On Saturday, April 9, News Talk 1110 & 99.3 WBT celebrated its 100th Anniversary in style at the Dale F. Halton Theater at Central Piedmont Community College in Uptown Charlotte. WBT Morning Host Bo Thompson was the emcee for the evening, guiding the audience through a century of broadcast history.
Special VIP guests including current station team members, long-time clients, alumni, and family members of past WBT greats were invited by the Radio One station to attend a private, pre-show reception to reminisce and browse several displays of historic station artifacts, photos, and memorabilia.
As the lights dimmed in the theater, the program opened with a young girl sitting at a kitchen table, counting into a microphone. Such were the humble beginnings of WBT when, in the winter of 1921, “Ditty” Laxton, the daughter of WBT founder Fred Laxton, spoke the first words into the microphone of what would become WBT, the “Great Colossus of the South.” This reenactment, also featuring fellow founder Earl Gluck, was guided by Mark Garrison of the WBT News Department who, throughout the evening, would return for two more “living history” reenactments highlighting the legendary station executive Charles Crutchfield.
Thompson soon reemerged to lead the audience on a journey through the past 100 years, beginning with a video history of the station from its founding through 1989, a period that included the emergence of radio as a source of information and entertainment through the years of World War II and the Cold War, the 60s, 70s and 80s as Charlotte’s source for contemporary music, as well as news highlights of the PTL scandal and Hurricane Hugo. 2017 WBT Hall of Fame inductee and “Charlotte’s Most Beloved,” John Hancock, was introduced next to give his thoughts on the milestone, twenty-nine years of which he was a part, and to recognize the many notable alumni guests in attendance.
A “Century Panel” discussion followed, led by Bo Thompson and his new Morning Co-Host, Beth Troutman, featured WBT legends and luminaries such as former Program Director Mary June Rose, former host James K. Flynn, former station Sales Executive Robert Boyd, the son of WBT Hall of Fame member Ty Boyd, and John Hancock. Following a performance by The Briarhoppers, whose original lineup was created by Crutchfield and inducted into the WBT Hall of Fame in 2007, Afternoon Drive Host Brett Winterble took the microphone to speak about the legacy of Rush Limbaugh, whom Winterble worked with for nearly a decade early in his career.
Two UNC basketball legends, WBT’s Pastor David Chadwick and station contributor Matt Doherty took the stage next, Chadwick to speak about the legacy of the Reverend Billy Graham and the need for messages of hope on the airwaves, while former National Championship team member and eventual UNC head coach Doherty spoke about the late coaching legend Dean Smith and Tar Heels play by play voice Woody Durham before introducing a message from retired UNC head coach Roy Williams.
Former General Manager Rick Jackson was welcomed by Bo Thompson to discuss his creation the WBT Hall of Fame in 1997 to preserve the legacy of the station which at the time was reaching its 75th Anniversary.
This lead to what many felt was the “main event” of the evening, the inductions of three new members to the WBT Hall of Fame – John Stokes, Jim Szoke, and Bob Lacey.
To induct John Stokes into the WBT Hall of Fame after more than 30 years as Morning Drive News Anchor, WBT Mid-Day Host Pete Kaliner and former News Director Jim Barroll shared their thoughts on the Charlotte news legend. Kaliner, who began his first tenure at WBT as a news reporter, and Barroll, who doubled as Afternoon Drive news anchor during much of Stokes’ time at the station, played off of each other in their comments about Stokes’ style, dedication to quality journalism and broadcasting, and his distinctive, authoritative voice which defined the sound of WBT news for three decades.
After his Hall of Fame plaque was revealed, Stokes relayed that it was his fascination with the Watergate scandal that pulled him away from a career path in architecture to journalism, but that he was too introverted for television and wanted to enjoy sports rather than “work” in sports. So, radio news would be his chosen path, and after working in several markets he arrived in Charlotte where, for thirty-two years, he strived to do the best job he could do, every day, for the listeners.
Carolina Panthers play by play legends, Bill Rosinski and Mick Mixon, were introduced next to speak about the second honoree of the night, WBT Sports Director, Jim Szoke. Rosinski, the first Panthers play-by-play announcer in the team’s history, and Mixon, who retired from the same position after seventeen years this past January, spoke highly of Szoke’s talent, sports acumen, and ability to seamlessly fill the gaps in a play by play broadcast. Most of all, they spoke of his razor-sharp wit and sense of humor, and how Szoke made their broadcast teams better. In his acceptance comments, Szoke recalled seizing on the opportunity of radio to jumpstart his career in sports broadcasting, and his tenure as the only member of the Carolina Panthers broadcast team to be a part of every game broadcast in the team’s history. Szoke, who has been a part of WBT across five decades from the late 1980s to the present, expressed that he listened to the station as a boy in Ohio, and is now honored to be inducted into its Hall of Fame.
WBT Mid-Morning Host Vince Coakley was introduced next, and spoke about what being a part of this station means to him, and the responsibility of speaking to its listeners each weekday from 10:00 AM to Noon. Coakley then introduced 2012 WBT Hall of Fame inductee H.A. Thompson, who hosted in same daypart during his nearly two decades at WBT.
After giving his thoughts on the station’s century of broadcasting, Thompson spoke about the final inductee of the evening, Bob Lacey, both having joined the air staff in the early 1970s during WBT’s Top 40 and Adult Contemporary eras. Thompson recounted the exciting time it was to be on the air at WBT and how the station thrived at night with the groundbreaking nighttime talk show, “Lacey Listens,” and how that success lead to Lacey being moved to Mornings, where he dominated the airwaves through the end of the decade. Accepting his place in the WBT Hall of Fame, Lacey thanked the many past executives in attendance and praised the ownership groups of his time at WBT for believing in and supporting the air talent at both WBT and WBTV, where he hosted “PM Magazine” in the 1980s before ultimately returning to radio.
Bo Thompson returned to the stage to introduce the final video history of the evening, which covered the period from 1990 to the present. This period included the debut at WBT of John Hancock, the creation of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers with WBT as the original flagship station, the acquisition of the 99.3 frequency which would become WBT-FM, the creation of the WBT Hall of Fame in 1997, and WBT’s coverage of the events of the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks. This was also the era of personalities like Spires & Krantz, Al Gardner, Stacey Simms, Keith Larson, Jason Lewis, and Tara Servatius, among others.
Holiday on Ice, the Uptown Charlotte ice skating tradition was created, and in 2013 a historical marker was placed on the site of the former Wilder Building at the corner of Tryon and 3rd Streets in Uptown which used to be the site of the WBT studios. Finally, the current WBT on-air team was highlighted – Bo Thompson and Beth Troutman, Vince Coakley, Bill O’Reilly, Pete Kaliner, Brett Winterble, Mark Garrison, Brett Jensen, Tony Marino, Jim Szoke, Pam Warner, Mark Mueller, Boomer Von Cannon, Anna Erickson, Joe Gillespie, Sharon Thorsland, Jeff Atkinson, Mike Dohn, and Ed Billick.
After acknowledging that the evening had run well past its intended length, but regretting none of it, Bo Thompson invited all members of the current WBT and Radio One Charlotte team to the stage to share the final moments of this historic night. It seemed fitting that Thompson’s final statement was delivered at 11:10 PM.