He's one of southeast Louisiana's most familiar faces, the one folks have been waking up with for over 15 years on the country's number one-rated local morning newscast. But when Eric Paulsen first left his St. Louis hometown to attend broadcast journalism school at Southern Illinois University, he was more interested in the off-camera side of the business.
"I wanted to be a sound engineer," Eric explained. "I was always fascinated by music and audio in general." While he was still in high school, his parents gave him a studio-quality reel-to-reel tape deck. "I spent hours recording all kinds of things," including his sister's music lessons. He obviously had a good ear, because today that sister is an accomplished symphony violinist.
At Southern Illinois, a university noted for its broadcast facilities, Eric auditioned for an opening at the campus radio station. He was selected to announce the hourly news updates, and tells the story of his live broadcast debut with typical Paulsen humor. "They handed me a script that said 'This is your name reporting,'" he laughed. "And that's exactly what I read on the air."
SIU also boasted an impressive television studio, where its all student-run newscast aired daily on the local PBS station at 5 p.m. - going head-to-head with the big network affiliates' local news operations. Competing with over a hundred of his student colleagues, Eric landed one of the two coveted solo anchor slots - and launched his on-air career writing, reporting and anchoring for the half hour show three days a week.
Eric started WWL-TV's Morning News and later went on to host the highly successful local version of the nationally-syndicated show, PM Magazine.
Whatever reservations Eric first had about leaving traditional news were soon forgotten. With its fresh, eclectic blend of television storytelling, "PM" was a smash. The show would dominate New Orleans' prime access time period for five straight years, reigning as the number one "PM" edition in the nation for two of them. During that time, Eric and his crew often traveled the world, filing stories from a hot air balloon floating over Burgundy, France... from a huge ship floating down the Panama Canal... even from a floating market in Hong Kong harbor.
But some of Eric's most memorable stories hit much closer to home, as he followed a local patient undergoing open heart surgery, and chronicled the grief of families coping with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. And in a journalistic coup, he landed the final, in-depth broadcast interview with literary legend Tennessee Williams - conducted on the second floor of what was then "Marti's" restaurant on the corner of Rampart Street. "Years later, I still see clips from Tennessee's last interview popping up on all kinds of shows," Eric commented.
After "PM's" successful run, Eric returned to the Eyewitness newsroom in the fall of 1984. He solo anchored the weekend newscasts for six months, before coming back to his first home on the morning set to join co-anchor Andre Trevigne. In another visionary stroke, GM Mike Early decided to expand the morning edition by a full hour, creating a two hour local block of news, weather and features that quickly earned the show honors as the country's highest-rated morning broadcast - augmented by the unusual on-air chemistry between Eric and Andre.
"There was a lot of fire between us," Eric recalled. "And the audience seemed to like all that friendly bickering." When Trevigne departed over a decade ago, Eric found an easy camaraderie with veteran newswoman Sally-Ann Roberts that has kept the morning show in its enviable first place ranking. "Sally-Ann is like a sister to me," he reflected. "And we tease each other just like two siblings."
Remembering his first childhood ambition of becoming a vet, one of Eric's favorite regular show segments focuses on a featured "guest" from the Audubon Zoo. While he's introduced viewers to all kinds of exotic creatures, he'll never forget the visiting turkey that attacked him on the set. "It was around Thanksgiving, " he quipped. "And that turkey went straight for me... I literally flew out of my chair."
Off the anchor desk, Eric keeps an unusual menagerie of turtles and other pets and he also enjoys riding in his classic MGB.