Very few people in the media live up to their perception the viewers and readers have. David Carroll is that rare breed. The veteran news anchor and media personality is every bit the same off the air as on. In the high stakes and cutthroat world of media, he is a true class act. I’ve been fortunate enough not only to be able to listen to him on the radio and see him on TV most of my life, I’ve also gotten the opportunity to meet David as a member of the media and won’t lie am still a little star struck around him because of how genuine and not fake like media personalities in general can be. I even remember when I was in school he came into a little store I worked and I asked him about TV since I was a communications major and he took the time to answer my questions. Already a fan at that time I was a bigger afterward and remain so decades after meeting him in person and becoming part of the media myself. In recent years he’s broadened his horizons and has become pretty much the historian for local media publishing two books with his most recent one being “Volunteer Bama Dawg” that is filled more with personal stories about being in media.
Folks like you in the media all their life, is it hard to balanced being David Carroll and being David Carroll the media personality?
I hope there’s no difference. I’ve done a few book signings on this and it’s been really kind of encouraging how many people come up and say, “You don’t know me but I know you” or “You’ve been in my house for thirty years” or whatever the case may be and, hopefully, this book is an extension of that in that, when you are on the news, you are pretty much scripted. This book and the stories in it give me a chance to show who I am, my sense of humor. Stories about people I met and how much I love this part of the country.
When you started in media originally, on radio and TV, Chattanooga at that point was considered a transient town for personalities. Nobody stayed here. You were one of the pioneers as far as personalities that made Chattanooga your home. Tell me about what made you decide you wanted to stay in Chattanooga and not go elsewhere.
Whenever people ask me about that, I sort of half-jokingly say, “Nobody else wanted me.” So it hasn’t been like the network’s been knocking down my door or anything like that. I’ve never been particularly ambitious about trying to get out of Chattanooga because Channel 3’s been good to me. The stations that I worked at before were good to me. My wife loves it here. My kids grew up here. You know, you’re a couple of hours away from everything. I haven’t had, I guess, the motivation to try and move out, and it seems like we’re finding a little more stability in the business than we used to. You’re right. In the past, it was a revolving door. But if you look at most of the stations now, you know, my team at Channel 3 – Paul and Cindy – has been there longer than have, for thirty years. The folks at Channel 9, many of them have been in place for ten, fifteen years or more. Channel 12, which had a lot of problems in decades past, they’ve had a pretty good record of keeping their main anchors in recent years. So, maybe that says something about the area.
Your new book, “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” the name itself is kind of interesting in the fact that there are a lot of divided loyalties in our area, especially when it comes to sports.
What do you think of the personality of the whole thing? We live in a very unique area, wouldn’t you say, with us being right in between multiple states.
Well, it’s funny because when I’m showing the book to somebody, they think it’s a sports book and I say, “There’s a couple of sports stories in there” but the title actually comes from exactly what you’re talking about. A few months ago, a friend of mine sent me an e-mail and said, “You really need to go to exit 161 off I-24 west headed toward Nashville. Turn about three miles, go to the State Line Cemetery, and take about a fifty-yard hike into the woods. You can stand in this spot where there’s a little monument that marks where the Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia borders meet. I said, “I grew up fifteen miles from there and never really thought about the spot.” So, I went over there, found the marker, took a selfie, wrote a story about it, and put it online. Then a bunch of people went over there and took their kids, where they had three kids in three states and stuff like that. As I was standing there taking the picture, I thought, “This is my life. I grew up in Alabama, drive through Georgia every day, work and live in Tennessee – I’m a Volunteer Bama Dawg.” There’s something I love about all three states. And, yeah, there are football rivalries, you know, but as far as the region, the area, we’re all in this together. I really don’t look at state lines. I just thought that would be a clever name for the book. It represents who I am – someone who has grown up in the tri-state area and loves it.
Do you think you take on different personalities from the different states in what you do?
Not that I notice, really. Growing up in northeast Alabama, I grew up reading the Chattanooga papers, listening to Chattanooga radio, and watching Chattanooga television. So I always felt like a Chattanoogan. Then, moving here in 1989 and becoming officially a Chattanooga resident and a Tennessee resident, my family’s still in Alabama. I still have a lot of friends in Georgia. I think we’re all very similar and we have similar beliefs and similar tastes. Especially now, with us kind of a Face book nation, we’re all kind of united anyway. Everybody’s linked in one form or fashion. So I think we’re more of a region. Sure, now I’m a Tennessean but I still have all three of those states in my heart.
