When Gary McNair retires next month, it will end a broadcasting career that has spanned nearly 50 years. He spent most of that time behind-the-scenes at television stations in West Virginia, New Mexico and Kansas. But when McNair interviewed for the General Manager's job at WECT-TV in 2008, he learned the responsibilities would include some on-air appearances, in the form of weekly editorials.
“I said ‘you don’t want me on TV’,” McNair remembers telling Marty Edelman, the Raycom executive who interviewed him. “He said ‘oh, you’ve got to be. If you work for Raycom, all the General Managers do editorials’. I said, ‘but you don’t want me on television!’ He said, ‘if you’re going to do this job, you’re going to have to do those’.”
McNair got the job, and soon began taping twice-weekly segments called “My Turn, Your Turn”. Now a veteran of nearly ten years’ worth of those opinion pieces, he can laugh at the early days.
“I don’t want to be the ‘My Turn’ guy,” McNair says with a smile, referring to how many people in the community recognize him. “I’m not opinionated. I’m forced to have an opinion because it’s part of my job now. It was completely out of my comfort zone, and in the beginning, it was terrifying for me.”
McNair even talks about catching one of the WECT News reporters poking fun at his early on-air efforts. That’s at 8:00 of the podcast.
McNair faced some other difficulties stepping into the GM position at WECT. He followed Karl Davis, who was very active in the community and a graduate of Leadership Wilmington. Davis died in a motorcycle crash in January 2008.
“One of the questions I remember asking early on was ‘Is there anything this guy didn’t do very well?’, because he was that highly thought of,” McNair says. “They’ve got a leadership award named after him here.”
Within a month after McNair’s arrival, the Federal Communications Commission announced Wilmington would be the country’s test market for stations to switch from analog to digital television. Stations in the Wilmington market had a condensed timeframe to complete the work and educate the public on the change before flipping the switch in September 2008. Television stations across the country could study what happened here before making the mandatory transition in February of 2009. While it was a huge undertaking, McNair says it provided a rallying point for the WECT staff following Davis’ tragic death.
“The blessing that was to us was, all of a sudden, we all had to pay attention to that huge job in front of us,” he says. “It gave the people here a way to heal that we wouldn’t have otherwise had.”
McNair’s broadcasting career began in high school in Weston, West Virginia. Elected to student council, he was assigned to a radio committee to work on the school's weekly program that aired on the local radio station. A short time later, when the local television station was looking for a student to do part-time work, the high school guidance counselor asked McNair if he was interested. The answer was a definitive ‘yes’.
“I did everything in that building,” McNair remembers. “It wasn’t unusual for me to clean the restrooms and direct a newscast on the same day.”
Television played a role in McNair’s choice of where to continue his education. Since Huntington, West Virginia had two television stations, and McNair knew he would need to get a job while going to school, he chose Marshall University over West Virginia University. After about a month as a college freshman, McNair went to work at WSAZ-TV, and ended up worked there for 21 years. He went on to work at stations in Roswell, New Mexico and Topeka, Kansas before returning to West Virginia, and then coming to WECT.
McNair’s career started before the advent of 24/7 news channels such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. He has led WECT into the era of stations providing news on websites, social media, smartphone apps and streaming systems like ROKU.
“I think like most anything, there is upside and downside in all that,” he says about the new platforms for consuming news content. “Just having to feed the monster all the time doesn’t always bring about the best quality. I think it’s a tougher job for journalists nowadays.”
McNair and his wife Connie plan to move to Ohio after he retires from WECT.
You can listen to the entire interview with Gary McNair on the free “1on1 with Jon Evans” podcast:
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