of that room, that type of thing. So, sometimes there are a few snicks, but people relate to it.

LGL: How do you pivot or keep things moving when something goes wrong?

Aaron: It used to ruin my day. Not gonna lie. Missing a live shot. Having some mistake happen. And I’ve learned now that either the show is so long that there’s so much more time to make it all up, or there’ll be another day tomorrow. But it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.

Danielle: And I think sometimes the viewer might not even notice that something wasn’t supposed to happen.

Andy: Yeah, there’s a mindset in journalism in general to be the first to get something on a website, or on TV, or tweeted or whatever. And that used to be my mindset years ago. But nobody’s watching the other stations at the same time they’re watching you. They can’t. I mean, I suppose people could have three or four TVs set up every morning, but most people aren’t that addicted. So I don’t get all that wrapped up with not being first. I’d rather make sure we know a little bit more about it before we go on the air. You know, I was kicking myself a couple of months ago, when there was a fire that turned out to be a fatal fire. But it was in a remote area and I couldn’t get any confirmation from the fire officials or the sheriff’s deputies on what it was, or how severe it was. And it turned out to be a fatal fire. And we missed it – I missed it. And that bothered me a little bit, but I realize that’s OK, because I wasn’t in that fatal fire. That’s way more serious than me missing a fatal fire. And that’s what we tend to sometimes forget – the impact of that story that it has on the real people involved. And that’s why I don’t get all that worked up about mistakes much anymore. Factual mistakes, of course, yes. But mistakes like missing a story, or a story comes on the air and a snafu happens?

Danielle: That happens.

Andy: But actually, it really doesn’t very often.

Aaron: Again, I think because it’s such a long program, there’s time to correct little mishaps along the way. It’s like a train we’re about to get on, and we’re going make a lot of stops, but the train itself is not going to stop. We’re just going to chug along, and whether we like it or not, it’s starting in 30 seconds. All aboard. 

LGL: What have been some memorable interviews, live remotes, or just standout moments for each of you? 

Andy: We had Barack Obama fill in at the weather wall one day.

Aaron: There were quite a few people running for Illinois Senate, and the deal was we had them all in to do a weather segment. And Barack Obama nailed it.

Danielle: Were you in Springfield for Cheap Trick Day?

Aaron: Yeah. When Cheap Trick Day started, we flew down with Rick Nielsen. Interviewing Kenny Rogers was also pretty cool.

Andy: Aaron and I conjured up an Autumn Odyssey where we brought in all the dignitaries, from the State’s Attorneys to mayors, and what we basically did was autumn games – apple bobbing, pumpkin drops, turkey bowling – just all that type of stuff. We pitted them against a high school team. And so, all morning long they competed in these games. 

Andy: We had a love connection show we did for a few Valentine’s Days. We had a lot of fun, and we still do. It’s just toned down quite a bit more.

Danielle: I don’t have nearly as many stories, but one thing that was kind of cool, back in my sports days, was interviewing Dean Lowry in the Packers locker room, and Fred VanVleet in the Raptors locker room. I knew them both from high school, and it was kind of a surreal feeling of just, look where we are.

LGL: I love the Pet of the Week and Go Rockford segments in The Morning Blend. Why are positive stories important to the morning show? 

Danielle: I think, especially on the Morning Blend, we can have more fun and it’s not meant to be so serious. We don’t put heavy stories in the Blend because people want a break from that. So, you know, who doesn’t smile with pets? And you can learn about community events, and fun stuff like that. You can get your news in so many other ways, but you can’t necessarily go to them to learn about your community base.

Andy: I think the Blend has changed its shape over its years. It used to be an hour. But the goal of it was always to be more of a community affairs issue. And that means highlighting the need for blood, highlighting pets that are available for adoption, highlighting events that families and others might want to consider attending.

Danielle: I think it’s also kind of nice when you have recurring guests. They kind of become friends that we check in with, and I hope the viewers every week feel the same way. People care about them and invest in them, too. 

LGL: What are some hobbies that each of you has outside of work, or how else are you involved in the Rockford community?

Danielle: I love cooking. I enjoy being in the kitchen, whether it’s baking or cooking. Just getting outside – hiking with my husband, or walking our dog. And then I’m the Vice President of the River District Association – I’ve been on that board a couple of years now. It’s been interesting lately not having to do too many community events, but we’re there to promote downtown businesses and events. Obviously, revitalizing downtown has been huge, and hopefully we’ve been a part of that. 

Andy: I have a healthy addiction to fantasy sports. I also like golf, although those days are numbered. And normally I’m fairly active in church life.

Aaron: I always like trying to explore our forest preserves. I like all of the bike paths, too – it’s amazing when you sit down and do the mileage on how many bike paths we have in the area. I’ve been on a lot of boards in my 24-year career. And before COVID, I was doing a little substitute teaching. 

LGL: Right now, there are a lot of people who don’t trust the media. How do you personally confront that in your day-to-day work?

Andy: I think the local media is less biased than national media. National does take certain slants to stories. I think if there are certain slants toward local news stories, it’s because we take the slants that we are given by the newsmakers. We do not intend to be biased. There is, I think, a willful intent, certainly on the cable news networks, to have a left or right lean depending on the network. But we do not sit here and say “No, we can’t do that story because it’s pro-this or pro-that.” We try to present a fair and balanced picture of what we know and what we perceive as news.

Danielle: And certainly, when we have the opportunity to generate a story, I think we do a good job of gathering all angles. We talk to this party person, that party person, and we talk to this demographic, that demographic. So, I think we do a great job when we are the ones creating the news. But it’s hard. I mean, I have to make a conscious effort sometimes when we’re using national stories to rewrite or remove things that I think are biased or misleading. I mean, it’s supposed to be up to the viewer to make their determination. So, I try to make sure anything I’m presenting is the least biased way it can be.

Andy: It’s not easy when people already have a preconceived notion that we are “The Media.” But we do what we can to try and be as fair and consistent as we can. Changing perception is difficult, and that’s something I think we’ll be dealing with for years to come.

Aaron: I think it’s something bigger than all of us. 

Danielle: Generalizations in general are dangerous. That’s why I hate the term “The Media.” If there is that mistrust, hopefully they at least know to turn to local news because I personally think there’s a big difference, and hopefully we can gain some of that trust back. But you can’t beat yourself up and over-care. 

Aaron: I will say this. It’s comforting to get up at the God-awful hour that we do and want to go to work. I think that ends up making the difference on the show. When you enjoy what you’re doing, and you enjoy who you’re working with, it makes a whole world of difference. 
Andy: Yeah, it’s a comfort for me to work with these two. And that’s a big key to why I’ve been here as long as I have.

Danielle: I feel lucky with the timing of how everything worked out. For me, it’s a cool job. And I think it’s rare you have a duo like Andy and Aaron who have stayed together for so long – that consistency is rare. 

Aaron: In a time of inconsistencies and constant changes, it’s nice to have something that’s constant. I think our viewers get that when they watch us.