You’ve become kind of a historian of the media in the region. What are some things that you uncovered that was kind of like a wow factor for you when doing research for this book and the previous book about the history of TV and radio in Chattanooga [“Chattanooga Radio and Television”]?
Well, even though the two books are very different – the first one was like a pictorial history; this one is more a series of short stories, though there’s about sixty pictures in this book … it’s kind of a continuation. In the first book, I was able to put about twenty pictures of Luther in there and have little captions, little anecdotes. In the first book, I had three, four pictures of Miss Marcia, of Bob Brandy, Harry Thornton, and Mary Ellen Locher. In this book, I’ve got pictures but also I elaborated and was able to tell their stories about their lives. As recently as last weekend, I was at a book signing and somebody was reading the chapter about Mort Lloyd and Marilyn Lloyd. When you think about forty years ago, Mort was this iconic figure who suddenly passed away in a plane crash on the eve of being elected to Congress and then his wife runs in his place and wins ten elections without a loss. I mean, to 25, 30-year-old people, they have no idea. So it’s fun to be able to tell their story now with the perspective of recent history. I guess, in the course of doing the research, I feel that Chattanooga’s been very blessed to have some iconic figures. Some like Marcia thankfully are still with us. So many others have passed on just in recent years. It’s great to tell Tommy Jett’s story. Tommy’s still with us. I think we’re blessed to have some local broadcasters and journalists that are household names.
Not necessarily talking about you here but just the media in general … when I was a kid, whenever I would see a media personality, it was almost like being kind of star struck. Do you think social media has taken away from that? Or has it added to the actual appeal of media personalities?
I think it’s adding. I was a little bit concerned about it in the beginning. I’ve been on Facebook for almost eight years now and I am blessed to have a lot people read what I write on Facebook. I do a website – chattanoogaradiotv.com. It’s been an outgrowth of that. It’s helped me establish a personality beyond sitting there reading the news. As you know from listening to me on the radio a long time ago, I like to have a little fun, tell stories, and make people laugh from time to time. The same thing goes with some of my other friends who are on social media. Bob Johnson, who had to retire due to illness from the anchor desk about ten years ago … well now, he’s on Facebook and it’s a joy to see him express his opinions and write little stories. Darryl Patterson, it’s the same way. He’s just as active in sports as when he was on TV. He just does it on social media. Chickamauga Charlie, who was this legendary, controversial disc jockey in my youth on WGOW, WDXB, he was out of sight for thirty years. Nobody knew where he was. Now he’s Bob Todd on Facebook and he shares his stories and jokes on there. He’s back in my life now. It’s offered some of these folks a chance to stay in touch with the public whether they are still on the airwaves or not. There’s a Chickamauga Charlie story in there too, by the way.
What do you see going on with radio right now? I realize there’s a lot of internet radio now but do you see maybe a grassroots effort to bring back local radio? It seems like people have complained about radio ever since the change in FCC regulations from when a group could only own a certain percentage in the market to now where they can own a majority of stations in the market. There seems to have been a backlash. Do you see local radio making a comeback as far as bringing back radio personalities?
It’s gradual but I think it’s happening. If you look at iHeartMedia, you’ll see that, around the country, they have gradually cut back on local personalities but here, for example, US101 has been one of the few stations that they really haven’t bothered that much. They still have a good, solid local morning show and a good, solid local afternoon show because someone in the upper echelon of iHeart has figured out it ain’t broke, we don’t want to fix that. If you look at the Bahakel group with Sunny 92, Hits96, the Legend, and some of those stations, they have more local voices on the air live than anybody else. If you look at Cumulus Talk Radio, they’ve still got the same lineup in place that they had 10, 20 years ago in the key afternoon and morning drive slots. At Brewer, I think they are also recognizing that more. I’m doing a weekend show on a station that I call Back to Back Music. They are allowing me to tell the stories behind the hits on weekend mornings now. That’s something that we didn’t have a few months ago. So I think – gradually – ownership, whether they be local or national, are starting to figure out that if people want non-stop music, it’s there on your iPod, on satellite but to differentiate yourself from that, you‘ve got to have something special and, here, that’s local. I hope it’s coming back. I think it is.
Let’s step back a minute. Were you a music program director back in the seventies? What was your role? I know your claim to fame, or infamy, is the Starland Vocal Band, being the first radio station to play the song and such …
I was music director on WFLI back in the mid-seventies and this was before FM really got its foothold on the mass audience, so yeah, I was the guy who played “Afternoon Delight” before anybody else in the nation. So you can thank me or blame me, depending on your point of view. From there, I did a little stint on WGOW in the mornings. Then, when the new ownership came in and bought WYNQ and WGOW from Ted Turner in 1977-78, they switched the FM – WYNQ – overnight to KZ106. I got to be the first morning DJ, first voice on that station and that’s something I’ll always be proud of. I kid the guys that are over there now that they are basically playing the same records I did. It’s still the Journey/Styx/REO/Skynyrd playlist but that station is still a powerhouse, still very well operated. I’m really proud to have been the first foot in the door there.
