Sometimes we can see a neighbor for years without knowing much about them. We can see a TV personality every day for years and never know who they really are.
Rock the Casa is an annual musical charity event organized and presented by ABC 7’s Evening News Anchor, Dan Ashley. It generates funds for Court Appointed Special Advocates which provides volunteers to serve children placed in the foster care system. An equal percentage of the proceeds support Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Friends of Camp Concord, which sends hundreds of underserved children to summer camp at Lake Tahoe each year.
It was good news when Dan Ashley, who has been a newscaster for San Francisco’s ABC 7 for more than twenty-five years, agreed to sit down with me for an interview. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1985 with degrees in English and Speech Communication and working in local TV stations, he arrived ten years later in the Bay Area.
I wanted to get into his skin and learn more about the man himself. Dan is well known not just as a TV personality but as a humanitarian who supports many charities in the Bay Area. He is also the lead singer of his own rock band, and I thought that might be a good place to start.

So, how come you are a lead singer?

“I was never really into music until as a kid I sang in junior choir. Just for my own pleasure I also decided to take some voice lessons. I never had any musical ambitions beyond that. It was only twenty years later, at a charity golf tournament, after speaking to the leader of a band that was playing, I was invited to sing. I was terrified and refused but he insisted. I found a song I knew and mugged my way through it. I was shocked when I was asked to join the band as lead singer. I insisted that they throw me out if I couldn’t perform. But I did. I’m still convinced they only hired me because I was “that guy on TV” and it gave them a bit of status. I practiced for six months with them, and the rest is history, as they say.”
Since then Dan has released his own solo album.

What is your most memorable experience as a TV reporter, excluding your interview with President Obama in the White House?
No question about it. It was when I went to Auschwitz with Linda Breder, an amazing woman who survived three years there. I struggled to take in the cleanliness, orderliness and quiet of the place. The large open lawn-like areas. My mind was filled with what I had learned and seen in newsreels: the horrors and atrocities that had been committed there. I just couldn’t equate what I was seeing with what I knew was the real history.
We also went on a tour of Birkenau which was also a terrible place. Returning to Auschwitz, we found the gates locked, and we had left twenty thousand dollars worth of equipment inside. I was making a four-part special for TV. The three police on duty refused to allow us to enter. It took about forty minutes of arguing, begging, and cajoling until one of them convinced the others to let us enter, but only to collect our equipment. As soon as we picked it up, I told our cameraman to start shooting and delayed our exit for twenty minutes.” Dan added a quirky comment that he is probably the only person who begged to be allowed into Auschwitz!
Another occasion that has stayed with him was being assigned to the Columbine shootings. “I dreaded going,” he said. Around the satellite village where the TV trucks were parked, the atmosphere was somber as if we were all in church.”
Dan explained that most reporters try to avoid these tragic assignments. What touched him, however, was a woman who came to his trailer door with a plate of freshly baked cookies and thanked the team for letting the country know what had happened. He laughed as he explained that the warm weather changed overnight and the next day it snowed. There was a rush by hundreds of reporters to the Burlington coat factory in Denver to buy cheap topcoats.

What is your most fearful experience?
“Having to report on hurricane Hugo [1979] as it hit South Carolina.” It affected 2 million people and killed 67. He went on air while the winds, sounding like an express train, howled and the building shook. He said he was able to put on his professional face for the broadcast, but inside he was terrified. “I honestly thought I was going to die.”

What are your funniest moments?
Dan described how minutes before he was due on set as he was the sole newscaster, he developed a case of hiccups. He tried everything—drinking from the wrong side of a glass, having someone jump out at him and shout “boo,” breathing into a paper bag. Nothing worked. With no one else available, Dan had to hold his breath as the countdown to the news began. He attributes it to an adrenalin rush that as soon as he started to speak, the hiccups suddenly went away.
On another occasion when interviewing Rosie O’Donnell before she became famous, the director’s canvas chair he was sitting on collapsed. It was hilarious, but Dan was embarrassed. However, Rosie showed just how professional she was by turning attention to herself.
“If that had happened to me,” she joked to the camera, “it would be all over every news channel in the state with folk making fun of my weight.”

If I give you three wishes, what would you make?
“Nobody has ever asked me that before, so I might need some time to think about it. I guess I would like to see an end to the polarization in the country. Where people would agree to differ, but respect each other in the process and work for the common good.” And your second wish. “That there be an end to the opioid crisis. Not just helping addicted people with rehab or removing street dealers, but getting to the root cause. I imagine it will require lots of goodwill and dollars and I’m not sure either one is available.
“My final wish is to travel. I would like to do more traveling with my wife, Angela. I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of the world and I would really love to see new places for several months at a time. There are so many interesting countries on my bucket list that I would like to visit.”
Regarding Dan Ashley’s Rock the CASA, this year will be a tribute to the late Tina Turner. The show will feature her best-known music and will be performed by Franc D’Ambrosio, best known in the Bay Area as the Phantom of the Opera. He will be joined by the Oakland Symphony Orchestra and an added rhythm section. This concert is on April 27, at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek.
Generous, remarkable and a true professional, Dan lives in Walnut Creek, and he is your neighbor.