That’s a wrap: David Whisenant announces end to storied career

Published 12:10 am Sunday, October 22, 2023

SALISBURY — After 32 years at WBTV, Salisbury-based news reporter David Whisenant is calling it a career.

For the longtime newsman, the curtain call drew from a well of emotions. Still, Whisenant said he is not apprehensive about his decision and is looking forward to retirement, particularly spending time with his granddaughters and the rest of his family. 

Early days

Whisenant did not always work for WBTV. He started at Salisbury-based radio station WSTP when he was still in high school in 1976. 

“I found a good niche there,” Whisenant said. 

He went to Appalachian State, earning degrees in political science and English. He did not take communications courses because they required classes like stage lighting, which he did not think would serve his career interests. Throughout his four years, he worked at a radio station in Boone and returned to Salisbury upon graduation to a full-time gig at WSTP.

“I was working at WSTP and was a sales rep,” Whisenant said. “I was on air a little bit. Two guys came to the radio station and were very well dressed. They were not from around here.”

They were executives from WBTV considering creating a bureau in Salisbury and looking for a place to set up shop. 

“These were the days before email,” Whisenant said. “I sent a letter to the news director and said, ‘Well, if you are coming to town and you need somebody local, I’d be interested.’”

Having grown up watching WBTV, the possibility of working for the station appealed to Whisenant. 

“It was the only station we watched for news,” Whisenant said. “Even as a young adult, that is what we watched.”

It was the station he was watching as a 13-year-old when President Nixon resigned. That was the first time that Whisenant knew he wanted to be a reporter. 

“I was sitting in front of our TV watching that speech,” Whisenant said. “I had a set recorder with a separate microphone plugged into it. I recorded it, and I still have that cassette.”

So, WBTV brought him on as a stringer while he was still pulling shifts at the radio station.

“I was shooting stuff around the clock, seven days a week,” Whisenant said. “The height of technology at that time was a pager. I would get a beep, and they would want me to go out and shoot something.”

After working there for a brief stint, Whisenant had an encounter with a news director that might have deterred most people. He approached the director and told him he wanted to be an on-air reporter. 

“He chuckled and said we don’t put people like you on camera at WBTV,” Whisenant said. “I knew what he meant, but it cut like a knife.”

Whisenant’s experience, or lack of it, was not up to the WBTV standard. Unphased, he persevered and, within a year, proved that director wrong, being granted a general assignment reporter position with the station. 

On the beat

While his coverage area expanded well outside Salisbury and Rowan County, his local perspective on topics proved valuable. 

“I already know the area and the history and how certain things have gone over the years,” Whisenant said. “I think that has made my storytelling better because I have had that perspective of someone who has lived here.”

While that familiarity presented advantages to Whisenant, covering subjects he knew personally could be difficult depending on the nature of the coverage.  

Several stories have lingered with Whisenant, such as the abduction and murder of 13-year-old Erica Parsons. 

“That is the only story I had that went on for years before it was resolved,” Whisenant said.

When firefighters were killed in the Salisbury Millwork fire 15 years ago, it really hit close to home. 

“That really stuck with me,” Whisenant said. “My dad, before I was born, was a Salisbury firefighter.”

Whisenant attends the firefighter memorial for the fallen personnel each year, even when he hasn’t been assigned to cover it. 

He also got the opportunity of a lifetime to cover Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in London. He and a reporter from Atlanta’s CBS affiliate were sent across the pond to follow the news. For the self-proclaimed Anglophile, it presented the chance to visit iconic locations around the English capital, but it also brought the most taxing work week of his career. 

Weighing retirement

Whisenant’s decision to step down from WBTV was not made easily, but through a series of events, Whisenant came to realize it was time.

“The thing that is hard about it is kind of the way that I feel like God led me to this decision,” Whisenant said. “There were people in my life, my brother, Jason Myers, our meteorologist who died in a helicopter crash (and) Steve Crump, one of our reporters who passed away a couple of months ago. 

“All three of them, and others, I had heard talk about the future and retirement and things they wanted to do and their families. Something happened, and they all died way ahead of their time. That affected me in a way that I thought if I can afford to do this, now is a good time.”

Set against the backdrop of that realization, spending time with his wife, Jtan, and his son, Kyle, started to mean more. Whisenant also has two granddaughters. 

“They went from zero to eight and zero to 10 in a flash,” Whisenant said. “I want to be there for some stuff before it is too late.”

“I feel like I am, relatively speaking, young enough to still travel and do stuff that I want to do,” Whisenant said. “When you lose folks like that who are your age or even younger, you kind of think that maybe I am not going to live forever. Maybe there is not an unlimited amount of time.”

In a couple of months, Whisenant will wrap up his final shot for WBTV, and then the ever-eager newshound will be able to work on the most important story — his own.