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
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
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
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
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.
See story at The Anniston Star's website: www.annistonstar.com