Amy Morrow is a face and voice that is familiar to many in the greater Chattanooga area. She made a name for herself as a reporter and television personality at Fox 61 and WRCB-TV3 before venturing out of broadcast journalism to become the public relations director for Friends of the Festival (Riverbend Festival). Amy took a few moments recently to discuss media and why she loves her hometown.
You’re a hometown girl that has grown up in the media around here. Where did you initial interest in the media come?
There’s nothing really sexy. I did watch the news and I was interested in current events, but it wasn’t one of those things that I idolized Barbara Walters or Diane Sawyer or anything like that. I was in school and really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. And I kid you not, the way that it came up; my mother – maybe this is my sophomore year – I don’t know, she said, “You know, you’d be really good at news. You’d be good at broadcast journalism.” That’s really kind of how it started. I had taken some P.R. courses. I was at UGA and took a test to see if I could get into the journalism school – and did. And that’s how it happened.
How did you end up coming back to the Chattanooga area?
It’s kind of a funny story. I graduated from Georgia. I get a call back from a cable station in Dalton, GA. I’m thinking that’s cool. I can live at home. That’s back when they paid peanuts, especially a cable station. I’m thinking I can live on that if I’m living at home with my parents. And that’s how I came back. I had a professor, David Hazinski, who had actually been an NBC correspondent for years who said, “Don’t you do it. Don’t start at a cable station.” But I did it. (laughs) And it worked out for me because like I said, the pay wasn’t much. I certainly couldn’t have lived on my own and done it and it worked out because Dalton’s just up the road. That was my start. I went to Tupelo, Mississippi and worked for the NBC affiliate there, which I thought was funny. It was WTBA and had not idea what Tupelo was. It was where Elvis was born. (laughs) It’s probably the size of Cleveland (TN), I guess. Quaint. The people were as friendly as they could be. I loved it. It was almost like an extended year of college, because all the reporters were young and it was a really neat place. The people I met in Tupelo I stay in touch more so than college friends.
You were a part of the first news staff when Fox 61 here started their own news department. How did that all come about?
I was in Tupelo and I kind of missed home and my parents. I don’t know how I heard about it. I can’t remember now. I found out and called and said I’d like to submit my tape. And that was it. I was only in Tupelo really for ten months. But I wanted to come back home and that happened. That was a startup. And that was kind of a crash and burn. (laughs) Two years later they cancelled my shows, which meant they cancelled me. By the time that rolled around I was doing the morning show and the midday show.
It was kind of odd during that era of Fox 61 News. There were a lot of young female reporters. There seemed to be an overabundance of it.
Yes, how competitive was it and were exercise your journalistic muscle? Where you able to use what you learned in college?
Specifically there? Some, yes, because I still did go out and do stories. I was still reporting and hitting the ground running. But as far as the morning show that’s more talk and I also had a franchise piece called “Your Town”, which I absolutely loved. At the end of the day it was what I enjoyed the most as crime and punishment type things – following things all the way to the courthouse. “Your Town” was really fun because I made up my own and I would go out and do stories like go to Lake Winnie and talk to kids and ask them if they knew how to spell Lake Winnipesaukee. (laughs) And you could imagine how funny that was. And I would go to Gruetli-Laager and find out where in the heck did this name come from? You dig up and you find the oldest couple living there and you walk in and they’re offering you beer at 9am. And that’s what I enjoyed meeting – just your ordinary average everyday interesting people. Because when you find folks in their element it’s really cool to learn about them and whatever they have to offer. They can’t spell Lake Winnie or Gruetli-Laager comes from this long history of when their family came over – and yeah, try some beer. (laughs)
After a couple of years, the news department at Fox 61 was disbanded and outsourced to one of the other local network affiliates. But you were able to land on your feel pretty quickly, landing at WRCB Channel 3, the local NBC affiliate. How was that transition moving to Channel 3?
It wasn’t tough or anything. It’s funny I guess, because it’s a small business – you know, you’re in it. With television news you need a tape in hand. Well, I hadn’t done that. My last tape was whatever. I wasn’t one of those who always kept a tape. I basically picked up the phone and called Bill Wallace. I called Channel 3 and said, “Hey, can I come see you? This is Amy Morrow over at Fox and they’ve canned me. (laughs) And I went in and sat down and talked with Bill and the news director at the time and basically he said when can you start? Well, it’s the holidays, I was hoping to scoot… he actually wanted me to start sooner than I wanted to. I wanted to get through Christmas without being at work. That’s the funny thing about this business or this town. Everybody knows what you can do and know what you’re capable of. It wasn’t really odd because as cutthroat as this business can be I never felt that with the different stations and the different folks here. I was at 3 (WRCB) for ten years. I was in this market for 12. By the time you’ve been here for 12 years you worked for almost all of them. Times have changed and there’s been more turnover lately. Half the time it’s run into a buddy who’s over at 12 that you worked with at 3 and we all know each other. It wasn’t that strange.
You did a lot of behind the deskwork as well as well as being in the field. Which are you more comfortable doing and which do you prefer?
