Q: When did you make the decision that you wanted to retire, and what led you to that?

A: I’ve been thinking about it for several months, actually a little more than that. I kind of wanted to see if this year I could cut back on my schedule a little bit and not work as much extra time. I wanted to see if I could do that and be happy with the job I did, and I couldn’t. I failed miserably. I find myself wanting to come in on the weekend, ‘cause I know that if I don’t come in and work, then we’re not getting things covered that we need to cover. And then I feel guilty that I’m not doing my job. So I couldn’t cut back, and I couldn’t do the job that I wanted to do if I didn’t come in and work extra hours and weekends. I realized that I needed to make a change, solely because I’ve been married to Regina now for 30 years, and we dated 6½ years before that, and all through this time we worked different schedules. She’s been a morning person. She gets up at the crack of dawn, works during the day, gets home at 5:30, 6, when I’m at work. And then when I get home late at night, she’s asleep. And when she gets up to go to work, I’m asleep. We really haven’t had that much time, even though we’ve been married 30 years, we’ve been like two ships passing in the night. We catch up some on the weekend; but if I’m working on the weekends and covering games and stuff, we just really didn’t have good quality time to spend together. And it’s mainly my fault. I take the blame. So I decided to spend more time with Regina. My son [Ryan] just got engaged a little over a month ago. My dad [Lewis] lives in Danville; he’s 92 years old. And I just wanted to spend more time with my wife, my son, my dad. Just family time, which I haven’t had.

Q: Let’s go back for minute. You said you weren’t able to cut back on work. Was that because of the demands of the job or your work ethic?

A: A little of both, I think. There were times I could have gotten away without coming in and working on the weekend — golf tournaments, playoff games, regular season games — I probably could have not done them. But in my mind I was saying, ‘Well, gosh, we really need to shoot that. They expect us to be there. I think we should be there.' And when Dave [Walls] is anchoring, he needs somebody to go out and cover games. So that was me too many times. You know the drill.

Q: While we’re on the subject, I was thinking about the life of a journalist, and I’m thinking specifically sports reporters. It’s hectic. So how have you managed to balance life and work for that amount of time?

A: It’s tough. I think probably I have spent too much time on the work side of it, and cheated my family side, a lot actually. But it’s because I love what I do. I love my job. I’ve loved it for 36-plus years now. I think I enjoy going out and spotlighting area individuals and kind of give them credit for their accomplishments. That’s the best part of the job for me. I love covering high school sports. You get to see athletes make their mark at a young age and then kind of work their way up to college. And in our case in Lynchburg, a lot of them have gone on to bigger and better things in professional sports. So it’s kind of neat to see that progression. I’m kind of old enough now that there are some athletes that I covered their parents when they came through.

Q: What got you interested in being in broadcasting? Was it because you wanted to be a sports reporter, or did you start on the news side?

A: I did a little bit of news. Actually my first job in broadcasting was at a radio station in Danville, WBTM. And my first job there was in the continuity department. I wrote commercials, 30-second commercials for area businesses, like Old Dutch Supermarket and Peebles Department Store. But that was a way for me to get my foot in the door in broadcasting. I was just out of college, so I would have been 22. And while I was there at the radio station, I got to do a lot of different things. I volunteered to do a sports segment at night during drive time. They didn’t have anybody doing it, so they said ‘Sure. Put together a 3, 4-minute sportscast that runs every night.’ So that was my favorite part of the job at the radio station. They let me do actually some news broadcasting on the weekends. I was the early Sunday morning guy. So I had to get up and be there at 5 in the morning, and I am not a morning person. So that was killer for me to get there that early in the morning. But again, that was a way for me to get a little experience and to grow yourself in the broadcasting business.

Q: And how did you get into television from there?

A: At the time — this was back in the early ‘80s —WSET at the time did not have a bureau in Danville. And what they would do was if there was a story happening in Danville, they would send a photographer from Lynchburg to meet up with a news person at the radio station. Her name was Sharon Collins, and she would get together with that photographer. They would shoot the story and then they would drive the story back up to Lynchburg. I think I said if there was a big story in Danville that you want covered, I’d be glad to hook up with a photographer and do a story. I remember, I want to say the first story I did — and you will probably remember this guy — a guy who went to North Carolina, a basketball player, Warren Martin. He was a Tunstall High School guy. Big, tall guy. A 7-footer, I think. I remember doing a story on him. That was one of my first stories that I did for television when I was still working at the radio station.

