The new guy: WJZ's Vic Carter is glad to be in Baltimore. He's not Al Sanders, and that's all right with him.


January 02, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Has there ever been a better name for an anchorman?

Vic Carter. It jumps off the tongue so easily, so quickly. One syllable followed by two, some good, hard consonants sandwiching some short, pithy vowels.

Vic Carter, anchorman. It just sounds so right.

WJZ's new anchor, who debuts tonight, would no doubt be embarrassed by the suggestion his name sounds like something out of a textbook. There's nothing special about him, he emphasizes repeatedly. If you don't mind, he'd really rather have his picture taken without the sports jacket. He's just a 37-year-old man with a fine voice and good presence who knows how to read and report the news.

So, how would he like to be described?

Mr. Carter squirms in his seat, a little uncomfortable with this moment of forced introspection. "I guess as one of the guys," he says finally. "Just say, 'He's one of the guys.'

"I don't put on a lot of airs," he continues, warming slightly -- but only slightly -- to the question. "I don't have a lot of heady thoughts about the way life should be or anything like that. I just want to be able to do a good job for whoever I'm working for."

Not that Vic Carter is shy or reticent or unwilling to talk. Far from it; he's gregarious and approachable.

Late for an interview, he apologizes profusely and laughs self-mockingly at the circumstances: Just back from Atlanta, where he'd spent Christmas at home with his wife and daughter, he'd arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and promptly forgotten where he left his car.

OK, we'll buy it. Maybe he is pretty much one of us.

Except for two things: Beginning at 6 and 11 tonight, he'll be seen in umpteen thousand Baltimore-area homes every evening. And he's taking the place of a local legend.

No one has to be reminded how much the late Al Sanders meant to WJZ and to Baltimore. Together with co-anchor Jerry Turner, who died in 1987, he crafted an 11 p.m. newscast that dominated local news, never being really challenged until last year. But more than an on-air personality, Al Sanders was a man people trusted, a role model for everyone.

When he died last June, many Baltimoreans grieved as though they had lost a close friend.

Which means Vic Carter is going to have to fill some pretty big shoes. How's he going to do it?

Obviously, he knew that question was coming. And just as obviously, he knew there was only one way to answer it.

Successor, not replacement

"I'm not really replacing Al Sanders, I'm succeeding him," he says simply. "There can never be a replacement for Al Sanders."

Marcellus Alexander agrees. As WJZ's general manager, he's the man who hired Mr. Carter. The idea, he insists, was not to go out and find a replacement. Rather, the idea was to find someone who fit in with the Eyewitness News team, someone who could share the anchor duties with Denise Koch, Sanders' longtime partner.

"When we began the search for someone to co-anchor with Denise, we never looked for a replacement for Al Sanders, because none exists," Mr. Alexander says. "He was truly one of a kind.

"If anyone has taken Al's place, and she hasn't, it would be Denise. She moved into the seat he occupied some months ago. But it's real important to realize I'm not expecting her to be Al either."

Ms. Koch met with Mr. Carter during the interview process. She told him how much Al Sanders meant to Baltimore, and how viewers would inevitably compare the new with the old.

"I was as blunt with him as I could possibly be," she says. "I told him there was no way he was not going to be in some way affected by that. People in this city are extremely generous, extremely gracious, but for a while people are going to say to him, 'Gosh, we really miss Al.' "

Such comparisons will not faze her new partner, Ms. Koch predicts. "I think he understands how important Al was. I think if that would have been a problem with him, he wouldn't have come."

Point of origin

A native of Radford, Va., Mr. Carter grew up the only boy in a family that included four sisters, three older than he. His father, Earnest, worked as a crane operator at the Lynchburg steel foundry. His mother, Sybil, managed a neighborhood Dollar General Store.

"It was a college community," Mr. Carter recalls of the town, home to Radford University. "Tree-lined streets, a hospital, Army ammunitions plant. At one time, when we were in the Cold War, Radford was like the fifth location on the hot list of places that might be targeted, because of the ammunition plant."

Given where he grew up, in a neighborhood with the military on one side and academia on the other, perhaps it shouldn't come as a surprise he decided to become a newsman. After graduating with a degree in communications from Morehead State University in Kentucky, he knocked on the door of WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Va., and was hired as a reporter three days later.

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