Starland Vocal Band couldn’t have been that bad. They did have a summer replacement series on CBS, I think. (laughs)
Yeah, John Denver backed them and discovered them. From what I’ve read since then, there are all kinds of, kind of like ABBA, all these romances like Fleetwood Mac where one side was in love with the other who was actually married to somebody else. When I hear that song and the other ones from the era like “Moonlight Feels Right” and stuff like that, I mean, it was just a special time. There’s just something about pop music that I’ll always love.
One of the things, when I first heard about Chattanooga being the first station ever to play that song, I thought it was a very “Holy cow!” big deal, but then when I read your first book, it’s like Chattanooga was a very instrumental market, or the stations themselves, for radio in this country.
Chattanooga had some key people in the early days that really played a big role nationally. WDOD was the first radio station, and it was the only radio station for eleven years. It was dominant for fifteen or sixteen years. They were affiliated with CBS and, back in those days, the CBS network was always looking for programming. They had a lot of regular evening programming, the big names that you read about from that era of radio – Jack Benny and George Burns, The Amateur Hour, Arthur Godfrey, and all that – but they had a lot of daytime slots to fill. WDOD had a daytime show called Noon Day Frolic which broadcast from a local theater downtown and oftentimes they would have up-and-coming talent like George Gobel, Archie Campbell, Ernie Ford, and people like that and CBS would ask them to do a national hook-up. They would connect the phone lines so that these Chattanooga-originated shows would be on the CBS radio network. So, yeah, we were a pretty big deal back then. Then Luther, for goodness sakes, I mean, when he came on the scene in 1940, he became a local and national legend, staying on the air for 74 years. I tell the story in this book, people would sometimes come into town and say, “If Luther’s such a big deal, then why is he only in Chattanooga?” I asked him that one time and he told me about all the offers he got from across the nation but he never wanted to leave. I think had he wanted to, Luther could have been a celebrity on the national level like Art Linkletter or someone like that.
I guess he would be the pioneer of wanting to stay in one market instead of traveling around because in radio and then TV broadcasting, it soon becomes where people are always on the move.
In Luther’s case, he was an exception. I remember I helped organize an effort to get him into the National Radio Hall of Fame. It was very difficult and very lengthy because the people in Chicago who run the National Hall of Fame had that same mindset about him” “So what? He’s in Chattanooga.” And I had to convince them over a period of years that he was special. It took a little effort but they eventually figured it out. When he got onstage to accept his award back in 2012, it was one of their brighter moments because he was 91, 92 years old but he was on that night. Those are some of the fun stories in here. The book is a combination of some of the funnier things that I’ve written online that people have responded to well. There’s some historical value in the book. I kid about how new reporters come to town and always ask me why we call it the Old Johnny Bridge and I have to explain Mayor Rudy Olgiati and how all that came about. There are some stories about my work covering schools and some of the funnier things I have observed in our local schools. You have to focus on the funny stuff because it’s been a pretty sad year for our local schools. And a few things about my life, my family … growing up in a country store and some funny stories about the people I met and about our southernisms. That’s probably been the most responded-to part of the book, those great southern phrases we all grew up with that I don’t want to see go away.
Your son, Chris, is in the media as well. How much influence did you have on him wanting to follow in your footsteps or is it something he came up with on his own?
I think he’s always been interested in news. My wife and I don’t always see eye-to-eye politically so we’ve had some healthy debates in our home from time to time and both our sons, I think, enjoy the back-and-forth and talking about what was in the news. Chris started out working for the Times-Free Press for a while and he’s now working as the communications director for Congressman Jim Cooper but he’s still very tuned in to the news. I remember I took him on a trip to New York City when he was about sixteen and we went to all the tourist sites – the Empire State Building, Times Square, a Broadway show – but, for him, the highlight of the trip was a surprise visit to the New York Times. He read the New York Times every day as a teenager. That gives you an idea of how into the news he was and still is.
How do you see the state of journalism now locally and even nationally with the way we receive and broadcast our news?
