AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF)- Throughout WJBF’s nearly 70 years on the air, you’ve seen a lot of faces in your living rooms bringing you the news.
In the second of a 4 part Hometown History series on our stations history, Kim Vickers shares more on some of the talented anchors and reporters who have come through our newsroom.
WJBF is a legacy station for a reason. We’ve had so many talented on-air personalities here over the decades. Some you may remember and some you may not. We can’t possibly name them all, but here are a few we caught up with.
WJBF’s first newscast aired November 23rd 19-53, just days before Thanksgiving. It was the first television news broadcast in the CSRA. One of the very first on air personalities at WJBF was Jim Davis.
“He was in that Walter Cronkite mold where, if he said it, if Jim said it, you were gonna believe it,” explained Stan Byrdy, former WJBF Sports Anchor.
Stan never got to work with Davis but respected his work.
“He was very believable and warm and personable and he struck me as being that kind of an individual that you could be best friends with.”
Davis began as a radio announcer before becoming a television anchor for the next 35 years. During some of that time, he was also a News Director. He retired in 1986 and passed away in 2013 at the age of 88.
But during his time at WJBF, he made a big change. After 20 years of only Caucasian anchors and reporters, in 1971 he hired Frank Thomas, the first African American reporter at WJBF.
“He said, ‘I like the way you sound. When can you come to work,” recalled Frank.
For ten years Frank, who grew up in Beech Island, South Carolina, covered local stories. He said being the CSRA’s first African American reporter wasn’t always easy.
“These kids said, ‘Take my picture. Take my picture.’ Apparently, they figured out I had not taken their picture. So, they yelled out take my picture and they used the N word. I said to myself, now you know I started not to come back south. Here I am going through this.”
But Frank had his fans too.
“Walking along with my camera and stuff to the car, I meet these two older white people, husband and wife I assumed, and they looked at me and said Frank Thomas, we love you. We watch you all the time,” Frank said.
Frank Thomas left WJBF in 1981 to take on a job in local government, as the Executive Director of the Human Relations Commission, where he stayed for nearly 30 years. He looks back on his time at WJBF with fondness.
“I think it was a wonderful experience. I got to know a lot of people, a lot of people got to know me. There are so many people of good will at that time in this area. Where ever you would go, people would just love me and a lot of them were white,” said Frank.
One of the most beloved on air personalities in WJBF history is former Chief Meteorologist George Myers. He inspired kids all over the CSRA, and so many looked up to him.
Former anchor and former mayor of Augusta Bob Young reflects on his time working with him.
“Who doesn’t remember ‘George Said it would’, huh? Get your umbrella. George is a joy to work for. He was not…from my perspective, he was not the most social person in the newsroom. He liked to stay in the weather center and he had his own thing that he did there,” Bob remembered.
For 35 years until he retired in 2020, George Myers was known for his accuracy. He had a calm demeanor, and no matter how bad the weather, viewers always knew they could trust him.
He also covered huge weather events like Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and the super storm of 1993.
“George was just the master of the weather. There was nothing that was unflappable and some of the clichés he used to describe it, like ‘frog strangling rain’ and things like that. Who could forget those George Myers-isms?” laughed Bob.
Kathy Marks said she had the pleasure of working with George Myers. She was a popular evening anchor in the 80’s. She started at WJBF as an intern working her way up to earn a chair at the anchor desk.
“I knew what I wanted to be when I was a senior in high school. We had senior day- career day- and I dressed up as a news reporter,” smiled Kathy.
Kathy said WJBF was a huge part of her identity at the time. She let the viewers in on some big moments in her personal life, as if they were family.
“Even my wedding was televised. When I got married, they showed a clip of that, then they showed a clip of my babies.”
Kathy said she was very eager when she first started – and sometimes it got her into trouble.
