During the week, Benita Zahn, Jerry Gretzinger and Jessica Layton are newshawks.
All three are television anchors and reporters. Zahn and Layton work at WNYT, NewsChannel 13 in Menands. Gretzinger is on the air at WRGB, CBS6 in Niskayuna.
Some weekends, the three become songbirds. As The Singing Anchors, Benita, Jerry and Jessica have performed pop standards around the Capital Region.
The Singing Anchors Holiday Show
• 4 and 7 p.m. today, Vapor, Saratoga Casino and Raceway, 342 Jefferson St., Saratoga Spring
• 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Fort Salem, 11 East Broadway, Salem
HOW MUCH: Vapor $10; Fort Salem $25
The trio is in prime time for the holiday season. The Anchors will perform Christmas and winter favorites tonight at Vapor, the night club at Saratoga Casino and Raceway. Show times are 4 and 7 p.m. On Saturday, the group will perform its annual holiday show at the Fort Salem Theater in Salem. Curtain times are 5 and 8 p.m.
On Saturday, Dec. 8, Zahn, Gretzinger and Layton will perform at The Century House in Latham.
The Singing Anchors have been together since autumn 2009. Before that, the longtime singers and broadcasters — along with WNYT’s Phil Bayly — performed at the Red Cross’ “Fire & Ice Gala” in Albany. Zahn had performed a cabaret-style show at the Fort Salem, and theater owner and music arranger Jay Kerr inquired about another show. Zahn proposed bringing Layton and Gretzinger into the limelight — Bayly was occupied at the time — and the Anchors began harmonizing.
“It’s sort of like an old Judy Garland movie,” said Zahn, who anchors WNYT’s weeknight broadcasts at 5 and 6 p.m. with Jim Kambrich. “Mom’s got a refrigerator box and there are some curtains in the basement.”
Still, the combination works. The group performs between six and 10 shows each year.
“We genuinely like each other and the audience knows that,” added Zahn, who also is the WNYT health reporter. “We all love singing and that comes through. Jay knows what kind of music to select that his audience will enjoy and you mix it all together with a little bit of fairy dust.”
The Anchors have performed Broadway favorites in one show, Hollywood favorites in another. They’ve also worked solo, and their cabaret-style shows allow plenty of songs and some time for conversation with the audience.
The singers needed a little time to work on their collective sound.
“At first it was a struggle just because I think each of us was so accustomed to singing individually,” said Gretzinger, who anchors WRGB’s 5 p.m. news programs during the week. “Now, I just think we’ve learned to listen to one another so there’s not just one voice that’s standing out. We kind of sing as a unit ... it just took some time to know each other’s style and how to work with it.”
One thing was never a problem. While all three are in a traditionally competitive business, the members of two competing stations easily get along.
“We all just got along right away,” Gretzinger said. “There was no, ‘Oh, we’re competitors and how will this work?’ Each of us has this love for singing and performing. Sometimes we have that good-natured teasing when ratings come out, we edge them or they edge us. And it really is good-natured. We’ve never gotten into it about numbers or who got this story first. I really feel Benita and Jessica are my sisters and Jay is like another brother or a father to us. I really look forward to the time we get to spend together.”
Times together can be tough to arrange. The singers all know rehearsals are keys to success on stage, but it can be hard to coordinate three busy schedules.
“We make it happen,” said Layton, who anchors WNYT’s 11 p.m. weeknight shows with Kambrich. “We’ve learned to make this successful, it has to be a priority. It’s usually on a weekend, kind of odd hours. Sometimes it’s at Benita’s house, sometimes it’s at Jerry’s house. We’re scattered all over the place, I’m in East Greenbush, the two of them are in Clifton Park. It’s a lot of planning and a lot of compromise to make our rehearsals happen. We love it, so everything seems to fall into place.”
The singers are primed for the holiday shows.
Layton loves the Kerr arrangement on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” And she’ll perform a medley that will include “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and “The Christmas Song.”
“Jay is very fond of opening peoples’ ears for the first time to new music they have never heard,” Gretzinger said. “Jay said there’s a lot of Christmas songs we haven’t heard for a reason, and there’s a few that we haven’t heard and we should have. He found this one, ‘Must Have Been the Mistletoe,’ it’s a really nice song, he made a new arrangement for Jessica and I and it’s one of the new duets were doing this year.”
Another kick is the audience. In television, anchors and reporters know people are watching their work. But they never see any reactions.
“When you’re on TV, there’s an audience but there’s no immediate feedback, you don’t know what you’re doing is working until four times a year when you get your ratings results,” Gretzinger said. “But when you’re on stage, you’ve got that immediate knowledge as to whether or not people are into what you’re putting up there, with applause and just seeing the looks on their faces. It’s nice to have that feedback with people right in front of you. I’ve always enjoyed having a live audience right there.”
The harmonizers have a compact disc: “The Singing Anchors Live at the Linda,” which was recorded at WAMC’s Linda Norris Auditorium.
Zahn does not know how much fortune and glory the troupe can achieve. “I’d like to say the sky’s the limit,” she said. “It’s not like we have a booker. It’s all fun, we all love our day jobs, this is value added.”
There could be room for another anchor. Gretzinger said he kids around with WRGB anchor Liz Bishop about singing in public.
“I say, ‘Liz, you know, ‘Singing Anchors,’ you’re an anchor, you could get into this,’” Gretzinger said. “She keeps making jokes, ‘I don’t know ... ’. I’ve put the invitation out there but she’s resisted so far. I keep trying.”