Media Scene

Hall of fame backpedals on broadcasting honorees as lack of diversity questioned

Hattie Leeper, known as "Chatty Hatty," was the first black female radio announcer in North Carolina and could be among the additional nominees. She's won numerous awards, including a spot in the N.C. Association of Broadcasters' Hall of Fame.
Hattie Leeper, known as "Chatty Hatty," was the first black female radio announcer in North Carolina and could be among the additional nominees. She's won numerous awards, including a spot in the N.C. Association of Broadcasters' Hall of Fame.

Before the first portrait went on the wall, the Charlotte Broadcast Hall of Fame found itself in controversy.

After announcing its first class of 10 nominees – ranging from forecaster Larry Sprinkle of WCNC (Channel 36) to evangelist Billy Graham, an early adapter of using TV to spread his message – the nominating committee faced criticism for failing to include a single minority nominee.

A campaign was launched by Colette Forrest asking Central Piedmont Community College – which operates WTVI (Channel 42), site of the future hall of fame – to broaden its inaugural class and suggested a number of worthy minority broadcasters, including Charlotte radio stars Hattie Chatty Hatty” Leeper, “Genial Gene” Potts and “Rockin’ Ray” Gooding.

Forrest, who describes herself as a community activist and stakeholder, says black broadcasters have brought a valued perspective to the city’s life.

“Perspective matters,” she says. “Who you are plays into your perspective. Where would we be if we didn’t have those trail-blazing African-Americans?”

Perspective matters. Who you are plays into your perspective. Where would we be if we didn’t have those trail-blazing African-Americans?

Colette Forrest

On Monday, Urban League CEO Patrick Graham wrote to CPCC president Tony Zeiss suggesting that minorities be considered, and the college acknowledge the oversight.

Within hours, WTVI general manager Amy Burkett apologized for an “unintentional misstep and an error of omission in selecting the inaugural group of inductees” and said that the first class will soon be expanded to reflect more diversity.

“I think it’s a great thing that they’ve chosen to admit the error and the flawed process,” says Graham, “because so many times we don’t acknowledge the error.”

Graham says the omission came at a sensitive time in the city’s racial history with the Randall Kerrick trial starting, the Charleston shootings still fresh in memory and a recent study showing low economic mobility for Charlotte minorities.

“This isn’t just a media thing; this is part of a larger conversation that is starting to happen in Charlotte,” says Graham. “We’re going to have to be inclusive in all things we do from here on out.”

Other members of the first hall of fame class that have been previously announced will include 30-year WBT-AM (1110) morning personality Grady Cole; WBT and WBTV (Channel 3) pioneer Charles Crutchfield; WBTV homemaking show host Betty Feezor; WBT and WSOC-AM founder Earle Gluck; Big WAYS and WROQ-FM founders Stan and Sis Kaplan; CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt, who interned at WBT and later worked at The Charlotte News; and longtime Charlotte news anchors Doug Mayes and Bill Walker.

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007, mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com, @WashburnChObs

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