Q: WSET liked you and eventually hired you on? Did you go from radio straight into TV?

A: I did. I worked in radio from 1979 to ’83. And they made the decision here in Lynchburg to expand the sports department. At the time, they only had one person doing sports. They decided to add on another person. And since I had done some stringer stories in Danville, they asked if I wanted to come to Lynchburg and join the team. It was a tough decision for me, actually, because I had never really been away from home other than college. I had grown up in Danville, hadn’t really strayed too far, hadn’t had another job other than in Danville. So it was a big decision for me, but I decided to make the move to Lynchburg. Gosh, that was in 1983, and I’ve been here ever since.

Q: Did you ever play sport when you were growing up?

A: Y’know, I did a little bit. I wasn’t very good. I remember I ran a little track in junior high school. My mom really didn’t want me to play football, so I didn’t play football. Wasn’t good enough for the basketball team; I tried out for the varsity basketball team at GW [Danville], wasn’t good enough. But I always enjoyed sports. I always loved being around sports. Even though I wasn’t a great athlete, I wanted to be a part of the scene.

Q: What have been some of the greatest challenges in broadcasting, some of the more constant challenges you’ve faced?

A: Limited time has been a big challenge. It seems like time they want to devote to sports has kind of dwindled over the years. Now, for instance, the 6 o’clock newscast, we’re down to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. And at 11 o’clock we do get 3 minutes. Friday night is the lone exception with football. We get a lot of time on Friday night because I think they know people want to see high school football on Friday night. And that’s a night we get help from other photographers. Everybody’s on board for high school football on Friday night, so that’s good. So that’s been a challenge. And there have been so many changes in the business, as far as more responsibilities with the web, posting stories to the web and social media. It really has added to your responsibilities as a reporter, because it’s not now just getting ready to do a 6 and 11 o’clock newscast. Now you have to put stuff on the web and do stuff like that.

Q: Do you find that it takes away from what you really want to do, which is being in the field reporting?

A: A little bit. My favorite part of the job is actually going out after the 6 o’clcock newscast and covering games. I like getting out of the office. I like seeing the action and then coming back and picking out the best plays and the stuff that I think people want to see when they turn on the TV at 11 o’clock.

Q: Speaking of Friday nights, did they have a Friday night show when you first came here?

A: Gosh, I’m trying to think. It’s been so long ago. I think we used to do highlights on Friday night. I don’t think there was a specific show that had a title or anything. I think we kind of helped get that going once I got in. We gave it the name of Football Friday probably 25, 30 years ago and we’ve followed along on that theme.

Q: For me there’s a great deal of anonymity to the job. It’s not like that for you. When you go out in public you probably get stopped a lot and people talk to you. Did it take time to get used to that or have you ever gotten used to it?

A: I enjoy it. I like people to come up to me and just talk sports, because I’ll talk sports with anybody: strangers, people at games. I enjoy that part of it, so I don’t have any problem with people coming up and wanting to talk about a specific game or a play. I enjoy that.

Q: You were talking earlier about changes to the business. This might have to do with sports and it might not, but what have you noticed that’s changed in this area in your time and what has stayed the same?

A: I think for us, the main thing is how we’re able to go to places now and send stories back by computer. That didn’t used to be the case. I can remember when I first started, when there were stories in Danville, we would drive up to, there’s a point between Danville and Lynchburg, White Oak Mountain, I believe it is. And we would drive up there and you would put your antennae up on your truck that you were driving, and you had to shoot a signal from White Oak Mountain, which went from White Oak Mountain to the station here in Lynchburg. And that’s how you were able to get your story back. So a lot has changed. Now you can go cover a story, edit on a computer and just email your story back to the station. So the technology has improved so much, which is great for us.

Q: Do you have a favorite sport you like to cover the most?

