WRAL anchor David Crabtree leaves TV station for PBS NC job

WRAL anchor David Crabtree.

WRAL anchor David Crabtree.

WRAL / Capitol Broadcasting Company

WRAL viewers may recall that anchor David Crabtree has previously announced retirement plans, only to secure the timeline and stay on for years.

But this time it’s different.

This time, Crabtree is really leaving the station – but he’s still not retiring.

Crabtree is leaving WRAL in late May to take on the job of interim CEO of PBS North Carolina, the public television station known until just over a year ago as UNC-TV. The station is operated by the University of North Carolina system.

Crabtree succeeds former UNC School of the Arts Chancellor Lindsay Beirman, who took charge of PBSNC in August 2019. Beirman resigned this month to become CEO and CEO of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, California.

Former WRAL Vice President and General Manager Steve Hammel and UNC Health Manager Kevin FitzGerald both served in temporary positions at PBSNC following the departure of Brian Sickora in October 2018.

Crabtree’s service on PBSNC begins on April 1 on a part-time basis, the public television station said in a press release, and he will transition to the full-time role in June.

WRAL aired the official announcement at the end of Tuesday’s news broadcast at. 6 p.m., but Crabtree told The News & Observer earlier in the day that the offer was “completely unexpected.”

“I was never looking for this,” he said.

Crabtree, a Tennessee native who took over as lead anchor at WRAL when Charlie Gaddy retired in 1994, had announced in the fall of 2017 that he planned to retire at the end of 2018. But he changed his mind in 2018 and said he would stay. until 2020.

In the summer of 2020, Crabtree extended his contract with the Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent company of WRAL, and said he would continue until 2021.

He announced in January 2022 that he would stay with WRAL, but cut back on the anchoring tasks and only made the news broadcast at. 18.00.

WRAL said this week that Debra Morgan will continue to be a co-anchor in the newscast at 6 p.m. 18.00, and that there will soon be an announcement about her new co-anchor.

University of North Carolina System President Peter Hans said in a statement: “David Crabtree’s expertise in journalism, experience in the television industry and deep knowledge of the state make him a perfect fit for PBS North Carolina. I am grateful to him for taking on “I look forward to this role at one of North Carolina’s most beloved institutions. I look forward to working with him as he leads PBS North Carolina into its next chapter.”

WRAL news anchor David Crabtree, center, “elbow bump” sports anchor Tom Suiter, right, on Suites’ last night as a full-time anchor on December 12, 2008. Corey Lowenstein 2008 News & Observer file photo

Not an easy decision to leave

Crabtree said Tuesday that he was contacted about the PBSNC opportunity several weeks ago and that although the idea “caught him off guard”, his “great love” for PBS and the job opportunities made it hard to dismiss.

“I think the opportunity for me in public service – this is just a great opportunity and I’m glad to have the chance to do so,” said Crabtree. “I’m literally blown away by the opportunity to do so.”

Still, Crabtree, 72, said the decision was not easy to make.

“When you’ve been in a business for 28 years and they’ve been loyal to you, and you’ve been loyal to them, and with the viewers I’ve been connected to over the years – it’s a real transition,” he said .

“I was at the station yesterday and I was just walking through the front doors and I was thinking, ‘You’ve been going through these doors now for almost 28 years, every day down the same aisle, every day and seeing some of the same people, every day the feeling of a building, the feelings of a building and the feelings of people there. ‘

“We know each other and have worked together for almost three decades. Getting away from it is not easy. Still, I knew I would be, in a year and a half from now, Crabtree said. “This opportunity fits within that framework … it’s good timing and I’m just happy with the opportunity.”

WRAL anchor David Crabtree photographed by a News & Observer photographer in 2002. N&O staff file image

In addition to having a new employer, Crabtree’s new job comes with two other major changes: He will no longer be in front of the camera, and he is entering a leadership role.

When asked if a new job with its new requirements feels “scary,” Crabtree laughed, but admitted, “it’s a little scary yes.”

“I think any change can be scary, but part of it means you’re ready to embrace it, and it’s exciting at the same time,” he said.

Crabtree said right now that he is focused on the opportunity to share his nearly 40 years of experience in broadcast journalism and “bring different ideas to the table” at PBSNC, an organization that boasts a public service mission to educate, inform and entertain the people of the state.

“It’s still journalism. It’s still broadcast. It’s still people. It’s still storytelling, and it’s still able to have an impact on the community I live in and a chance to give back in a different way, ”he said.

What about that pension?

In January, when Crabtree reduced the anchor duties, he said there was no timeline in his head as to when his retirement could happen. This week, he alluded to “a year and a half from now” as the possible end to his time at WRAL.

Does this new job reset the clock for future pension plans?

WRAL / Capitol Broadcasting Company

“It has the potential to reset the clock, but I’m not looking at it that way,” Crabtree said. “It really is not my intention, but who knows. It could open doors for other possibilities. I will not close the door for anything.”

But the PBSNC position is a temporary position. There will be a nationwide search to find the person to fill the job permanently, Crabtree said, and there is no set schedule for that search or how long it will take.

But no matter how long he needs there, Crabtree says he is ready for the “wide open opportunities” of what he can bring to the PBSNC job.

“The bottom line for me – this is such a great opportunity to continue to bring new ideas to people and to strengthen and challenge and see what we can do to serve people,” he said. “I’m so humble. It’s an incredible responsibility and I do not take it lightly.”

This story was originally published March 22, 2022 6:27 PM.

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Brooke Cain is a native of North Carolina who has worked for The News & Observer for more than 25 years. She is the editor of service journalism and writes about television and local media for The N & O’s Happiness is a Warm TV blog.

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