Growing up in Bryant, Ala., David Carroll spent time listening to radio and Chattanooga television when he was a boy and had a career goal right away.
When David was about five years old, he remembers helping his sister pick cotton at his grandparents’ farm. He knew then that he did not want to be a laborer when he grew up.
“My parents Hoyt and Ruth had a general merchandise store and that is how I came to never meet a stranger,” David insists, “because people were coming in and out all the time.”
With David’s two older sisters and his mother teaching him to read quite early, he was very much into reading but still loved radio and television.
“They tell me that when I was little, people would come into the store and I would say ‘Would you like to be queen for a day?’ I was always pretending that I was on a microphone or on TV,” David says. He demonstrates with exuberant animation and a pretend microphone, “When I got old enough to run the register, I would tear off the receipt and say, ‘Your grand total is $7.22 cents!’ I was always that little show off kid and I was always ‘on’,” David laughs.
With showmanship personality, David was predestined for the career he holds today.
“All through my childhood, I’d come home from school and work in the store six or seven days a week - that shaped my personality a lot. I saw how hard my dad worked though. He did a lot of heavy lifting, outside work, changed oil, repaired chain saws and lifted big bags of feed, so I knew I didn’t want to run the store,” David admits.
When he witnessed the rural customers who worked manual labor coming into the store, David realized there were more alluring career options.
“I saw that I could make a living talking on the radio – it seemed more appealing than sweat and heavy lifting,” he laughs. “I would see Bob Barker on television and other game show hosts dressed nice and clean and not sweating. And Bob Barker got paid to give away prizes and have women come up and hug him! I thought that was a cool job,” David grins.
He didn’t think twice to make a phone call to the disc jockeys and make inquiries as he set his career goals.
Other than pumping gas for his father at the store, David had a side job in South Pittsburg, playing Top 40 music at WEPG.
“I would have paid them. I did that for several years, I started in 10th grade with a weekend job and it was a way to get my foot in the door,” David says.
Although David knew he wanted a career in radio, he attended Northeast Alabama Junior College to pursue business management.
“My dad had convinced me that radio would be a fun hobby but that I needed a real job and, frankly, he wanted me to take over the store and to have a background in business management,” David maintains.
David followed his dream anyway and worked for radio stations WGOW and WFLI. He was later asked to do the morning show when KZ106 first aired as a rock and roll station.
Before his radio career became reality, David recalls when he was around 13 and his parents would bring him into Chattanooga with them. They would dine at the Town and Country Restaurant and little David would slip away to use the pay phone to call Luther Masingill.
“I wrote a whole chapter about him in my book because he is so much a role model to me. I would call him and tell him who I was and that I wanted to be like him when I grew up. I would ask him for advice to break into radio,” David says.
“He would tell me to read magazines and everything I could get my hands on; study history, politics and government and …to work on my Alabama accent,” David quips.
He would make various phone calls to Luther who would never brush him aside but would continually encourage him - even though David called him at his home.
“It would have been real easy for him to say, ‘Call me when I am at work’,” David insists. When asked why he would call Luther at his home, David says simply, “His number was in the book - and I had a dime!”
He was impressed by Luther’s kindness and finally got to meet him years later after David went into radio full time.
David says, “His enthusiasm for his work, his longevity, his consistency; he doesn’t call in sick …he lives to broadcast and to help people. It’s more than entertainment to him. He is just someone I have looked up to all my life.”
In 1983, WTVC Channel 9 wanted David to do commercials for McDonalds as they were going to have a big give-away. David did a series of commercials for the station and around the same time, WDEF Channel 12 requested that he host the morning show.
“Sure, I will fill in,” David told them. But they told him that it would be more than just a fill-in spot. He was not sure he could come up with an hour and a half show every day, but David knew if it didn’t work out, he could always go back to radio.
WRCB Channel 3 had expanded their 6:00 newscast to 5:30 (and later would begin at 5:00).
“They offered me a job in ‘87 and I have been there ever since,” David says.
Tamara Lister co-anchored with David during his first five years and then he teamed up with Cindy Sexton for the next 20 years. “Cindy and I are the longest-running anchor team in the state,” David proclaims.
Bill Markham had co-anchored with Cindy for about 20 years during the six o’clock news while she also did the 5:30 spot with David. Cindy and David have co-anchored the six o’clock news since Bill retired six years ago.
“One of the cool things about the radio is your anonymity,” David says. “You can tell jokes and talk about people and most of them will never see your face – you can go places and not be recognized. I had been on TV for about a month and people started recognizing me. I was in Red Food Store and a good-looking young lady started eyeing me up and down - I was flattered by that. She kept getting closer like she wanted to talk to me and I thought, ‘This is really cool’,” David shares.
