Randy Price's openness has made him a fixture in local TV news, and a role model for gays
Somewhere in downtown Boston on a scorching spring day, Randy Price is lost.
"Excuse me, do you know where High Street is?" the WHDH-TV (Channel 7) news anchor asks one passerby who recognizes him and gladly points the way.
As Price storms through downtown in a navy suit and sunglasses, people do double-takes. Some stop him to say they watch him every night. He enthusiastically responds with waves and handshakes.
Price is one of the most recognized faces in Boston, having helmed newscasts here for 25 years, the past 10 at WHDH. He's a throwback to the seasoned traditional male anchor, whose numbers in local and national newsrooms have dwindled in recent years. Yet Price's celebrity in and outside Boston plays a prominent role in attracting and retaining viewers. Price co-anchors the 11 p.m. newscast, which topped local ratings in total viewers in that time slot during the May sweeps period.
Beyond the confines of a television set, he is known for his work on behalf of gay rights and animal welfare. As the country's first openly gay newscaster, he stays busy, serving as a role model for up-and-coming gay broadcast journalists and for Boston's gay community. Price has regularly been the grand marshal at the annual Boston Pride parade, and last month he spoke at the banquet for the Gay Officers Action League conference in Providence and hosted the annual prom sponsored by the Boston Alliance of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender Youth.
"For the young people, it's an opportunity for them to see an openly gay adult in the real world and especially in the high-profile field of news," says Grace Stowell , the alliance's executive director. "He's a wonderful presence. He's warm and encouraging."
Price -- who married his longtime partner, Mark Steffen, in January on the steps of the State House -- believes that his frankness about his sexual orientation translates to credibility with his viewers. It hasn't hurt. WHDH traditionally wins the 11 p.m. newscast in total viewers and in key demographics among viewers ages 18-49.
"It's connecting to people. The more things change, quite possibly, the more people will gravitate to some elements of familiarity," says Price, who served in the Air Force and worked for its radio and television service. "People who watch me know what my sensibilities are. Whether it's the success of Charlie Gibson, Brian Williams, or myself, it's because people have a trust in what you're doing. They just sense what you're about. I'm not an activist. I am proud of who I am."
"He was on television, but I really didn't watch television," says Steffen, who radiates a mellow Californian surfer vibe, while Price comes off as energetic and animated. "He was dark and intense."
"Mark is more into the big picture. I'm more of Mr. Fix-It," says Price, who enjoys riding his lawnmower and pruning, while Steffen designs how and where their flowers should go. "He's everything to me. He's so much that I admire -- the honesty, the integrity."
After living and working in Toledo, Ohio, they came to Boston in 1983, when Price was offered a job at WBZ-TV (Channel 4) as a morning news anchor. Steffen worked as a chief financial officer for a medical malpractice company.
Craig Stevens , an anchor at WSVN-TV (Channel 7) in Miami, remembers watching Channel 4 in the mornings when he was an aspiring TV journalist growing up in Falmouth. He tuned in to WBZ specifically to study Price.
"I watched him for years, every morning, and I liked his ease on camera," says Stevens, a former WHDH weekend anchor who worked with Price. "He was professional but approachable. He's now a friend, and more importantly a mentor and inspiration."
In the mid-1980s, Price grew tired of reading stories about his personal life that did not mention his longtime partner. So he opened up to a reporter about his relationship with Steffen.
"It wasn't a big secret revealed," Price recalls. "But I was very interested in talking about it because our business is supposedly about facts and honesty. I had the real fortunate circumstance of having a relationship with viewers, people knowing me for the totality of who I was except for that one element. It's about me as a person. I live with a guy. I have a very long, successful relationship."
"The better part of my career has come after that," says Price, who has been sober for 12 years. "It was the beginning of my most successful chapter in what I do."
WHDH managers hired Price as a freelancer in 1996. That led to hiring him full-time in 1997, moving him into the morning anchor slot and eventually to the evening news chair in 1998. Ratings improved.
"New populations were coming to the surface [in Boston]," he says. "The [gay] community had a growing voice here for quite a few years. I was fortunate that I became a part of that. So when 7 came along, they were this very colorful and less traditional style of news programming. We started growing." The station traditionally wins the 11 p.m. newscast and comes in second in most of the other day newscasts. Price co-anchors the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. programs.
Price stays at work until midnight and sometimes goes out afterward with his staff, most of whom are in their 20s and 30s. At the station, he comes off like a knowing father type to them. After the May ratings sweeps, he partied with a group of 30 coworkers at Embassy in Fenway. After work, he drives 60 miles back to his tranquil home, where 18 American cocker spaniels, many of them award-winning show dogs, coexist with Price and Steffen.
"When we got married," Steffen says, "the cards and letters we got from people we never expected. It was a very moving experience. [Being gay] is not something we discussed that much. It's not something we tried to hide."
Looking around the garden, which has dogwoods they transplanted from their previous homes in Brookline and Ogunquit, Price says, "It's this constant evolution of the house. We enjoy thinking of where we've been and what we've done. We're gardening junkies."
Lately they've been working on the details for their delayed wedding reception, which will be at the coastal home in September.
"In New England we feel so very very fortunate," Price says before heading back into his house to change from his gardening clothes into a suit for the day's news. "You really feel like you're part of the community here."
Johnny Diaz can be reached at email@example.com.