Don Russell, weekend host of “Charlotte’s Morning News,” has more than four decades of service at WBT-AM (1110), but that’s not the milestone he’s most proud of.
“I hold the record for the number of times someone has worked at WBT – I’ve been fired by four different general managers,” he says. And he’s been rehired by as many.
“WBT’s management might not like me, but the listeners do,” says Russell, 68.
“In June of this year, through what is affectionately known in the business as ‘broken service,’ I will start my 43rd year at WBT.”
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Russell came to WBT in 1973 as evening shift DJ when the station was abandoning Frank Sinatra music in favor of pop. His show was followed nightly by “Lacey Listens,” WBT’s first talk show, hosted by Bob Lacey who had started in 1972 and is now on “Bob and Sheri” on sister station WLNK-FM ( “Link” 107.9).
Russell left in 1976 for a radio job in Kentucky, but didn’t like it. He was back in Charlotte at the WBT Fourth of July fireworks “Skyshow” in 1977 talking to program director Andy Bickel about getting his old job back. Russell’s replacement wasn’t working out and that night was especially bad – he fumbled the opening music during the “Skyshow” and the station went dead.
“Andy went crazy,” says Russell. “He turned to me as the guy was standing there and said, ‘You got the job.’”
WBT’s current program director, Jason Furst, says Russell is an ultimate broadcaster.
“He gets behind the microphone and he knows what to do with it,” says Furst. “When people get on the phone with him they love it.”
Russell got into radio during his Navy service in Iceland. He had a friend who worked for the U.S. Armed Forces Radio and would spend time with him at the studio, watching how the job was done.
Finishing his Navy career in Pensacola, Fla., in 1971, he applied for a job at WBSR-AM, a small local station. He lied about having real radio experience and bluffed his way through an audition.
He called the station manager three times a day for the next week asking about the job. “It was the constant badgering that got me the job,” Russell says. He started on the weekend overnight shift.
Russell says the most memorable day of his career was in 1989 when Hurricane Hugo ripped through Charlotte.
“We saved people’s lives that day by broadcasting information, telling them about what was going on,” Russell says.
There was only electricity enough for the microphone and a telephone. There was no power for the tape recorder and so there is no recording of that morning’s historic broadcast.
Russell sells real estate for a living during the week but does radio for fun on the weekends.
“I still love it,” he says. “I still go in there with the exact same philosophy I’ve had throughout my career – people need to feel better when they leave the show than when they got there.”