Bill Sharpe said he will spend his future years giving back to the community he informed | Photo by Ruta Smith

It won’t be long before Bill Sharpe signs off as perhaps the best-known television news anchor Charleston has ever had. On Oct. 28, he’ll co-anchor Live 5 News for the last time, retiring at age 71 at the top of his game.

Gone from the air after 48 years will be the newsman with a comforting smile that lights up a room. His deep, gravelly voice occasionally breaks into a rich baritone of “Happy Birthday” at the bottom of a show. Viewers will miss his gentle pokes and prods with weatherman Bill Walsh or a twinkling running reminder that co-anchor Ann McGill is from Kingstree.

For generations of Charlestonians, Bill has made the news fun. But he’s also been there like a warm blanket during hurricanes, tragic deaths and shocks of lifetimes.

He’ll tell you that he’s part performer, part personality and a full-on storyteller. 

“The writing for TV news is different than writing for a newspaper,” Sharpe said in a recent interview. “We strive to be conversationalists. If we’re good, we’re covering conversations. If you want more details of a story, then you go to the City Paper.”

And there it was, all at once: Charm, twinkle and a sense of joie de vivre. 

Wet behind the ears

Sharpe started at WCSC-TV in 1973 when reporters wrote stories on electric typewriters and ripped state and national copy from teletype machines. At age 22, he was an afternoon reporter and late-night anchor. The Charleston native recalls he might have been a 22-year-old graduate from Emory University, but he looked, maybe, 18.

Bill Sharpe landed on-air spots in his early 20s. Pictured here with newsman Walter Cronkite

“I had no gravitas, no great firsthand experience, no wisdom,” Sharpe said. A year after he joined the station, he was thrust into the anchor’s position as dual tragedies struck key newsroom personalities, one of whom suffered a heart attack and another who was one of 71 who died in a grisly Charlotte airplane crash. 

In 1976, Debi Chard joined the station. She later shared the anchor desk with Sharpe for 29 years until she retired in 2019. As a team, they won numerous accolades, including a 1990 Peabody Award for excellence in coverage of Hurricane Hugo.

Through the years, they learned a key to local television news was to broadcast stories that appealed to a lot of people. Sharpe admitted the adage “if it bleeds, it leads” sometimes proves true as stations air a lot of crime-related news. But those stories, like others on health care or local government, make it to TV because they are relevant to viewers. 

“What are people talking about? What is the story of the day? Is it the murders involving the Murdaugh family or is there a riot going on downtown?”

One story still chills Sharpe. He remembered the 2015 shooting deaths of nine members of Emanuel AME Church by a white supremacist. Just after it happened, Sharpe’s boss asked him to put the tragedy in perspective. 

“I wrote something at my desk. I would have to stop and break down and cry every few minutes, but I got it out. It was a good piece.” But he knew he couldn’t do it live because it was too raw, too emotional. So he videotaped it. 

“It took me a couple of times to get through the taping.”

Two days later, family members of the victims shocked many by forgiving the gunman during a bond hearing that the station aired live. As it ended, the camera turned to Sharpe.

“It took me a few seconds to get composed enough to finish the report,” he said somberly. “That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.”

Helping to promote understanding

Past colleagues say Sharpe knows how to make people understand stories.

“Bill taught me how to sell a story to the viewers,” said former reporter Harve Jacobs, now a spokesman for North Charleston police. “No one can sell a story like he does. I always joke that if he went on the air and said Godzilla is on the Ravenel Bridge, people would drive over there to see for themselves.”

Jacobs said Sharpe would be missed.

“The old saying is no one is irreplaceable, but Bill cannot be replaced. There will never be another news anchor in Charleston to duplicate his success.”

Carter Coyle, now on the media team at the Medical University of South Carolina, recalled how Sharpe helped her throughout her five years at the station.

Provided

“Bill was one of the few people in a busy newsroom to take time to regularly offer compliments, suggestions and constructive criticism to the reporters about their stories,” she said. “When Debi Chard retired, I moved my desk to sit next to Bill. I truly enjoyed the lessons, stories and laughs that came with being Bill’s neighbor in the newsroom. 

“I had a baby last year and boxes of diapers still appear on my doorstep every few months,” she said. “I know they’re from Bill. He’s a very smart anchor and a thoughtful person who will be deeply missed on Lowcountry televisions.”

What’s ahead

Sharpe’s calendar isn’t too full after Oct. 28. He’ll spend more time with his wife, Katherine, and the six children they share, including his youngest son who Sharpe says is a superstar on Facebook. He knows he’ll do some volunteer work to give back to the community that he loves.

“I’m a lucky guy — a local fellow, born and raised here, who went off to school and came back and who has been able to bring the news to my people for years. That’s a great privilege. And it has given me great pleasure.”

A big part of giving back in the years ahead surely will involve interacting with people he’s informed for years.

“I love people,” Sharpe said wistfully. “That’s what energizes me the most.”

THE LOWDOWN ON BILL SHARPE

Age: 71.

Birthplace: Charleston, S.C. 

Sharpe at age 20 | Photo provided

Education: Bachelor’s degree from
Emory University with a major in English
and a minor in French.

Current profession: News anchor at Live 5.

Family: Wife, Katherine, and six kids
— Grey, Emma, Hayley, Kathryn, William, Hunter and Harper.

Pets: Dog, Oliver; and cats, Stone
and Ophelia.

Something people would be surprised to learn about you: I love to sing!

Favorite things besides your family and profession: Tennis, biking, walking and listening to music.

What you’re looking forward to in retirement: No daily deadlines.

Favorite snack food: Peanut butter, straight from the jar.

Favorite thing to cook: Anything in the microwave.

Favorite dessert: Coconut cake. 

What you MUST always have in your refrigerator: Cheese, thin-sliced turkey, beer and water.

Books on the bedside table: JFK: The Cuba Files: The Untold Story of the Plot to Kill Kennedy.

Secret vice: Cussin’ when nobody’s around!

Favorite musicians: Mozart, George Jones, James Taylor and Led Zeppelin.

Describe your best day in 50 words or less: Riding my bike down the Greenway, some tennis and then a quiet dinner with my wonderful wife.

Childhood hero: Ralph Nader.

Your hero now: Martin Luther King Jr.

What meal would you want served to you for your last supper: Shrimp and grits.

Pet peeve: I’m a grammar Nazi — People who say, ‘Should have WENT!’

Your philosophy: Use your God-given talents and NEVER give up! 

Anything about the pandemic affected you in particular: Miss seeing people in person.