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New ‘Rising’ host started in TV at age 14

By Mark Washburn

Television has been good to Kristine Zell. So far, it has given her a free car and a husband.

Zell, 30, started last month as the new morning co-host on “WCCB News Rising” on Channel 18 with Derek James, Terrance Bates, Jon Wilson and Tera Blake. She moved up from Bahakel Communications sister station WFXB, the Fox affiliate in Myrtle Beach, where she co-hosted the evening “Not the News” show, a clone of WCCB’s evening “News Edge.”

Zell, a native of St. Paul, Minn., got her first break in TV at age 14 when the NBC affiliate in the Twin Cities held tryouts at the Mall of America for a teen-oriented local program called “The Whatever Show.” Thousands of teens showed up, and she was one of the few who got a callback for a second audition, then landed one of the hosting jobs.

After that, she was hooked on TV. She left snowy Minnesota for Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., where she pursued a degree in broadcasting (part of her coaching there was about losing the Minnesota accent and trimming her long “O’s”).

Her freshman year, she called her mother to tell her she was going to be in the audience of “The Price Is Right” and asked her to pray that she would get picked to play and then win a car. She called back later to report that the prayer had worked – she’d won a Dodge Neon.

After college, she returned to the Midwest for her first job at the CBS affiliate in Mason City, Iowa. “I like to say I went to Iowa to get my man,” says Zell. Her first day of work coincided with that of Jeff Zell, who had been hired for the station’s sports department. Both new in town, they started to hang out with each other, and one thing led to another. They were married in 2011.

After Mason City, she applied for jobs around the balmy South but wound up at the CBS affiliate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, about two hours away. In 2011, she moved to Myrtle Beach, where her husband had found work as sports director of the CBS station.

Soon, she landed a job there on “Not the News” and did afternoons on the local talk radio station, a far different role. “It was all butting heads for the sake of butting heads for radio,” she says.

When his contract is up at the end of the year, Jeff Zell will move to Charlotte and look for work here.

Kristine Zell says she found an instant connection with James, her co-host. After she was hired, but just finishing work in Myrtle Beach, he called and invited the couple to dinner at a vacation house he was renting with his family. “Derek is warm and welcoming,” she says. “Our relationship is genuine.”

Media Movers

Newcomers to the newsroom of WJZY (Channel 46) are digital journalists Caroline Fountain from CN2 in Rock Hill and former Observer writer Jessica Milicevic. Stewart Pittman, a photographer from Fox’s Greensboro affiliate, joins Fox 46 Carolinas as news operations manager. Mike Leslie comes to the station as a sports digital journalist from the ABC affiliate in Springfield, Mass., where he was sports director. …

Geoff Knight, producer of the Paul Schadt morning show on WKKT-FM (“Kat” 96.9), returns to the stage as Orin the dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors,” opening this weekend at the Matthews Playhouse. … Anniversary of note: Tom Long celebrates his 87th birthday next week. He started in the radio business at 13, making a station ID for WSPA radio in Spartanburg, where his father Ed Long worked before launching WHKY-AM (1290) in Hickory in 1940. Now the family business includes WHKY-TV (Channel 14). Tom Long continues to come to work every day (as did his father, until his death at 92). Third-generation broadcaster Jeff Long now runs the place. …

WCCB (Channel 18) station manager Jim White says the station will launch half-hour newscasts in the 6 p.m. hour on weekends beginning in November. Ratings have been good on the Charlotte 49er football games, and WCCB, which had intended to air only home games this year, will carry the Nov. 2 game from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C. He says the station is interested in picking up some 49er basketball games this winter.

NBC News correspondent Kerry Sanders will be the speaker for the Radio Television Digital News Association of the Carolinas on Nov. 2 at the Speedway Club in Concord. Corrie Harding, news director at WCNC (Channel 36) is president of the organization, and Yvonne Simons, assistant news director at WBTV (Channel 3), is vice president. ... CNN senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin will speak Tuesday at the third annual Chancellor’s Speaker Series at UNC Charlotte Center City.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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