Vic Carter, the newly named WJZ anchorman, says he knows filling Al Sanders' shoes will involve more than just sitting at an anchor desk up on Television Hill and reading the news -- especially in terms of the larger-than-life role Sanders came to play in the Baltimore community.
"Let me put it this way. There are so many people of all races, genders and ethnic backgrounds who are afraid of being labeled as a role model," Carter, 37, said yesterday. "I'm not afraid of that. As a matter of fact, that's something I embrace."
Due to the terms of his contract with WSB in Atlanta, Carter won't be joining WJZ until Dec. 1 at the earliest. So it will be awhile before we find out whether Baltimore embraces Carter. But if he does here what competitors, TV critics and his bosses in Atlanta say he's done there in 13 years, Carter is going to be a welcome addition to the community.
"Vic is a real journalism pro," said Mark Pimentel, news director of WXIA, the NBC affiliate in Atlanta. "And beyond that, he's someone who has embraced the community he lives in down here in Atlanta."
Pimentel, the former news director at WBFF in Baltimore, said he knows Carter well, because the two once worked together at WSB, Atlanta's ABC affiliate and the city's top-rated station. They also are board members of the Atlanta Press Club.
"Vic is well-respected in Atlanta. He's very active in the African-American community, supports the arts, especially African artists, and has been real involved with 100 Black Men," Pimentel said.
Lee Armstrong, the director of programming at WSB, described Carter as "someone who knows the community, knows what's going on and can be trusted. He's been what I would call a good citizen of this community, both as a person and as a reporter."
And Phil Kloer, TV critic at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, described Carter as "solid, capable and competent on the air."
One of the most impressive professional credentials of the Morehead State University graduate is a 1981 Peabody Award while a reporter and anchorman at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C.
"We were part of a consortium project of several television stations reporting on citizens groups that were involved in fighting neighborhood crime," Carter said. "The series was called 'Fed Up With Fear.' I was the talent on our segment, as well as having helped produce it."
Carter, who went to WSB shortly after winning the award, said leaving Atlanta won't be easy. He's moving from the nation's 10th-largest TV market to Baltimore, the 22nd-largest, because "it's simply a great opportunity," he said.
But when people move down in market size, other factors are usually involved. For Carter, part of it is an annual salary at WJZ estimated at $200,000 to $225,000.
"He works for the station that is far and away the most dominant here, and they have been using him in mornings and at noon, as well as weekends and as a sub," said Kloer. "And, obviously, he would prefer to be a top dog somewhere, and this is his chance."
That chance might never have come in Atlanta, according to Drew Jubera, television writer at the Journal-Constitution. All four local network affiliates follow a formula of white man/black woman at their first-string anchor desks, Jubera said.
"There are different explanations given for that," Jubera says, "but the simple fact is that black anchormen in Atlanta are on at noon, like Vic."
In Baltimore, on the other hand, the first-string co-anchor teams at WJZ, WBAL and WMAR for the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. weeknight newscasts feature black men and white women. Carter will co-anchor those newscasts with Denise Koch.
Carter said he knows Sanders was one of the pioneers in the TV news business, who made it possible for black men to anchor first-string newscasts in cities like Baltimore.
"I did not know much about Al beyond that," he said. "But he sounds like a person I wish I had had the opportunity to know."
Carter, who is married and has a child, sounded a lot like Sanders yesterday when he explained what he meant about embracing the responsibility of being a role model, rather than being frightened by it.
"I don't go around saying, 'Hey, I'm a role model.' But what I do realize is that, by virtue of the types of jobs that we do, people generally hold us to a higher standard than they do everyone else.
"Certainly, I have no control over that. But what I do have control over is the impact I can make in the community in terms of being there and being available to the community.
"I do that here, and I fully expect to do that in Baltimore. . . . I ZTC hope I can do justice to the position I've been given in Baltimore."