A: I think it goes season by season. I really do. This time of year it’s hard to beat high school and college football, for me. I really enjoy that. But then when basketball rolls around, it’s hard to beat ACC basketball and high school basketball. Then you’ve got baseball, the Hillcats coming around in April. Yeah, I think it goes season by season for me. I like the variety of sports that we get to cover.

Q: Are there any games that stick out in your mind? You’ve covered some big ones.

A: Y’know, I thought I had seen it all until this past Saturday when I was in Blacksburg for the Carolina-Virginia Tech game and got to see the six-overtime game. I had never seen a six-overtime college football game or been a part of reporting on that. So that was wild. I think back [to] some of the games that stick out in my mind: When Virginia Tech played Florida State for the National Championship after the 1999 season in New Orleans, that was a neat experience; I was at the UVa-Perdue game in the Elite 8 this past year when Virginia hit the last-second shot to send the game into overtime and then they went on and won that game and went on to win the national championship; and so many high school games. It’s neat to be a part of state championships that kids around here have won over the years. This past year, Liberty High School softball won their first ever. So many state championships: Jefferson Forest football back in the Anthony Poindexter days. You just go through so many of them. E.C. Glass when they won their state football title in 1988, just all kinds of great memories through the years.

Q: We’ve talked a lot about high schools, and I’m interested in your answer here because that’s my beat. What makes high school events different than everything else you cover?

A: I think it’s just the atmosphere on Friday nights, being out there. People just seem to get so excited about it. It’s just fun to be out there, and they’re out there playing for the love of the game. It’s not like they’re trying to get out there for their personal stats or anything. They want to go out there and see their team win that game, and they’ll do whatever they can. And it’s so emotional. Kids get so wrapped up in it, parents get so wrapped up in it. You have great rivalries in town, and it’s just neat to be a part of that atmosphere on Friday nights.

Q: OK, so people have been doing this before I was in the business, but when did kids start chanting “DEN-NIS CARTER!!"?

A: It’s been a few years back now. I’m trying to remember where that originally started. It might have been at either E.C. Glass or Jefferson Forest. I want to say one of the two. But yeah, it’s kind of neat. It’s a little bit embarrassing for me, but it’s neat that they kind of say, ‘We see you there.’ They probably want to be on TV, because they know when they chant I’ll turn the camera over there and I’ll get them on TV. But it’s neat that they recognize me and they want to say, ‘We appreciate what you do, and we’re glad you’re at our game.’

Q: What about the way you say “Raiders?” When did that come about?

A: I think I just started it because I liked the way it rolled off the tongue. Y’know, people always say, ‘You must have gone to Appomattox [County] High School.’ No, I really didn’t. But it was just something that I liked how it sounded when you got excited and said that nickname.

Q: Do you feel like that’s sort of become your calling card or a trademark?

A: A little bit, yeah. There are a lot of people who like it and there are some people who don’t like it. And I’ve heard from the people who don’t like it. They’ll email me or they’ll call me at the station and say, ‘Dennis, I wish you’d stop that.’ I think they think sometimes I’m doing it to kind of belittle the team or make fun of them. And I say, ‘No, I’m not. I’m doing it because I think it’s fun.’ And I like to have fun when I do the broadcasts. I think most people think of it as a compliment, and I hope they do, because it’s certainly a compliment on my end.

Q: Hear my out on this one. There are so many times I’ll be writing throughout the day and then by the time I get to a game, I’m worn out. And it just shows on my face or in my body language. You have never been like that. You never seem grumpy. You always seem happy and have a smile on your face. Does that just come naturally or is it something you had to work on over time?

A: I like to think I’m generally a pretty happy guy. And I think I’m happy because I’ve got a great job. I’m happy because I wouldn’t want to do anything other than what I’ve been doing for a lot of years now. And I know I’m gonna miss it. Even though I want to spend more time with my family, I know that I’m gonna feel kind of lost on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons when I don’t have a camera on my shoulder and going out to games. I’ll probably still go to games as a spectator. Maybe not every Friday night, but I’m sure I’ll still want to go out and be part of the excitement.

Q: So, ballpark estimate here. How many sports reporters have you worked with in your time? They tend to stick around for a long time.