I love being out in the field – just what you encounter and what you run into. I had the best of both worlds for the majority of the time. When I anchored the weekend, three days a week I was reporting and I got to fill in on the anchor desk and all that stuff, and then I anchored the weekends. I got a taste of both of it. It’s just more fun to get out and talk to people and meet people and go on the scene and be there, whether it’s a scene of a building collapsing. I came over when this building collapsed – and I remember things like that. But it’s more interesting to do – just to go out and talk to people and ride around in a car, see what we can see, listen to the scanners and just chase things down. That was more fun just because of the interaction. Anchoring of course is typically what if you want to be in television news that’s what your goal is. You don’t want to beat the streets all your life. It’s different. You’re talking to cameras not people, but I was always comfortable with that. It would be fun if you’re anchoring with the right person and there’s some chemistry there and it lends itself to enjoying it, but television news, depending on the hour and spot, there’s not a lot of room for personality or being anything. (laughs)
Chattanooga is one of those interesting media markets in the fact while it has changed somewhat over the years, was considered a stepping stone market. Media people came through Chattanooga on their way up or down the ladder of success as far as being in the media was concerned. A number of media personalities have made Chattanooga their home. What’s kept you grounded in Chattanooga?
One thing I think that’s unique about me – it may not be so for some of the others – this is home. And technically I’m a Georgia girl. I grew up in Rossville. But this is home to me and as attractive as the thought of being in Atlanta – that was it for me. I loved to be in Atlanta or Chicago. I had those thoughts and flirted with those fantasies I guess, if you will. But as attractive as that seemed or could have been playing news in the big leagues with the big dogs at the end of the day this is home and being with my family.
After those years being part of the media and being in front of the camera you transitioned to behind the scenes to a degree as you are now with Friends of the Festival. How did that come about?
Basically I just called Chip Baker and hit him up. (laughs) I was looking for a change. And that’s one great thing about being in the news business is you meet a lot of people and you know who to talk to and ask questions. You know who to ask when you’re interested in things and curious. I’m kind of looking around, ready for a change and they had an opening that came up and I hit Chip Baker up, executive director of Friends of the Festival. It went from there.
You made the transition from media to being a liaison in a way to the media, where you’re on the opposite side of the desk, so to speak. What is it like being on the other side?
Really, it’s kind of funny at first. I don’t know. It’s different. I always thought; “this is good. I have an advantage. I’ve been on both sides.” But I really haven’t been on this side very long. It’s different. My first panic experience being on this side: we had a going away party for our operations manager, Don Sharpe, who had been there for 19 years. He has a relationship with Don Welch of course. It was my task to get Don there to emcee our little program we had. I sent him an email and didn’t hear from him for a little bit. He called said he’d be glad to do it and what all did we need him to do? Well, night of rolls around and we’re 30 minutes out of the program starting. I’m looking around and I haven’t seen Don, haven’t talked to him today – didn’t think to call or remind him. Now granted, I’ve been in the media business. I know how “we” – “you guys” show up late. (laughs) That was my first panic because I’m used to being the one that comes sliding in ten minutes before. I wasn’t used to being the person who made sure someone would come sliding in. (laughs) It was kind of a panic there for a moment. I called Don and he was on his way. No big deal.
You’re not totally out of the media these days. You now co-host a “On the Move Radio” on 98.1 The Lake as well.
Yes. I’m enjoying that. It’s fun. It’s different obviously. Television news is a little more rigid and it’s fun to be able to kind of be more yourself. Not that anything goes, but you get by with more – cutting up and having fun, which is very cool. It doesn’t matter what you wear. I love that. Nobody has called to ask me “Why do you wear that same necklace all the time and what does it mean?”. Nobody calls to say “what’s wrong with your hair today?” (laughs) I love that. I can wear flip-flops. I like that part of radio. (laughs)
What kinds of topics do you guys cover on the radio show?
It’s basically what’s going on around town. We always have a segment where what’s going down in the entertainment industry. What’s going down, what concerts, what the Tivoli’s having – things like that. And we try to talk to folks. We try to hit some current topics and hot spots. It depends of what’s going on and sometimes the season leads us. We try to keep people up to date on what they can do to enrich their weekends and their lives here in Chattanooga and make sure they know there are plenty of options.
What do you think has been most rewarding of what you’ve accomplished being involved in the media?
I think I would have to say it has been rewarding doing something that I really enjoy. That’s what has to be most rewarding about it, and just the people that I have met that I would never have met. And I’m not talking about being in Tupelo and interviewing John Grisham my first week. I thought that was pretty cool. I appreciate being able to meet the man on the street that I never would have had a reason to talk to – about whatever I had to talk to him about. It may have been one of those, “Hey who did you vote for yesterday?” (laughs) Or “what do you think about the fact it’s going to be 20 below tomorrow?” That’s what I enjoyed most – meeting people I normally wouldn’t have – just regular everyday people.
– Dave Weinthal
Amy can be heard Saturdays at 9am with “One The Move Radio” on 98.1 FM along with co-host Shawn Whitfield
Amy’s fashions: On the cover: “Studio 54” dress by MM Couture – $78; Multi circle Eternity Earrings – $20. Page 4: “Winter White Sparkle Holiday” dress – $118, Brushed gold oval/kryptonite earrings – $20. Fashions and accessories courtesy of Backstreet Betty’s Boutique.