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Before covering Jackson's death, TV reporter worked in Duluth

From Enger Park Golf Course to Neverland Ranch -- that's part of the professional journey of television reporter Ted Rowlands. His first on-air job was with the KBJR-TV Channel 6 sports staff in 1991 in Duluth, when he rented an apartment above t...

From Enger Park Golf Course to Neverland Ranch -- that's part of the professional journey of television reporter Ted Rowlands.

His first on-air job was with the KBJR-TV Channel 6 sports staff in 1991 in Duluth, when he rented an apartment above the Enger Park Golf Course clubhouse.

Earlier this month, as a CNN correspondent in Los Angeles, he took millions of viewers on a tour of Michael Jackson's former residence, Neverland Ranch. It was just one stop during a frenetic two weeks as Rowlands was on the go almost nonstop, reporting on the year's most-followed story.

"You like to think that there's some importance to any story you cover, but the uniqueness of Michael Jackson has made this an unbelievable story," Rowlands, with CNN since 2004, said Thursday from Los Angeles. "It's hard to fathom how many people were glued to this around world."

CNN had gotten an early indication that Jackson had died June 25 and Rowlands spent a good part of that day outside the UCLA Medical Center. Then there was the exclusive Neverland tour July 3, and then a private family ceremony at Forest Lawn Cemetery July 7 before the Staples Center public celebration.

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The story has cooled slightly, but Jackson's expected autopsy report, the disposition of his will and custody ruling on his children will keep Rowlands, 42, on the MJ beat for some time.

It's quite a turn from his nearly 3½ years in Duluth, covering sports and news, during which he was a regular at Grandma's Marathon, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and Duluth Dukes baseball games. After arriving here, he was third in the KBJR-TV sports hierarchy behind Mike Birkeland and Tom Hansen.

"I lived on the cheap, played a lot of golf and learned about the TV business," said Rowlands, whose dad, Bob, is a University of Wisconsin engineering professor.

The Madison native and 1989 University of Wisconsin graduate, left Duluth in 1995 and had TV jobs in California in Salinas, San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland. Rowlands caught the eye of CNN while covering the Laci Peterson murder in 2004 for KTVU-TV and was often on the Larry King show with Scott Peterson trial updates.

Rowlands lives in Glendale, Calif., with wife, Erica, and daughters, Madison, 7, and Cosette, 4, but the immediacy of the news business often takes him out of town, sometimes for long stretches. He covered the 14-week Michael Jackson molestation trial in 2005 in Santa Maria, Calif.; Hurricane Katrina for four weeks in 2005 in New Orleans; the O.J. Simpson memorabilia robbery trial for three weeks in 2008 in Las Vegas; and the outbreak of the swine flu for 10 days in April in Mexico City.

CNN's Los Angeles bureau is the largest in the western United States and covers 22 states.

The highlight of his time with the network has come as a fill-in host on "Larry King Live" when King is on vacation. Rowlands estimates he's gotten the call about 10 times to work in place of the well-known talk show host.

"You always tell yourself not to get too high or too low when on an assignment, but there is a thrill in sitting in that seat and it's pretty humbling," said Rowlands.

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"Working for CNN has been a dream job. You get to meet so many unique people and you can see them on the best day of their life or the worst day. Never in a million years did I imagine being in this position."

The strangest part of the strangest day of the last two weeks was Rowlands being paired with Jackson friend and bodyguard Miko Brando, son of Marlon Brando, for a showing of Neverland. While walking through the empty building, a shadowy figure seems to move across a room at the end of a hallway. It wasn't noticed by Rowlands or Brando, but was detected on the replaying of the video. A YouTube video has received about 10 million hits, said Rowlands.

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