“Replacing a legend is difficult. Becoming one yourself … well, that’s rare.”
— WRAL-TV News Director Rick Gall
“What a ride. What a journey. What a privilege.”
– WRAL-TV anchor David Crabtree
After 35 years delivering the news on radio, television and the web, WRAL’s David Crabtree is planning to retire near the end of 2018.
Crabtree, who has been WRAL’s lead male anchor since taking over the role from Charlie Gaddy in 1994, has reported from the Vatican, South Africa and Jerusalem, and anchored the news in Little Washington, Denver and Raleigh. For 17 of those years, he rose at 5 a.m. to anchor the news, from his home, for WRAL-FM.
“David is one of the most seasoned and talented journalists in the country,” says WRAL-TV News Director Rick Gall. “On the anchor desk, his compelling and engaging delivery stand out. He’s outstanding during breaking news and continuous coverage when the stakes are highest. Our viewers have truly depended on him.”
As a boy growing up just north of Nashville, Tenn., Crabtree fell in love with broadcasting. The mystery and magic of radio captured his imagination when he was 13. Three years later, he talked himself into a non-official internship at the Top 40 giant of Nashville, WKDA-AM.
In 1967, WGNS in Murfreesboro, Tenn., would be his first paying job in radio. To this day, he recalls that 90 cents per hour gig as “one of the best jobs I ever had!”
Crabtree took a detour from broadcast news to work as press secretary for the Tennessee House of Representatives. As an idealistic 25-year-old, Crabtree was interested in politics “to make a difference in the lives of people, for the better,” he says. That ideal was severely tested when his boss was indicted on corruption charges, and Crabtree was called to testify. “It was a form of truth-telling that forever changed my world,” he recalls.
After that, Crabtree took a detour through jobs in sales, management, brokerage, but nothing filled the void of broadcast journalism.
In the fall of 1982, Crabtree was offered his first job in television, as a general assignment reporter at WNGE (soon to become WKRN) in his native Nashville. He later worked producing documentaries in the Middle East, and as an anchor in Washington, N.C., and Denver before getting the call to come to WRAL.
“I thought I would be there three years, four tops,” he remembers.
“It’s now been 23 years, the best years of my career. It’s also time to pass the baton to Debra Morgan just as Charlie Gaddy did to me,” Crabtree says.
The next chapter begins in late November of 2018, when Crabtree will step away from the camera to a permanent role in the Episcopal Church. He was ordained a permanent deacon in 2004 and is on track to earn his master’s degree in Theological Studies from Duke University Divinity School in the spring of 2018. As a deacon, Crabtree has worked on issues surrounding death row and hospice care. This is the work he will focus on post-WRAL.
“Broadcasting was my first calling, my first love,” Crabtree says. “I answered that calling as best I could, and now it’s time to answer that from God.”
Crabtree’s award-winning legacy at WRAL-TV includes interviews with presidents and papal visits, political conventions, dozens of hurricanes, a Final Four and John Glenn’s return to space. He travelled across the world to cover the funerals for Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela. Next February, he will report from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Crabtree is the winner of 15 Emmys (11 at WRAL), Columbia University’s Alfred I. duPont Award for the best in reporting and storytelling with a public impact, and the Catholic Press Association’s Gabriel Award. He was North Carolina’s Journalist of the Year four consecutive years and, in 2014, he received the Best Anchor award from the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters.
At the age of 67, Crabtree is ready to turn the page.
“This is 100 percent my decision,” he says.
“The opportunities given me by Jim Goodmon, Fred Barber, Tom Allen, Jim Hefner and Steve Hammel are beyond anything I could have dreamt. The teaching and guidance of John Harris and Rick Gall helped mold me as an anchor and reporter. The love and tears from my colleagues over the years has impacted me beyond words.”
Thanks to WRAL.com for this capcom story, photos and video links.