King Harris, the dominant face of TV news throughout the Central Coast throughout the 1980s and 1990s, died at age 75 in his hometown of Arroyo Grande.
From 1984 to 1997, Harris held down the fort at KEYT in Santa Barbara, imbuing that station’s ever-revolving news crews with a sense of continuity, intelligence, history, connection, and gravity. As anchor, Harris provided ballast rare in an industry defined by high rates of turnover.
As an on-screen presence, Harris — who always seemed somewhat rumpled — leaned more toward Lou Grant than Ron Burgundy. He was smart, accessible, friendly, and only occasionally irascible. Mostly, Harris conveyed an amused exasperation coupled with a deep care for the community he served. He was not, however, blind to its absurdities. As a human being, Harris was a music trivia nut, a competitive fiend when it came to songs from the 1950s and 1960s, about which his knowledge was as encyclopedic as it was passionate.
Harris served a tour of duty in Vietnam and was tight with former UCSB professor Walter Capps, whose mission, it seemed, was to reunite the spirits of returning veterans with the society from which they sprang. Capps turned his classrooms into a collective therapeutic experience for Vietnam-era vets, and Harris was a co-conspirator in that campaign. In 1988, he accompanied Capps and a collection of other vets to the Soviet Union. He made a documentary about the trip, Brothers in Arms, which would win awards.
After leaving KEYT, Harris worked briefly as news producer for KCOY, Channel 12, and after that, he moved north to San Luis Obispo County. There he taught journalism, worked as managing editor at the New Times San Luis Obispo and would write a weekly column for the Tolosa Press: “It’s Good to be King.” He would also return to broadcast news as anchor at KVEC radio from 2007 to 2015.
Harris experienced health challenges over the years, but when he collapsed on Wednesday, it was unexpected and sudden. Paramedics could not revive him.