If you live in central Alabama, you probably know meteorologist James Spann and his signature suspenders, but Blount County also has some TV personalities that have made an impact.
Chris Whited, Emily Robertson, and Chris Cato are three locals using their talents to keep their communities informed of news and weather.
Whited graduated from Oneonta High School in 1995 and earned a geosciences degree from Mississippi State University in 2003. His concentration was broadcast meteorology. Whited is currently living in Lubbock, Tex., and works both on air and behind the scenes for CBS affiliate KLBK and ABC affiliate KAMC.
Robertson, a 2005 Oneonta High School graduate, will graduate in May from Mississippi State University. She is currently on air for WVUA 23 in Tuscaloosa using the television name Emily Owen.
Cato attended Southeastern Elementary before graduating from Oneonta High School in 1995. He then attended Troy University majoring in broadcast journalism and speech communication. He is currently employed in Tampa, Fla., for Fox 13 as the 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. anchor. This station is the top-rated TV station in the Tampa area.
We caught up with Whited, Robertson, and Cato to find out some interesting tidbits from their Blount County raising and beyond.
What event or situation pointed you in the direction of television?
Whited, who was always fascinated with weather, said he practiced doing the weather in front of the TV growing up, and, at the age of 12, he vividly remembers the blizzard of 1993.
Robertson, who began following her dream at the age of 3 or 4, would practice doing the weather when her grandmother would turn down the TV volume while watching The Weather Channel. After Hurricane Ivan swept through the state in 2005, Robertson knew she would become a meteorologist.
Cato’s interest in the television world happened after stumbling into the college television station and discovering the craft of TV news.
How did your Blount County upbringing help mold your career?
Whited said, “My Blount County upbringing allowed me to experience some of the most unique and interesting aspects of Mother Nature and science of meteorology. Frequent episodes of severe weather and our occasional winter weather only furthered my fascination with the science.”
Robertson said she has received such great community support and the town has backed her up 100 percent since she began following her dream at the age of 6. She truly feels blessed to be able to follow her dream with so much support.
According to Cato, his parents instilling the “work first, play later” ethic was the absolute best thing that could have happened to him.
What is the most memorable storm you covered?
Although Whited has covered several storms, he reflected on the December 2015 blizzard in Texas. This storm crippled parts of the state with one foot of snow. Several towns were shut down for a week since they are not accustomed to snow.
Robertson, who walked into Birmingham’s WTVM Channel 13 station for her first day of interning as Hurricane Alberto was coming through Alabama, remembers briefly meeting Harmony Mendoza before Mendoza put her on the task of breaking down the four quadrants of the approaching hurricane. She said her stint at Channel 13 really challenged her as a meteorologist.
Cato said he walked into his first day of work at NBC 10 in Philadelphia, and was handed a station logo raincoat and told, “You’re going to the shore (as in Jersey Shore.)” He was sent to Atlantic City, as the 2012 Superstorm Sandy was scheduled to make landfall near the Jersey Shore. At the last minute, the storm made a left hook and slammed into Atlantic City. There he was, a life-long Southerner who up until then had only seen Atlantic City on television. He was then told that NBC Nightly News was going to lead their newscast with his live report as 80-mile-an-hour winds were whipping him and the storm surge was closing in. Cato was then forced to spend the night trapped on the boardwalk because the bay had turned the amusement area into an island.
What has been your biggest challenge in the media world thus far?
Whited said that the inclusion of social media and instant information into the news world has created many challenges. As he grew up, he remembers having to rely on news programs for information, as news was not instantaneous like it is now. He also remembers not being able to access social media during his first job. Now it is a major part of his job duties.
Robertson confides her biggest challenge is trying to show her true personality while both on and off the air. While trying to achieve this goal, she wants viewers to see her professionalism and to be taken seriously. She doesn’t want to be portrayed as one person on camera and a different one while off the air.
Cato said his biggest challenge is adapting to the social media revolution. Social media did not exist when Cato was in journalism school, so incorporating it into his craft was not easy at first. Now the industry operates in a “social media comes first” mindset. He said gone are the days of holding your exclusive scoop for the 6 p.m. news; you break it on Twitter or Facebook.
He went on to say that he is expected to engage viewers and garner new followers, which isn’t easy. The industry is battling a shrinking television audience as more people rely on social media feeds as their primary sources of news.
Some fun facts to ponder
Whited’s mentors were James Spann and Mike Royer. He is a part of the James Spann fan club and laughingly said, “Someday I want his job.” Whited is a die-hard Auburn fan. He had a stint of storm chasing while at Mississippi State and almost got caught in a tornado during one storm chasing.
Robertson is fascinated with severe weather, primarily tornados, and had thought about becoming a storm chaser. She has shadowed ABC 33/40’s James Spann and Meaghan Thomas, WVTM’s Jerry Tracey, Stephanie Walker, and Harmony Mendoza, as well as WVUA 23’s Richard Scott. Robertson said probably her most interesting fact is she has met Justin Bieber.
Cato grew up near the junction of Ala 75 and County Road 15. Some refer to his old stomping grounds as Clear Springs, while others today refer to it as Limestone Springs. He refers to it as “a little piece of paradise,” and relishes the few times per year he gets to leave the city to visit family who still live there.