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13 April 2007
JSU Alumnus Shares about His Path to CNN

Reynolds Wolf speaks during the annual Department of Communication awards banquet at JSU. Photo: Mike Stedham/ Special to The Star

By Bill Edwards
Anniston Star Staff Writer

Thursday afternoon in northeast Alabama was a slow news day for CNN meteorologist Reynolds Wolf.

It was clear, warm and breezy.

Equally warm was the reception Wolf and his Jacksonville State University audience gave each other at JSU’s Communication Department’s annual awards banquet, for which he was keynote speaker.

It was Wolf’s first return to campus since he graduated from JSU with a general studies degree in 1993, and his audience Thursday represented how he saw himself in the spring of that year: youthful and hopeful, but lacking practical knowledge about working-world choices.

As a younger man, Wolf, now 37, knew he was a storyteller — he had picked that skill up from his grandmother back home in Jemison, where he was raised — and he knew he had a vague interest in weather because both his father and grandfather had been military aviators. Beyond that, he wasn’t sure what would happen.

Consequently, Wolf’s speech at Houston Cole Library was long on tips and advice and devoid of gossipy cable TV observations, such as What’s Larry King really like?

After assuring the students that he himself had been a “terrible student,” Wolf reminded them of the values of persistence, because at least he had attended all his classes and his grades did slowly improve.

Persistence meant contacting Birmingham TV journalist Joe Langston, then a teacher at the university, about how he might get a job with WJSU, at that time a CBS affiliate station in Anniston.

Wolf wound up with a low-rung position that he supplemented with income from McDonald’s in Lenlock and the produce department at Gregerson’s in Anniston.

In other words, he wasn’t afraid to manage more than one job. That was more advice.

Later at WJSU he produced his own news clips. He became known as “the tree man” because, when working by himself, he would mark his position on a nearby tree in order to know where to point the camera.

Wolf’s professional break came, as is often the case in the news business, on the heels of tragedy in the community.

His report on the destruction wrought by the Palm Sunday tornado of 1994 made it to the CBS Evening News. That gave him a prominent piece of meteorological journalism to include on the audition tapes he sent to other stations.

It also led to another piece of advice for the crowd: Given an even choice between the familiar and the strange, go for the strange.

That’s how Wolf, an average student at JSU, whose weather-science knowledge came from Mississippi State University, ended up in 1995 sitting between a Stanford graduate and a Harvard graduate in the newsroom of KSBY in San Luis Obispo in California.

His “safe” alternative had been Columbus, Ga.

Future jobs led him to TV stations in Texas, Michigan, Florida and Missouri. Along the way, the next job was not always guaranteed; that’s the way things happen in the world of big media.

“Do not freak out when it does [happen] — you got to be strong, got to have faith,” Wolf told his charges. But that’s why, he added, you keep your demo tape fresh with the quickest, best material you’ve produced, at least until you find the place you always want to work.

“You always have to look ahead [and] be ready for the next possible move.”

Wolf has worked for CNN in Atlanta for just over a year, and while he still seems to be an affable, well-mannered product of Chilton County, his professional perspective has changed.

“Instead of being in a community, you’re now covering a planet,” he said.

Still, those manners are important — otherwise, a young broadcaster might find himself following in the manure-stained footprints of Don Imus.

Wolf’s advice on that count was easy. When the microphone and camera are pointed at you, “it’s kind of like you’re sitting down in your home with your family.”

Hopefully, he said, “your parents raised you right.”

About Bill Edwards

Bill Edwards edits the daily TV pages, "Coffee Break," "Today In History" for The Anniston Star.

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