“I still have never, ever been given any explanation,” says Warren Peper, who was recently cut loose after nearly 30 years at Channel 5, “and I didn’t know it was coming and all those things.”
But now that “Pep” is back on the air at rival Channel 2, there’s a sweet symmetry to his comeback story.
Peper actually began his Charleston broadcasting career not at Channel 5 but at Channel 2, where he worked as an intern while a senior in the ’70s at what is now Charleston Southern University. When Peper today sees the billboards promoting him and Carolyn Murray as the News 2 anchor team, he’s reminded of those days.
“I had a tape recorder on my front seat and I used to read billboards into it, trying to get used to hearing myself speak and what exactly I sounded like, and trying to remove any regional accents. It was just something I decided to do,” he recalls.
“And the other day it dawned on me that now I’m riding on I-26 and there’s a picture of me on a billboard along the same highway I used to ride down reading into a tape recorder.”
With that tape recorder, Peper would practice ad libbing, or as he puts it, doing reports “on the fly.” Today he says he feels that ability is one of his strongest assets.
Channel 2 management seems to agree. A few weeks ago, it launched News 2 Listens with Peper as the host — a similar but longer segment than Channel 5’s Talkback, giving viewers the chance to talk to newsmakers. But unlike Talkback, News 2 Listens calls are live, not prerecorded.
Peper won’t be chained to the anchor desk, either. So far he’s reported from hurricane-ravaged Mississippi and from Washington D.C., at the funeral of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. The Parks coverage, says Peper, came about after he suggested to news director Kathryn Bonfield that News 2 should think about sending someone to Washington. Peper says she got back to him in short order, calling it a phenomenal idea and said, “I want you to leave tomorrow.” The coverage would quickly balloon into Peper doing live reports not just for Channel 2 but also several of Media General’s other television stations.
Peper has inked a five-year contract at Channel 2. So we’ll see over time if those News 2 billboards that remind him how far he’s come will someday read “Now No. 1 in Local TV News!” Of course, perennially number-one Channel 5 will do everything in its power to assure that their former star doesn’t exact such sweet revenge.
Patrick Harwood teaches broadcast journalism at the College of Charleston.