A: I’ve been kind of fortunate. I thought about the people who have worked with me. Over the last 36 years, I’ve really only had three full-time people that I’ve worked with. The first was John Organ, who worked with me for 22 years. John, unfortunately, passed away in the spring of 2016. And Justin Feldkamp worked with me for eight or nine years. He’s now in Toledo, Ohio, doing very well. He’s a sports director at an ABC station. And Dave Walls have been with me now for right around the four-year mark. And I’ve had outstanding relationships with all three of those guys. They’ve been great to work with, and I think we established a good rapport and respected each other’s abilities.

Q: How many hours do you typically work per week?

A: Generally, I work six days a week, especially this time of year. Sunday is pretty much the only day off. … I would say the normal day for me, I go in between 1:30 or 2 in the afternoon. I don’t usually get home until 2:30, 3 in the morning. … So, 75 to 80 hours a week. Too many.

Q: In theory, what does retirement look like for you?

A: Well, in theory, I think I want to settle down a little bit. Not do a whole lot, just kind of catch my breath. Maybe take a short, two- to three-day trip with my wife and relax. But I’m not really the type of person who likes to sit around and do nothing. So I’ll probably, once I get a few days of relaxation, I’ll probably get a little fidgety and want to start doing something. I’ve told the folks at Channel 13 that if somebody calls in sick or they come up a person short, they’ve got my phone number. They know where to reach me. They can call, and I’ll be glad to come in and help out if they need me.

Q: What advice could you give to someone who wants to get into sports reporting?

A: You have to come in knowing that you’re gonna be spending a lot of time with this job. It’s not a five-day, 40-hour a week job. You have to be willing to put in some extra hours, and in many cases, some odd hours. It’s not like you can come in and work your eight hours and then leave. A lot of days don’t work out that way. Most days don’t. So you have to be flexible with your scheduling. … But it’s very rewarding, as you know. When you feel like you’ve done a good job, a good story, a good piece on someone, there’s a certain satisfaction that you have. It’s a good feeling inside when you feel like you’ve made someone happy by reporting on them or telling their story to a lot of people. It’s a great feeling inside. I think our jobs are very rewarding in that sense. They don’t pay a lot of money, we’re not gonna get rich doing what we do. But I think we kind of get rich by what we feel like we’re doing for other people. Money’s not everything, right?

No, it isn’t. It comes in handy sometimes, though.

[Laughs]. Yeah, it does. We don’t get a lot, but it comes in handy.

Q: So, some anchors do this. Are you the kind of guy who has worn shorts when you’re live on the desk?

A: Not usually. I usually come in regular stuff. I think there might have, maybe on a real hot summer day, maybe I did it once in 36 years. But usually I’ll come in long pants.

Q: When is your last day on the job?

A: It’s probably gonna be Dec. 31. I told them I was gonna work until the last day, so unless they want to let me have a few days off at the end of the year, I’ll work until the end of the year. We’ll see if there are gonna be a lot of bowl games that we need to cover. It’s kind of shaping up that way, that we might have several teams involved in bowl games. It’ll get kind of busy there in December with high school football winding down and state championships and hopefully some bowl games for area college teams. So it’ll be a busy month of December, but that’s good.

Q: Lastly, and I’m not trying to steal your thunder here, but have you thought about what you’ll say when you sign off for the last time?

A: I haven’t really had too much time to think about that. When we made the announcement last week, I wrote down some things that I wanted to get across, because a lot of times when I’m ad-libbing, you’re trying to think of things you want to say, and it just doesn’t click inside. So I had something written down that I wanted to say last Tuesday, and I did. At one point I kind of cracked a little bit. I got a little emotional when I started talking about my wife and spending time at home. So that’s probably gonna happen to me on the last day when I do the last broadcast, because I’m kind of an emotional guy. So I’m sure the emotions might creep in. You might see the old guy break down, I don’t know. Hopefully not, but I’ve been doing this for more than half of my life. It’s gonna be hard to step away, but I think it’s the right time to do it. My wife just retired in September, so we are now, finally, gonna have some time to be together. Family’s the most important thing in life, so you’ve got to have good quality time with my wife and son and dad and sisters, and I’m looking forward to that next phase. But I will miss sports. No doubt about it.

Ben Cates covers high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5527. 

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