MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD) – It has been 20 years since Carolyn Murray joined the WCBD News 2 team as an evening anchor – but her career in journalism stretches well beyond that time frame.
Murray, a native of New York, grew up in Charleston and graduated from Burke High School in 1984 and later from the University of South Carolina in 1988. It was during her senior year at USC when she interned at WPAL-AM in Charleston — an internship that would catapult a celebrated career in delivering the latest news and vital information to her own community.
A CAREER IN BROADCAST JOURNALISM
“The owner of the radio station, Bill Saunders, was a bit of a curmudgeon, but he really was just such a community activist and so serious about the power of the microphone that he really launched me into something that I would fall even more deeply in love with,” said Murray.
Her internship at WPAL started the very day she walked into the radio station.
“I went on air live that same day that I went in just asking to be an intern,” she recalled. “And this was at a time when there were no cell phones. So, I couldn’t even tell my parents, hey, I’m on the radio live. I just started reading public service announcements when he would point to me.”
Her passion for journalism blossomed during these days at WPAL-AM.
“I saw how serious and how passionate people who were already in the industry — I saw that in Mr. Saunders and the other people who worked at WPAL, like Don Kendricks and Frankie the Big Bopper. But those people really had a significant impact on why I would come to love this industry and why I would fall in love with journalism and how my career started,” said Murray.
Murray soon began serving as the radio station’s news and public affairs director for a short time before acting as news director for WMGL-FM in 1989.
But her move to being in front of the camera came during an internship at another Charleston television station, WCSC-TV, that same year.
“I knew ultimately, I wanted to be a TV news anchor, which I declared when I was a senior at Burke High School. And so, I started interning at Channel 5 in the evenings. I would work at the radio station in the morning, and I would go to Channel 5 in the evenings.”
Murray said the news director there stopped her one day and called on her to record something on camera. “I’m an intern. So, I think, oh, okay, he wants me to edit something. And he said, no, I want you on camera. I want you to make a tape. And that was my foray into TV news.”
Not more than 48 hours after the news director saw her tape, he decided that she would be anchoring the station’s morning sunrise program.
“I started that in 1989 and have been off to the races ever since,” she said.
Murray left WCSC and Charleston in 2001 to work as a consumer reporter at WBBM-TV in Chicago but ultimately made her return to the Lowcountry in 2003, joining the WCBD-TV team as an evening anchor.
“I always say, by the grace of God, I was able to come back, and they needed an anchor at a time when I needed a job,” she said.
Murray recalled living across from a woman named Sarah “Sadie” Oglesby, one of the first African American women to have a program on television.
She was an educator and innovator who taught Murray to choose and use her words wisely. Oglesby was a teacher at Burke High School and hosted “Sadie Oglesby’s Scrapbook” on a Charleston television station airing before sunrise.
“We would be getting dressed in the mornings … and we would hear her elegant annunciation of what was happening in the community. It was just the simplest program. She had a big scrapbook; she would cut out newspaper articles and she would talk about what was in the newspaper article,” Murray recalled.
For Murray, it was exciting to hear her neighbor on television. And in the afternoons she would go and sit with Oglesby in her library and the two would read to each other.
“She had this wonderful dark library with this heavy wood. And I would read to her and she would read to me. She was a graduate of Fisk University. She would later attend Avery University locally. But she taught me also about the power of effective communication. I loved it. And so that was why I just always embraced what communication could do,” said Murray.
The two were generations apart. Oglesby was born in 1900 but the two were friends.
“I loved what I learned from her as a communicator, and that eventually would in some way, influence what I wanted to do … I knew I wanted to be like Sadie Oglesby.”
MEETING AN ICON — AND TALKING WITH THE EVERYDAY PEOPLE
“If you spend 15 or 20 minutes talking with me, if we are in a conversation, there are a couple of things that are gonna come up. My daughter, Reese, my husband Jimmy, our pets, and Oprah. Not necessarily in that same order — there are times when Oprah even supersedes Reese and Jimmy,” Murray said with a laugh.
