Rod Carter knows what this looks like.
When he debuts at 5 a.m. today as the new weekday morning anchor at WFLA-Ch. 8, many will assume it was part of a grand plan — returning to the Tampa station where he spent seven years as a reporter and fill-in anchor, after proving himself leading the morning newscasts at WVTM-TV in Birmingham, Ala.
But Carter insists his reappearance after nearly three years is mere happy coincidence and good fortune, allowing him to nab a rare open anchor spot in the country's 14th largest market after longtime host Gayle Guyardo's departure last month.
"I remember somebody asking me when I came (to Alabama), if I was coming as some kind of training ground, but that wasn't the case," said Carter, 41, of his 2007 move to WVTM, which is owned by Richmond, Va.-based Media General, just like WFLA. "I loved Tampa, but I was getting too old to be running around (chasing stories) in the street at night."
He joins WFLA's morning show at a crucial time. The station has long competed with rival Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13 for dominance in the a.m. hours, with recent ratings from February's "sweeps" period showing the NBC affiliate on the losing end of that struggle.
Adding to the challenge, the morning show has lost two long-tenured anchors in the space of a year.
First, 27-year veteran Bill Ratliff departed in June, unwilling to accept reduced pay for fewer hours in a newsroom that had already endured several rounds of layoffs.
Next, Guyardo left after 17 years at WFLA, ready to try something new in developing a business with infomercial king Kevin Harrington, co-star of ABC's unscripted series Shark Tank. And not long after Guyardo announced her departure, morning meteorologist Jennifer Hill also revealed she would be leaving, moving to the West Coast where she could be closer to family; weekend meteorologist Leigh Spann takes her place this morning.
All this change comes to WFLA as WTVT has added 90 minutes to its morning newscast and other stations have beefed up their production and personnel.
A Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida A&M University, Carter first came to WFLA 10 years ago, helping diversify the station's reporting ranks after a stretch when the NBC affiliate had no black on-air staffers. He came to WFLA from WVTM, where he worked after stints in Augusta, Ga., Gainesville and Tallahassee.
Carter said he's not expecting to reinvent the wheel when he joins the anchor desk, taking lessons from the top anchor team on network morning television — the folks leading the Today show.
"They have this way of keeping things happy and fun without leaving the credibility of hard news," he said. "This morning shift suits me — I can be silly sometimes — but you understand how you can have fun with it, while also telling people what they need to know."