written by R. L. Bynum
Chris Clark brought years of experience and a flair for the unexpected to WNCN
When the pandemic sent WNCN’s sportscasts outside of the studio, it gave Chris Clark plenty of chances to show the sort of flair and unexpected approaches that Triangle viewers have come to expect.
The veteran sportscaster has never been shy about taking chances to liven up the presentation when it wasn’t covering a serious topic.
Not many sportscasts are presented as if they are done from a car’s rear-view camera (the below video). He did another sportscast using a security camera (“Maximum Security Sports”) from the top of a step ladder. There was one done while fixing a kitchen sink and another while grilling.
Clark did all of that while the station was still doing sportscasts from outside the studio during the summer.
“I was always taught if you can’t inform at least entertain, and there wasn’t really a whole lot of information going on,” Clark said of the sportscasts he delivered in an off-the-wall fashion earlier this year.
Innovative approaches aren’t anything new to Clark, who the Radio Television Digital News Association of the Carolinas (RTDNAC) named its TV Sportscaster of the Year on Saturday.
The WNCN sports anchor/reporter is the first to be honored in that category from the Triangle TV market since former WNCN sportscaster Jeff Jones (now at KVUE in Austin, Texas) earned second-place honors in 2017. Before that, former WRAL sportscaster Jeff Gravley (now with N.C. State Athletics) earned second-place honors in 2014.
Clark, a 23-time Emmy winner, started his career at Cable News 21 in Montgomery County, Md., and his first job at a TV station was as sports director at WBOY in Clarksburg, W.Va., in February 2000. After that, he worked at WTOC in Savannah, Ga., WTVT in Tampa, Fla., WAGA in Atlanta and WCNC in Charlotte before coming to WNCN in September 2019.
“You want to make sure that you’ve got the credibility to tell somebody something they believe, but entertain as well,” Clark said. “That sportscast could have been done with a TV monitor over my shoulder and a desk and it could have been just fine. But standing up on a ladder, it’s black and white, it looks like a security camera and comes off as a lot more memorable.”
He picks his spots, though, and knows that an unconventional approach doesn’t work for certain stories or situations.
“When you see an opportunity, when it’s appropriate, you know I’m one of the few people on the news who can joke a little bit. You try to lighten the mood a little bit. We’re at the end of the show to make people have a little something fun and positive,” Clark said. “It’s like spices or salt. A little dash here or there does you well, but you know you don’t want to sit down at your full meal of nothing but spices and salt. Just every once in a while, you can have a little fun with it.”
He has even been known to lip-sync a song in the studio.
One of his first unconventional stories was when he was at Savannah and was assigned to do a financial-impact story about the Heritage PGA tournament. He went to the pro shop and spent $900 on an outfit, complete with hat, shirt, pants, shoes, socks and cufflinks.
“It was just bizarre, and I was walking around and I looked like a clown,” said Clark, who had been at the station for eight months. “Immediately after the thing aired, we started getting phone calls, and people were talking about how much they liked it. I got a bunch of emails, talking about how funny it was. ‘I love the new guy.’ ”
Once when Georgia Southern’s football team changed its offense to include a tight end for the first time in years, he did a story where he went to their facility like he was The Crocodile Hunter trying to find a tight end.
“I talked to old coaches and old players and had a lot of fun with that,” he said.
Season preview stories can all tend to look the same. But Clark took an innovative approach a year ago by using a comic book style in his preview of the Duke men’s basketball season.
The “Blue Devil Superheroes” story (the below video) garnered an RTDNAC first-place sports reporting award Saturday for Clark and Kendal Dennis, WNCN’s art director who built the animation on the front end. Clark put together the comic book portion and shot, produced and wrote everything else in the story.
“It goes to show with enough lights and music and effects, you can really make anything really cool if you put a little bit of time, effort and energy into telling a story,” said Clark, who is the station’s main Duke reporter. Todd Gibson focuses on N.C. State and Alyssa Rae covers UNC. “If you can tell it in a way nobody’s seen it, make it cool, sometimes people forget what the story was about. All they remember is the delivery.”
He’s honed his editing skills using Avid video-editing software since shortly after graduating with a communications degree from Bowie State. He was working as a production assistant for the Washington Redskins in 1998 when the late Kevin Colgan, who was the promotions editor at WTTG, the Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C., showed him how Avid works.
