Carolyn Johnson, a longtime anchor and reporter and with KGO-TV (ABC7), is leaving the station for a position in Southern California after being asked to take a pay cut.
Johnson will join KNBC, the NBC-owned station in Los Angeles, in July.
"I have very mixed feelings right now," Johnson said Thursday. "I never imagined leaving KGO. But as one door closes, another one opens. I have a very exciting opportunity in front of me."
Johnson's departure had been the subject of rumors for several days and was first reported by San Francisco media blogger Rich Lieberman, who wrote that she was asked by KGO management to take a 20 percent salary decrease as part of budgetary cutbacks. Instead, she surprised the station by deciding to bolt.
Johnson declined to address the contract talks, saying, "Essentially, this was a business decision for them and a business decision for me." Station sources, however, confirmed that Johnson was asked to renegotiate her contract, which still had two years to run.
"Let's put it this way: She was not looking to leave," one source said.
Her departure leaves a big void at KGO. Johnson was one of the station's top-tier anchors, working the weekday newscasts at 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.
As of Thursday afternoon, KGO had not issued a press release about Johnson's exit. A station spokesperson said, via e-mail, that "We don't have a prepared comment on Carolyn leaving."
Johnson joined KGO as a production assistant while still enrolled at Stanford. Except for a three-year stint at KSBY in San Luis Obispo, her entire career has been spent at KGO, where she became an on-air reporter in 1998. In addition to her anchor duties, she was known for her award-winning health and science reporting. Her industry honors include a 2009 regional Emmy Award for best evening newscast.
The new post in Los Angeles represents a homecoming of sorts for Johnson, who was born in Newport Beach and still has family there.
"I love the fact that I'll be closer to my parents and that I'm embarking on a whole new adventure," she said. "The scary part is leaving my colleagues. We had such a great team, full of good, solid people. I know we'll stay in touch for the rest of our lives."
Dan Ashley, Johnson's longtime anchor partner on the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts, expressed similar sentiments.
"I could not be happier for Carolyn that she has a great new opportunity. And I could not be sadder to see her go," he said. "She was a wonderful contributor to Bay Area media and a very dear friend. I'm so proud of her. ... On the air, we had great chemistry. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. I thought we would be working together for 20 years."
In her new role, Johnson will co-anchor KNBC's noon and 6 p.m. newscasts. Her contract at KGO runs through May 25, but it isn't known if she will remain on the station's air through that date.
There's no word on who might replace Johnson. The leading in-house candidate appears to be San Jose native Ama Daetz, who currently anchors the station's weekend newscasts.