When Oprah Winfrey came to town in February 2006 as part of her “Live Your Best Life” tour at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center, she allowed one interview. It was with Carolyn Murray.
“It was everything. You know, one thing, she looks like me- she’s this Black woman who speaks a lot in front of a camera,” said Murray. “So there was that obvious connection. But when you have a thought in your mind of someone who you idolize and whose life in some ways, maybe you’re emulating, you certainly appreciate and want that person to be a certain way. You’re just hopeful that they don’t let you down. She surpassed my wildest imagination about someone who could be kind. And what I remember most about my conversation with Oprah – or our time together – I could tell being a discerning adult, she was just as appreciative of my time as I was of hers. She was completely and fully engaged. We laughed as only people who are really connected can.”
Murray recalled their conversation really only ended because she had to host a live show.
“It was one of the highlights of my professional career,” said Murray.
But outside of the celebrity, the state and national politicians, or local community leaders, Murray also enjoys hearing from the everyday person.
Most recently was getting to know Emily Meggett, the matriarch of Edisto Island.
Megget had just published a cookbook featuring her lifetime of recipes and Gullah home cooking. The two spent an afternoon in 2022 together cooking in the kitchen and enjoying each other’s company.
Megget passed away in April of this year.
“I think very often when you go into the industry of, you know, communication, broadcasting, podcasting, whatever it may be, a younger person may have the ideal of interviewing people who have such great influence in the world. And then when you start to do it, you realize everyone is the same,” said Murray.
“My joy with Oprah is, of course, she has a lot of influence in the world, someone of that magnitude. But my joy with meeting Ms. Emily Meggett was the same because they could have just as easily been together and they would’ve had just as much fun. The true joy is realizing that people are so much alike there, there are much more similarities than differences.”
Part of the reason why Murray is so comfortable speaking to an audience – whether during the evening news or standing before a room full of people while hosting an event — is because she says at the end of the day, everyone is the same.
“It is because of my true realization that people are the same. It doesn’t matter who’s sitting in the audience, and it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side of the microphone. For me, I operate the same way. I am as respectful to the person who has millions and billions — and I’ve met those people — as I am the person who just found out their electricity is off because they can’t pay the bill. I treat them the same because I realize what goes around comes around. And it’s not even just the fear or threat of karma. It’s the joy in that our situations really aren’t that different.”
A LOVE FOR ANIMALS
Carolyn Murray serves on myriad boards from the International African American Museum to the City of Charleston Health and Wellness Committee, the Junior League of Charleston, and even the First Tee of Greater Charleston.
But anyone who knows Carolyn will know she has a big place in her heart – and her home – for animals. Murray serves as a board member for the Charleston Animal Society and is mom to two rescues, Mike and Kirby, who bring her joy every day.
“Sometimes I wonder if I look like, you know, just someone who is just a little off kilter because of my love of animals. I love animals because I truly, truly at the heart of the matter, I wish people were more like animals,” she said. “Every time I look at my animals or any animal, I’m always kind of thinking that they look at us and they don’t care what car you drive. They don’t care what your zip code is. They just don’t care other than you are kind. You give them a little attention, that you’re patient, that you speak to them. A little bit of playfulness, a little bit of discipline here and there. I wish we were more like animals.”
Murray believes every breed of animal deserves love. “Our family philosophy is we don’t go out seeking a particular breed. Whatever God allows to come into our life, that’s who we are supposed to be with,” she said.
Her family welcomed home Mike the dog from the Charleston Animal Society in October 2018 and Kirby the cat last July.
“So we adopted Mike after our beloved Chel was hit by a car near our home. And it was just an awful, awful experience. We got Mike that same week because our family philosophy is, you may think you need time to heal. The bottom line is to get right back in there because there’s someone who needs you. And so we adopted Mike that same week.”
Kirby joined the family following the passing of their cat, Hershey, last June.