“I learned how to edit on an Avid before anybody knew what one was,” Clark said. “It’s like bringing a tank to a gunfight. So, everywhere I went I was always ahead of the game. You can do a lot more things, think a lot more out of the box and be more creative.”
Covering sports in the hotbed for college basketball is like a dream for Clark, who still remembers the feeling of amazement when he first walked into Cameron Indoor Stadium to cover a game.
“I still can’t believe that I get paid to go and do this stuff,” he said. “I keep thinking, at any moment, I’m going to wake up in my dorm room in Tubman Hall at Bowie State University and I’m going to have to go to that 5 a.m. calisthenics and practice for baseball because this is still a dream, man. It’s still kind of surreal to me.”
He decided to go into journalism once he realized that his athletic career, though dotted with some impressive highlights, wasn’t going to extend beyond college.
He played baseball at Friendly High School in Prince George’s County, just outside of Washington, and his last two years of college at Bowie State after attending Wingate his first two years.
You might not want to challenge him to a shooting contest on the basketball court. One day at Friendly, there was a shooting contest with 300 competitors that involved shooting five shots at five spots on the court and five free throws. It was more of a challenge for him because he was wearing a suit and tie since he had a baseball game that night.
“I beat the whole school and the basketball team in a shirt and tie and dress shoes. But I couldn’t make the basketball team,” Clark said.
He played some intense pickup games against some stiff competition in those days, including going up against Duane Simpkins, Monty Williams, Louis Bullock, Keith Booth and Walt Williams. One day, his team was up against a group that included Maryland players Laron Profit and Exree Hipp.
“That’s when I realized we’re probably not going to have a shot at this game,” Clark said. “Playing basketball in PG County was a lot of fun. I met a lot of people. I think we scored maybe two buckets. After that, we got run off the court.”
He wanted to play baseball at Wingate but that didn’t work out. After he put on about 20 pounds of muscle and got his nutrition right, things worked well on the diamond at Bowie State. Another factor in his transfer was that Wingate’s communication program at that time wasn’t what he wanted, although he says the program there now is great.
The Bulldogs won the CIAA title in both of his seasons, and he was team MVP his senior year as an outfielder and first baseman.
“I hit .402 and drove at a bunch of runs, hit a bunch of home runs,” Clark said. “I had a lot of fun with that. It was cool. I’d go back tomorrow if you let me and just practice. Forget the games. They were fun, too. But just to be able to go do that again? It was awesome. And I’ll never forget it and I love my CIAA schools for it.”
Like any media business, sometimes management decisions can be head-scratchers. Despite winning multiple awards, he was let go from WCNC in February 2016. He won more awards for his work there after he left the station. Clark said there were no issues legal or otherwise that led to the decision, it was just management’s call.
It wasn’t good professionally but worked out personally because his father had just passed away and he was spending a lot of time helping his mom deal with lawyers, real-estate agents, doctors and caregivers. But the call from Ed Trauschke, WNCN’s news director, came at the perfect time.
“I’m not saying somebody up there is pulling strings and taking care of stuff,” Clark said. “But it’s mighty peculiar how I lost a job right around that time. The month I signed the deal for mom to be taken care of and have caretakers and all that and everything just went away — literally that month — I get a phone call from Ed to come up to CBS17 and talk to him about coming on and being a part of a sports team.”
In between TV jobs, he worked as a pit road spotter for NBC coverage of NASCAR and as a consultant. But that left him time to help his mom, who is doing well. She lives in Washington and he looks forward to seeing her again after the pandemic.
“I’m eternally grateful that I got hired when I did,” Clark said. “I’m grateful that [station owner] Nexstar has got a plan for sports and thinks it’s an essential part of broadcasting.”
And the Triangle is lucky to have a veteran sportscaster who they can count on to be a good journalist while also keeping things interesting.
NSMA awards history possible
When the National Sports Media Association’s 2020 North Carolina sports writer of the year is announced early next year, there’s a 50% chance of history.
Sara Civian, the Athletic’s Carolina Hurricanes beat writer, could become the first woman to win the award and former News & Record of Greensboro columnist Ed Hardin could win it for a record-tying fifth time.
Civian and Hardin, who also won the award in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2019, are finalists along with The News & Observer columnist Luke DeCock (who won it in 2016 and 2017) and Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler. DeCock shared the award in 2016 with Hardin and in 2017 with N&O colleague Andrew Carter.
