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Ask Anything: 10 questions with WRAL Anchor Bill Leslie

WRAL Anchor Bill Leslie answers your questions about the news business, waking up early and his famous friends.

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Bill Leslie
What story have you covered that stands out most in your mind since you began in the news business? – Eric G., Sanford

The most rewarding beat I covered, Eric, was the environment beginning in the late 1980s.

We really did some hard hitting and investigative work which resulted in a lot of corrective change by government and also some major awards including a Peabody, several Emmys and others. I wrote dozens of stories about the health of the Neuse River and the many sources of pollution.

On the lighter side, I also enjoyed my run as the Tar Heel Traveler more than 20 years ago. I love the way Scott Mason does it today and I wish I could double team with him on some of the assignments. As I mentioned in my book, "Blue Ridge Reunion," my father did a newspaper column similar to Tar Heel Traveler before I was born in Morganton.

I think I’ve got it in my blood to do both those warm human interest stories as well as the harder pieces.

I have been watching you for many, many years in the early a.m. Do you have any desire to switch to an evening anchor position? Or are you born for the morning time? Thanks. – Jason Galarneau, Apex

My high-energy period is usually in the mornings, though I am sure I could adjust to the evenings as well.

Jason, I used to fill in on the evening news when Charlie Gaddy was still anchoring. I do love the mornings – the people and the more relaxed nature of the broadcast. I love the feeling of getting up early and getting a head start on the world. My alarm sounds at 2:35 a.m.

My kids used to tuck me into bed by 7:45 every night, give me a kiss and tell me a story! I usually “sleep-in” to about 5 a.m. on the weekends. Another nice thing about doing the early news is I have most of my afternoons free for other interests including music and working out.

How much of the news is scripted and how much is ad-libbed? – Jeannie, Durham

Good question, Jeannie. Everything is scripted on a normal news day except for the weather and traffic tosses. I love the days when we have a breaking news story and we toss the scripts out the window and ad lib for four or more hours. It requires great concentration, teamwork and patience, but “play-by-play news,” as I like to call it, is something I thrive on and I think we do a good job of covering breaking stories here at WRAL.

What is the annual salary of a news anchor in the Raleigh/Durham viewing area? – Don Lewis, Goldsboro

I don’t mean to sound evasive, Don, but I have no idea about average salaries for news anchors in the Triangle. I used to know when I was in broadcast news management, but I have been out of that loop for a long time. Compensation is based on many factors including skill level, years of service, ratings and research. WRAL and Capitol Broadcasting have always been fair and generous with me. That’s why I have worked here so long: 29 years, including 25 in television.

How do you news anchors coordinate your outfits? And do you pick out your own clothes? Do you have someone who does your hair, makeup, etc.? – Brenda, Zebulon

Renee Chou likes to coordinate colors when she fills in on the morning week day news. Lynda, Valonda, Elizabeth and I tried to coordinate wardrobe options one week but we’ve kind of gotten away from that. Brenda, we tend to be lucky on some days when there is a good blend and mix of complimentary colors.

I pick out my own clothes. I look for sales and great deals like everyone else. I enjoy shopping for ties especially. They’re about the only male plumage we really have. We all “do” our own hair and make-up on the morning and noon news.

What would you say has been the greatest change in how news is covered and what is covered since you began your career? Thanks. – Melanie Mhorsson, Raleigh

There is so much more of it today, Melanie. Newscasts have expanded greatly and the advent of our Web site has brought about tremendous change. Plus, we have been given the tools to cover breaking news like never before.

When I started the mornings we were only doing a half hour. That grew to an hour and then two hours and now we do four hours of news in the mornings on WRAL and Fox 50. I have a daily blog and all of our reporters contribute stories to our award-winning Web site.
In addition, we work on documentaries and special reports. We do a lot more “spot news” reporting today than when I started and our coverage lasts much longer. We still cover history in its molten stage. As a reporter, you can get burned very easily unless you do it right. We must always take care that we are thorough, fair, balanced and objective.
What advice would you give to a high school senior who is thinking about journalism for a future career? – Mary Anne, Raleigh

Thank you, Mary Anne. I would encourage that person to pursue a journalism major in college. UNC is where I went to school, and they have an excellent program in Chapel Hill but there are many fine schools to choose from nationwide.

You don’t have to major in journalism. I’ve known some great history and English majors who do very well in this business. A person pursuing a career in news should be prepared for a highly competitive work environment. Try to get some experience early on.

I helped pay my way through college by working in radio news. The experience helped prepare me for life after graduation. I had developed enough skills to land a nice job with an excellent radio news organization.

Some other advice: identify several journalistic role models, study their styles and try to emulate them and in the process you will develop your own style. Practice writing as much as possible and read as much as possible.

What/who were your main musical influences? – Luke Forehand, Goldsboro

I grew up with the Beatles, folk music and the Cascades. Sprinkle in some orchestral music, hymns at church and Celtic influences later on and you pretty much have my musical composite.

Luke, my all time favorite band was Nightnoise. My favorite musician was legendary Irish composer and guitarist Micheal O'Domhnaill of Nightnoise and the Bothy Band. I think all of these influences come out in my music which has been called "difficult to categorize."

My latest album, "Blue Ridge Reunion," has a more cinematic feel than some of my previous CDs. I am already working on a new and seventh album and it will be a bit different. I dearly love the creative process. It is very much a spiritual journey. Plus, I enjoy the thrill of performing live with the group Lorica.

Will Rick Dees take your calls now? – Terry Barham, Holly Springs
(Editor's Note: Rick Dees is a radio personality, best known for his internationally syndicated radio show, The Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 Countdown.)

Yes, Terry, and he even sends me a birthday card every year. Did you know that his real name is Rig as in Rigdon? I spent the weekend with Rick and another UNC classmate, Ken Lowe, last October north of Winston-Salem. They are two of my famous friends. Rick is now a member of the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He is like a brother to me. So is Ken Lowe, the highly successful brains behind HGTV, the Food Network and many other broadcasting ventures. Rick and Ken are both down-to-earth guys and it’s great to kick back with them and talk about things past, present and future.

With all your accomplishments that you have under your hat, have you ever considered hosting a local talk show for the Triangle area? I just believe you could have a very successful show. I enjoy everything I read and I enjoy your newscast. – Betty Wilborn, Saxapahaw

Thank you, Betty. I would love to do a talk show. It would be a lot of fun. I would also like to do play-by-play announcing on television or radio for college basketball. As a kid I used to watch games on television and record my commentary into a tape recorder. I wasn’t half bad. Maybe those will be my next gigs in life!

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Kelly Hinchcliffe, Web Editor

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