In January 2009, Doug Mayes – who pioneered the modern age of local TV news as WBTV’s (Channel 3) anchor beginning in 1952 – was going through a spell of bad health.
I called and said I was coming over for lunch.
“Now, Doug,” I said, “you’ve been in the business for a long, long time and you know how it works. My purpose is to interview you for your obituary.”
Mayes replied: “Well, Mark, you’ve been in the business for a long, long time too, and you know how it works – you’re buying our lunch.”
Mayes, who died last week at 93, was working at a Nashville, Tenn., radio station when he was invited to try out at WBT-AM (1110), then one of the nation’s most prominent stations.
After an all-night bus ride, he arrived at WBT at dawn. Morning host Grady Cole invited him inside.
Mayes watched Cole prepare for his show – stacking the scripts, adjusting his chair and then pulling out his .38-caliber pistol and setting it next to the microphone, just as natural as you please.
Cole was in a feud with someone, Mayes said, and was not a man to take chances.
After Mayes had been at the station a few months, they had tryouts for someone to read scripts on the newfangled WBTV. Mayes was one of three invited to audition – a broadcaster from Columbia and a high-school kid named Charles Kuralt were the other two.
That broadcaster from Columbia turned down the job. Kuralt had been accepted at UNC-Chapel Hill and station management thought he should get his education (and intern at WBT).
Thus Mayes became the first formal TV anchor in the Carolinas.
“Word has always been that I beat Charles Kuralt,” Mayes said. “I don’t correct them very often.”
Mayes would never say who his favorite co-worker was. They were like his kids, he said. You don’t pick favorites.
And then he’d launch into stories about Janet Voltz England, who shared the microphone with him at WBTV and later WSOC (Channel 9). “He always called me his daughter,” England said at Mayes’ funeral.
Mayes held a grudge against WBTV for years because of the way he was treated late in his career, marginalized to reading editorials to make way for more telegenic talent.
“Channel 3 thought I was too old,” he said. “I was 59. There was a push on to get rid of us.”
He defected to Channel 9 and took many viewers with him.
A new generation of leadership at WBTV, unaware of the animosity of the past, honored him as station royalty. He even returned at age 91 to co-anchor a newscast beside Molly Grantham in 2013.
At his funeral, the rivalry between the stations took on a bride-and-groom aspect.
When WBTV anchor Jamie Boll arrived, the usher told him: “WSOC on the left, WBTV on the right.”