Although a woman never has won the award since it was first given out in 1959, pioneer Mary Garber, who wrote for the Twin City Sentinel and the Winston-Salem Journal, was inducted into the NSMA Hall of Fame in 2008.
Hardin could join Wilt Browning of the News & Record and Greensboro Daily News and Ron Green Sr. of the Charlotte Observer and the Charlotte News as the only five-time winners.
All three N.C. sportscaster of the year finalists are play-by-play announcers and former winners: Stan Cotten of Wake Forest (2001, 2006, 2014 and 2017), Gary Hahn of N.C. State (2010) and Mick Mixon of the Carolina Panthers (1999, 2004 and 2009). Mixon shared the 2009 award with Woody Durham, who won the award a record 13 times.
NCMA members will vote on all of the awards next month. The winners will be announced in January and will be honored at NSMA Awards weekend, June 26–28 in Winston-Salem.
Pandemic will limit media at ACC games
As anticipated, ACC schools will substantially limit the number of media members who will be credentialed to cover games in person during the basketball season, which starts on Wednesday.
In all cases, media members who can’t cover games in person will have the same Zoom access to postgame press availabilities that reporters in the arenas will get. Just like with football and all other sports, there will be no in-person press availabilities
The most stringent limits appear likely at Duke, which announced on Nov. 10 that all campus contests will only allow the radio and television broadcast crews.
For N.C. State’s first two home games at Reynolds Coliseum, six media members (excluding radio and TV broadcasters) will be allowed to cover the games in person. For games at PNC Arena, State hopes to allow up to 20 media members.
At UNC, about 15 reporters (excluding radio and TV broadcasters) will be credentialed for each home game.
DeCock, Brownlow return as AP basketball poll voters
For the fourth consecutive season, DeCock and WRALSportsfan.com’s Lauren Brownlow are two of the three North Carolina media members voting on the AP college basketball poll.
This is the third consecutive season that the third N.C. voter has changed. New to the poll is the Winston-Salem Journal’s Ethan Joyce, who is the newspaper’s Wake Forest basketball beat writer.
Joyce replaces former Times-News of Burlington sports editor Bob Sutton. The previous two seasons, Brant Wilkerson-New was the third North Carolina voter when he was with the News & Record.
N&O Duke beat reporter Steve Wiseman is the only North Carolina AP basketball poll voter for the 2016-17 season who still is a sports reporter. The other two were former WRAL sports reporter Mandy Mitchell (now with 919 Marketing) and former Fayetteville Observer sports writer Stephen Schramm (now at Duke).
In the women’s poll, the only North Carolina voter is Durham-based Mitchell Northam of WUNC, although former N.C. State star Debbie Antonelli and former Wake Forest star LaChina Robinson, both television analysts, are also voters. Northam, who also writes for The Next Hoops, NCAA.com and Pittsburgh Sports Now, is in his first season as a poll voter.
For the second consecutive season, the North Carolina voters in the AP football poll are Brownlow, Wiseman and Conor O’Neill, the former Winston-Salem Journal sports writer who is now a correspondent for McClatchy’s North Carolina newspapers. This is Brownlow’s fourth consecutive season as an AP football voter and O’Neill’s third straight season. In 2018, Scott Hamilton was in Wiseman’s spot.
North Carolina-related sports stories of note
In the Athletic, Matt Fortuna wrote about how Greg DeLuca went from two-time national champion lacrosse player at Duke to Navy SEAL to a walk-on on the Northern Illinois football team.
Nov. 14 marked the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed 75 members of the Marshall University football team who had played at East Carolina earlier that day. Chip Alexander of The N&O talked to Carrie Gail Parker, whose father, a Marshall graduate assistant, wasn’t on that flight.
On Nov. 16, Chancellor Lee Adams, the son of former Carolina Panthers player Rae Carruth, turned 21. In the Charlotte Observer, Fowler talked to him and his grandmother, Saundra Adams, with updates on how Chancellor Lee is dealing with his challenges.
Jimmy Golen of The Associated Press wrote about how Harvard coach and former Duke star Tommy Amaker makes sure to expose his players to social-justice issues, just as he has done for more than a decade.
On nfl.com, Chase Goodbread wrote about Chazz Surratt’s bold move from quarterback to linebacker in pursuit of his NFL dreams.