January 2007 Profile

Albany news anchor Karla Heath-Sands believes in community involvement

Karla Heath-Sands, 44, early morning and noon news anchor at WALB, Albany’s NBC affiliate, has two – admittedly unoriginal – philosophies that inform her life: “Go with the flow” and “To whom much is given, much is required.”‘

“Go with the flow in everything,” she says. “Sometimes reading the bad news, my job can be a depressing place. I have to remember it’s not all bad, keep my head up and move on. It doesn’t alleviate all the negative stuff that’s happening, but it can relieve some of the stress.” It also helps to have an outlet. That’s where music comes in.

Heath-Sands is the lead vocalist for Bob Cummings and the Reflections, a classic “supper club” band specializing in music from almost every genre. “It’s my passion,” she says. “It’s my balance.” The band has traveled the state, primarily on weekends, performing at company parties, social events and other gigs. “I can be so tired and drained at the end of my work day but when I get on the stage it’s, ‘Hello world!'” Heath-Sands says.

She addresses part two of her life mantra, giving back, in a variety of ways. Though she professes no gardening expertise, Heath-Sands serves on the board of the State Botanical Garden, located in Athens, and uses her bully pulpit as a television anchorwoman to talk up the garden whenever possible. She also serves on the boards of Girls, Inc., Albany Technical College and the Albany Chapter of Links, Inc.

In addition to her anchoring duties, Heath-Sands hosts “Dialogue,” a 30-minute public affairs program on WALB. “We address a lot minority affairs issues,” she says, “But we cover a range of topics from politics, medicine and entertainment.”

A career highlight was co-hosting the annual job fair broadcast on Georgia Public Television. “I’ve gotten to co-host for two years,” she says. “It’s great to know you’re making a real difference by helping people, especially in rural Georgia, find jobs.”

Heath-Sands says Albany is still a small enough market that viewers feel an ownership in the community and how news is reported. “I like that, when they see me in the grocery store, they come up to me and tell me what they like about our broadcast or what we can do better.”

A Brunswick native, Heath-Sands is an accidental television journalist, having graduated from Mercer University in Macon with an English degree. In 1989, she got her first job in television, weather casting for WMAZ in Macon, a serendipitous event that she calls a “Godsend.” “I wasn’t a meteorologist but I played one on TV,” she quips.

Part of her appeal, apart from being a quick study, was her poise in front of the camera, something she picked up from experience in the Miss America Pageant system. Heath-Sands was Miss Macon (1982) and fourth runner-up to Miss Georgia, and placed second in 1985 as Miss Brunswick-Golden Isles. “Through pageants I learned so much about how to be interviewed, how to be calm when you’re screaming inside,” she says. “And those scholarships paid off Mercer.”

After five years weather casting and serving as community service director at WMAZ, Heath-Sands moved to Albany in 1994 where her husband, W. Louis Sands, serves as a judge on the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Georgia. She joined WALB in 1997 and began anchoring the early morning news, a schedule that gives her the afternoons and evenings with her husband and two children, a daughter, 15, and a son, 11.

Heath-Sands’ day starts before early. “My first alarm goes off at 2:30 a.m.,” she says. “I hit the snooze and the second alarm goes off at 3:30. That’s when I get up.” She gets to the studio by 4:30 and for the next hour reads copy, cuts promos and prepares to greet her viewers at 5:30. She handles the three-minute newsbreaks for both the “Today” show and CNN’s early news and remains at the station until she finishes the 12:30 news.

Though she says she has no professional aspirations beyond WALB, Heath-Sands also “never says never.” She has a wish list of things she’d like to do, much of it having to do with music. “When I was in Macon I got to sing a couple of commercial jingles,” she says. “I’d love to do more of that.”

Categories: Influential Georgians