“Hershey was a feral cat who lived outside for 17 years, which I couldn’t believe that we could have a cat that long who lived outdoors. And then we decided this time we’re gonna have a kitten in our house. And it has been the best thing. Mike and Kirby adore each other and there are lots of videos to prove it.”
THE FUTURE GENERATION OF JOURNALISTS
In a world where everyone lives their lives through social media, with a smartphone in hand, or typing away on a keyboard — Murray’s advice to future journalists is to stay connected to your community and to have those in-person conversations often.
“We have things that have made the industry a little bit easier, and that is, I didn’t walk around with a computer in my hand when I was starting my career. So getting information, doing research sometimes meant I had to physically go to a library, or certainly I had to be very in touch with my resources who could give me information about what’s happened historically or traditionally with stories. So those are two things that have changed significantly. What concerns me about where this industry is now is I think that you lose the connection with people when you rely so heavily on a computer, a digital device, to get information.”
She believes the loss of connectivity to actual people can sometimes play a role when delivering the news whether at the desk or by reporters on the street.
“To me, there’s nothing more important. Like I want to talk to a million people a day. For some people that’s nauseating. They couldn’t even imagine it. I can’t imagine functioning without it. And some people are very comfortable with being very disconnected from people and getting most of their information from those sources. I’m just not that way. I need to hear a voice. I need to hear your tone. I need to, you know, just check and recheck my sources to figure out if it’s the right way to go with the story. Because, you know, at the end of the day, we are people,” she said.
Murray is frequently checking in with staff in the WCBD newsroom and sending contacts for stories that may be breaking or should be investigated — people she knows will have an answer and could share details with emotion or personal connection.
“I’m always sending sources. I’m always trying to encourage reporters to go out, look at people face-to-face, do interviews, even if you are not the person on the stage at the microphone, participating in events, dig deep to find it in your soul, to know that there’s value in just still being there and growing your community,” she said.
“I like a good workout. You only develop a muscle with use. That muscle of being face to face with people is the same thing. If you are not doing it regularly — if it’s even, you know, the Zooms and all that kind of stuff. Once you get into that habit, it’s very difficult to be comfortable around people again. You just have to do it. Just repetition, repetition, repetition. I know when I need alone time and quiet time, but in our industry, there’s so much value and there’s so much joy, and there’s so much benefit to having that kind of contact.”
Carolyn Murray has made the leap from radio to television, she’s known for emceeing events, or being a listening ear to virtually anyone — but most recently, she has joined the booming world of podcasting.
She serves as host of the weekly award-winning “Let’s Talk” podcast where both newsmakers and ordinary people have a chance to tell their stories.
“My career started in radio and then went into TV … as I’ve gotten older and come to realize who I am and what I like doing, I always knew that at the end of the day, what I liked most was a conversation. I like a conversation. So I love the idea of being able to sit and talk to people who are doing big things and small things and interesting things. And I learn something every single time. So although I am across a microphone sharing this space with this person, I am getting all of this rich information and I just love it.”
“And then I feel as if I’m giving this little gift to the person. We are all impermanent. We will all pass away someday. And I love knowing that I’ve done this tiny little thing that might be a gift to that person’s family,” Murray added. “When that person is no longer here to be able to hear their voice, to be able to hear if the person giggles or maybe gets choked up to hear those kinds of things. You generally don’t have that ability in a newscast — the sound bites are too short. But in a podcast, you get to hear a conversation. Who else records conversations? We don’t record them over family dinners. This way you get to hear, even though the conversation is with me, but you get to hear your loved one, an official, some artist, an athlete in a conversation.
Murray’s conversations on Let’s Talk can be heard each Sunday and feature people who make an impact on the Charleston area community, whether a local leader or your neighbor. Episodes can be streamed for free through your listening device of choice.
Murray has been awarded numerous EMMYs for her anchoring and reporting through the years, along with various awards and accolades from industry leaders. She delivers the news weekly on News 2 at 4, 5, 6, 11pm and on the Lowcountry CW at 10pm. We look forward to another 20 years.