“I was sent by my news director to go cover a hurricane and at the time I didn’t realize how dangerous that was. So my photographer and I, we load up, we got the assignment that day, we load up, we go chasing this hurricane,” recalled Kathy. “And luckily we ran out of gas right below Moorehead City. And it was even difficult to stand up, you know, the winds were so bad. So we ran out of gas and some man going to the power plant pulled over and picked us up and took us to a house until we could find gas. And if that hadn’t happened we would have driven right into the hurricane.”
In 1991 Kathy left news behind and went into Marketing work. That was right after Andrea Arceneaux-Coleman began her anchoring job at WJBF. She became popular very quickly. Augusta loved her and the feeling was mutual.
“There was a community that was just willing to receive you.”
Andrea said she felt like the work she was doing was making an impact in the community.
“There you really did feel like whatever report you were giving, whatever community you were interacting with, whatever person you may be speaking on behalf of, that it really did make a difference. One, that people were tuning and that the news really mattered,” explained Andrea.
After a year and a half, she left Augusta to take an anchor position at CNN. She is now the Vice President of News at iHeart Radio, Black Information Network.
One of our most memorable anchors started behind the scenes before being on the air.
“One of our assignment editors who- I forget his name- no I do remember his name. His name was Bob Young. He went on to become mayor,” remembered Andrea.
Bob Young was introduced to broadcast journalism working part time in radio as a student at Thomson High School. He went on to develop that interest into a career.
“From that point, when I went off in the Air Force, I was with the radio and TV network. And when I came back, I just immersed myself in the Augusta market as WBBQ as a news director then moved over to Channel 6,” said Bob.
Kathy worked with Bob and remembers when he was at WBBQ in the mornings.
“And I’m doing mornings at WJBF and I’d listen to my scanner , you know listening to all the signals and codes. I would get some really good ones and I called Bob and I’d say ‘Hey Bob. Are you aware that there’s been a jail break?'”
Bob began working as an assignment desk manager at WJBF in the mid 80’s before moving becoming an anchor.
“I really was not an on the air person. I did some stories from time to time, but I was more interested in the journalist side of it. Getting the news stories, getting the facts, writing the stories, and trying to develop some innovative content for the news shows. I really thrived on that,” he explained.
Bob anchored the evening news until 1998– then he ran for Mayor of Augusta – and won. Now he enjoys film acting, writing history books and taking journalism classes at Augusta University.
One of our most popular current reporters and the one that has been at WJBF the longest is George Eskola. He came to Augusta from Minnesota in 1986 and while we know him as a reporter, he used to fill in in an unlikely position.
“And he was hilarious. He was a reporter, but he would fill in on weather. And his weather reports were so fun and exciting to watch, because you never knew where he was going to take you next,” laughed Andrea.
Now George Eskola works the Augusta government beat, but when he first started here he covered the CSRA’s outer lying counties.
He quickly came up with a new weekly segment that aired every Friday. It was so popular that he still does it 37 years later.
In the years George Eskola has been at WJBF, he has made good friends along the way.
“George Eskola got here the year after I got here. George and I were fast friends when we were single and we would go out on Friday nights,” Stan laughed.
Stan Byrdy was sports director at WJBF from 1985 until 1994. He was drawn to Augusta in part because of the Masters Tournament.
The year after he got here, he covered Jack Nicklaus’s historic Green Jacket win, something he’s never forgotten.
“I guess he sensed this was the last time ‘this might be the last green jacket that I win, in my career…my last major.’ And I called him on that and it made for a funny moment then,” he said.
Stan said he had some great times at WJBF and remembers with humor being sent to the Braves’ Spring training on a pitiful budget.
“But we had to do that whole trip…we had to do seven days on $400. So we were…you can imagine some of the places we stayed. We were…you know- $50 a night.”
Stan is credited with starting a major local high school sports segment, that we still put on today.
“We took Football Friday Night, when I got here was maybe one or two games was being covered every week. This is up until the time I got here, and then we went from that one or two games to ten games and then 20 games and then 30 games.”