I’ve been really concerned about it recently. I wrote a story about it. I think the title was something about “Has Facebook Become Hatebook?” because during the recent presidential campaign, there were just so many false stories being spread and anger online and so much of it was inspired by fake news sites and people who were far left or far right. I guess the thing that concerns is that when I was growing up, the sixties and seventies, generally if something was associated with the AP or CBS or NBC, you could rest assured it was down the middle pretty much. If there was opinion or commentary, it was labeled as such. During the recent presidential campaign, there were stories on the nbcnews.com front page that I thought were very slanted and they were not labeled as opinion, commentary, or analysis and that concerns me. We catch a lot of criticism these days and I like to think that, on a local level, we stay pretty much down the middle but it did concern me that national news organizations who should know better were taking positions … in the case of one candidate, for example, this candidate might be making a speech about something and a national news network might say “making ridiculous promises” or “making unsubstantiated claims” and again I would just like to see that labeled as commentary if that’s what it is. So I’m a little concerned about it right now. I think there’s a large segment of the population who are unable to tell the difference between real news and fake news. Unfortunately, some of the real news organizations have played into that by not being as unbiased as they should be.
You’ve been in media your whole life, since when you were a teenager basically. What do you think you have taken away from your time being in the media?
It’s been really rewarding. I recommend it. Every time I talk to a high school or college class, I ask if any of them are interested in becoming journalists or reporters. There’s always a handful, a smattering of hands that go up. I like to tell people that, in my case, I feel like that I have been very blessed in that I do something different every day, in my case, covering schools primarily. I get to see the best of the best and the worst of the worst. I see the needs. I see the inequities. I’ve seen a lot of positives that don’t get covered as much as they should. But it’s a real blessing. This occupation gives me a chance to touch some lives in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t I feel like by having the microphone, the camera, the transmitter, that I can reach people and hopefully solve a few problems or shed some light on some needs. It’s a gift and I don’t take it lightly. The cool thing is it’s what I wanted to do when I was a kid and not many people can say that they’ve been able to do that their whole career.
You’ve got two books out now. Are you looking to write more or are you looking at other writers, somebody to bring different kinds of stories to the table?
When I finished the first book, I didn’t think there would be another one. About 2013, I started writing blogs and columns on my website and since then, eight area newspapers have picked them up – Marion County, Walker, Catoosa, and several other weekly papers. I got to thinking a few months ago that, with the negative news that has been so dominant recently, I thought it would be fun – especially this year with the election and some of the other tragic things that are going on – to compile some of those stories into a book that might make people smile and might make people laugh. I never thought a second book would exist. Right now I don’t think there’s a third book in me but I’m still so young, Dave … anything could happen (laughs). I do love to write, though. That’s been something that has sort of awakened in me in the last few years. The internet and having a website has enabled me to do that and for people to see it. It’s a great outlet. Sometimes, there’s just something on my mind, for example the night of the Woodmore bus crash, there were so many things that, as I was arriving back from being on the news that night from the scene, I just had to say. Earlier this year when we had all the problems with the Ooltewah situation and Hamilton County schools, there were so many things I wanted to say and a lot of it is inappropriate for a TV newscast because it really does venture into the realm of opinion. It’s nice to be able to have that outlet. Down the road, I hope I can grow as a writer and write some more pieces that make people think and enlighten or maybe be more descriptive than I can be on TV. I wouldn’t rule it out. I really enjoy the challenge of putting a book together.
Both books are in print. If someone wanted to pick one up, where could they be able to find one or order one?
What I like to tell people is my website is my favorite place to sell them because I get to personally autograph them and that is chattanoogaradiotv.com. They are also on Amazon and at bookstores. Those are probably the best ways to get them. For the new one, I even did a book on tape, which I’ve never done before. It’s all recorded on five CDs and for folks whose eyesight may be failing or who just like to listen to a book on a car trip or on their iPod or whatever. That’s been a real fun thing, too. I enjoyed doing that. It turned out pretty well.
Tell us where we can listen to your radio show.
It is on Big 95.3, Saturday and Sunday mornings from ten ‘til noon. It’s called the Vinyl Express, the idea behind it is to tell the stories behind the songs we all grew up with, and each week there’s a different theme just to kind of make it fun. One week it might be songs about magic or with “magic” in the title or with colors or girls’ names or songs about being on the road. The best songs of a certain year … it’s just always tied into some theme that’s fun. My favorite one so far has been songs with cowbell, all the hits with cowbell in them. More cowbell. And people are constantly giving me ideas for themes like bodies of water, days of the week. I’ve found that it is pretty easy, thanks to the internet to find anywhere between 15 and 30 songs that can be tied together.
– Dave Weinthal
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