“She finally had the courage to come up to me and asked me if she could ask me something. In my swelled head I thought she probably wants to know what it’s like to be on the news or what interesting stories I had done,” David remembers.
“I said, ‘You can ask me anything you want’ and she said, ‘Where do y’all keep your cantaloupes?’” David’s face fell as he realized he was wearing a white shirt and a red tie. “She thought I was a produce boy at Red Food! That was when I was brought back down to earth. I remembered thinking, ‘You are not that big of a deal,” he laughs.
While beginning his career in radio and then television, it is no surprise that David would also publish a book.
David had wondered what had happened to a lot of his radio-days cohorts and a friend suggested that he get on Facebook. David began posting several photos from Chattanooga’s radio and television personalities. He hooked up with people and some would send in photos they wanted him to post. Eventually he collected over 600 photos and it was suggested that he compile them in a book.
“Bill had brought me a couple of books that were similar and I contacted the publisher. I sent them a few sample pictures and told them I had some Facebook friends who might want to buy it,” David says. “The publisher tells me it has been a real success.”
David didn’t have to do too much to promote the book; it actually promoted itself. People who heard him speak about the book began asking him to speak at other engagements.
Many senior groups invited him to church dinners and David has fun posting photos on Facebook of the delicious meals in which he gets to partake.
“There’s nothing like home cooking! The thing that made the biggest impression on me is that in every group there are always your 50- and 60-year-olds, but then there is usually someone in their 90s just spry and full of life. And many who went to school with Luther!” David quips. “The one thing that made me happiest out of all the senior groups that I had spoken to was when a lady came up to me and said, ‘I enjoyed you more than any speaker we have had’ and I thanked her and asked, ‘What did you like about it?’ I figured she’d say the jokes but she said ‘I COULD HEAR YOU! People can get up there and they don’t talk loud enough but I could hear every word you said and I really enjoyed it!’ I thought that was cool. I want to always be aware of that,” David promises.
This summer he will put together a show at the Tennessee Valley Theater in Spring City with pictures, video and audio as well as bloopers.
“IF it all ended today I am proud that I have been doing television for the last 30 years. It’s not what I intended to do - Radio was my goal and I enjoyed it. TV was not in my sight but I really have enjoyed working with some great people,” David says.
His friend Darrell Patterson jokes, “You know, I grew up listening to David on radio - he was a big influence in my getting into broadcasting! Seriously though, David is a walking encyclopedia of Chattanooga Radio and TV. He should write a book.... wait, you mean he DID already? I really need to pay more attention!”
“Not many can say they are in the field they wanted to be in when they were a kid and that is all they have ever done,” David says. “I really feel blessed and fortunate in that. People always wonder if I will take Luther’s place one day, but I think Luther could outlast me!”
Declaring his choice to stay in television David says, “I would hope that I will leave some degree of consistency and dependability. I have been on television now coming up on 30 years and that is longer than anyone other than Luther and Darrell Patterson,” David says. “Don Welch and Marsha have been at it longer, but with stops and starts. I have stayed with this every day.”
David had met his wife Cindy of 30 years while working at KZ106. The couple has two sons, Chris and Vince.
While anchoring at Channel 3, David has been involved with projects such as the School Patrol, visiting over 100 schools each year.
The movie “Bully” came out last year. David organized and hosted the town meeting in Murray County which is a big part of the film. It came out on DVD last month and David has gotten a huge response to it.
Together, he and Cindy Sexton have hosted “Share your Christmas” for 27 years. David admits, “You don’t see a lot of BMW’s and Jags drive through - you see people over and over who seem to be struggling themselves and people will share how the food bank helped them a few years ago and now that they have a job, they want to help someone else. That is always touching to see folks who aren’t particularly well off themselves helping people.”.
“I had always kept up with the news, but it was never really my goal as a career choice. It is odd that I have been in it this long. You can have all these plans of what you want to do, but life takes these funny little turns. You adapt and you may do something that you didn’t think you could do,” David says.
“When I would see Bill Markham and Bob Johnson …these were guys with great hair, tall and with a deep voice,” David laughs. “They were like a matinée idol and I thought, ‘I can’t do THAT’ …but somehow I’ve gotten away with it!”
Copies of Chattanooga Radio and Television are available directly from the author for $19.99 plus $4 shipping and handling at TV Radio Book, 605 Spring Valley Lane, Chattanooga, Tn., 37415.