Stan said one of the most incredible stories he ever covered involved an Evans High School state baseball championship , a microburst and a field fire…all in the same night.
After what Stan describes as a small tornado, cleared out, it began to rain leaving the field in bad shape.
In an effort to restart the game, the opposing team set the field on fire to dry up the water. After all of that, Stan says the game took one more crazy turn in Evans’s favor, all thanks to a teenage girl keeping score.
“And so she ran up to the umpire and she went to Terry Holder- they went to the umpire. they had a conference around home plate and after about 5 minutes the umpire said ‘He batted out of order. Take that…take those runs off the board,” Stan remembered.
You can’t think of WJBF’s on air personalities without thinking of the reigning queen of morning news- Mary Morrison. Like many others, she too started her career in radio but in Birmingham, Alabama.
Her family moved to Vidalia, Georgia at one point but then her husband’s job eventually landed them in Augusta. She said she watched WJBF while they lived in Vidalia and had a bit of a premonition.
“We were living in Vidalia and I used to watch Channel 6 religiously on cable. I loved the station. I loved the people and I had a very strong feeling that I would work there one day,” smiled Mary.
Mary’s first day at WJBF was in March of 1988 and she said the morning show looked a lot different than it does now.
“When I first started we were doing just news briefs- two or three minute newscasts four times a morning. And ultimately evolved into the two and a half hours that it is today,” she explained.
Many credit Mary for building Good Morning Augusta and the noon show to what it is today, though she is very humble about it.
“That’s very flattering, but the truth is…it takes a team to put together a good newscast. And I’ve been blessed over the years. I’ve learned from some of the very best people in the business.”
When you- our viewers- turn on your TVs during our most watched newscast of the day, the 6 p.m. news, you’ve seen two faces for more than 25 years Jennie Montgomery and Brad Means.
Jennie started out as an editor then had her own hair and makeup segment on the noon show before taking her seat at the the anchor desk with Bob Young in 1997. She is a huge part of the community, showing up to events and being a part of our ‘Giving Your Best’ initiative, as well as hosting her weekly show “Jennie.”
Bob tells Kim that he has a great deal of respect for Montgomery and all women in the television news industry who are held to a different standard than men.
“I really respected those women who stepped forward…like Jennie…and sat on the desk and put themselves in the line of fire. Because you know, the person watching on tv at home has got something to say about their hair, their appearance, the dress they’re wearing, the way they talk or something. not in the same context as the guy who looks pretty bland in a dark suit.”
Brad Means, who took over when Bob became mayor, has been a friendly and jovial personality that is loved by WJBF’s viewers. He is the face teachers see when they are surprised by winning the ‘Golden Apple Award,’ and folks see him in his weekly show “The Means Report.”
Brad and Jennie are a team that viewers have trusted for more than a quarter century and will continue to follow.
Meteorologist John Lynn has been at WJBF for 25 years in various roles, but most know him for bringing an accurate weather forecast for the day ahead on Good Morning Augusta.
John got his start on radio in his hometown of Warner Robins, Georgia before deciding to move to broadcast TV. His warmth an humor on air has made him a loved on air personality in the CSRA.
Evening anchor Dee Griffin has been with WJBF on and off for 28 years. She works to empower women each month with ‘Women to Watch.”
When it comes to WHY these anchors stay with WJBF for so long, the overall response continues to be: family and community.
“Well I feel like I was embraced by the CSRA community. I’m grateful for that,” said Mary.
“And it’s just fun- like family. You know, we helped each other. We did. It was great,” Kathy said.
“We were a family back then. You were appreciated as an individual,” Bob explained. “You felt that your work had worth and it was a place you wanted to stay.”
“Oh, the community. I love Augusta. It was just always so warm. There was no space, no place that wasn’t ready to engage in conversation or dialogue or just welcome you,” Andrea said.
“There’s an endearing quality here,” said Stan.
That’s just part of your Hometown History.
Photojournalist: Will Baker.