Media Scene

For 30 years, Jim Barroll has been voice of Charlotte’s news

Jim Barroll, WBT news director, in the news studio, as morning host Keith Larson does his show across the hall.
Jim Barroll, WBT news director, in the news studio, as morning host Keith Larson does his show across the hall. mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

WBT-AM (1110) news director Jim Barroll, who marks 30 years in Charlotte broadcasting this month, used radio as a teenager to get his bearings.

Barroll was the son of a college English professor who frequently moved to new campuses. Growing up, he lived in Austin, Texas; Pasadena, Calif.; Nashville, Tenn.; Cincinnati; Toronto and spent a year in England.

“I got a handle on the local culture through radio,” says Barroll, 62, who went to five different high schools. “I would tune in to get my bearings on what the community was about.”

He enrolled at the University of South Carolina to study journalism when his father was teaching there and in the ’70s landed a part-time night job at WIS-AM (1320) in Columbia. There was a flurry of sudden turnover, and Barroll was thrust into a talk-show role that launched his career in news.

In 1983, Barroll went to a station in Orlando, Fla., but his wife, a South Carolina native, didn’t like it there. He got a call from Scott White, now director of media relations for Carolinas HealthCare System and then news director at WBT, with a job offer.

They moved to Charlotte and Barroll spent about a year doing newscasts on the “John Boy and Billy” show before it became big. It was then carried on WBT’s sister station WBCY-FM, which became WLNK-FM (“Link” 107.9).

It’s about the most interesting job you could have.

Jim Barroll, WBT news director

Barroll did lots of street reporting when that was the best way to get the story.

“Nowadays, with the Internet, you can sit at your work station and get 80 percent of what you used to have to go out and get,” Barroll says. “It’s a lot more sophisticated and easier.”

When he arrived at WBT, there was a rudimentary computer system. Now he’s tied into the world and feeds the station’s Web operation.

Barroll once thought about becoming a pilot. He is still an aircraft enthusiast and was at the airport overlook with his wife watching planes on July 2, 1994. They saw a storm approaching and went home.

About 10 minutes later, he was on his way back – USAir Flight 1016 crashed in a wind shear while landing, killing 37 of the 57 people aboard.

He was sent to Georgetown, S.C., to cover the approach of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. After it passed, he called in a report to WBT only to be told that no one cared about what happened on the coast – Hugo had slammed Charlotte.

“It turned out the big story was right here,” Barroll says.

Barroll’s newsroom is full of veterans. John Stokes is coming up on 30 years himself, and Mark Garrison, Chris Miller and Mike Doyle are longtime Charlotte newshounds.

“It’s still fun,” says Barroll. “It’s about the most interesting job you could have.”

Mark Washburn: 704-358-5007, @WashburnChObs

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