TAMPA — As a junior, Chip Carter stepped in to do color commentary for his college's hockey team. His law school plans promptly faded.
"I thought, 'I don't think the world needs another lawyer, so I'm definitely going into broadcasting,'" he said with a laugh Tuesday, an hour after announcing his retirement from WTVT-Ch. 13 after 31 years in the business.
Just the third sports director in the station's six-plus decades, Carter will make his last Fox 13 appearance on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m.
"I wish I could personally thank every one of you for inviting not only me but Fox 13 into your homes," he said to viewers Tuesday evening. "We take it as a privilege."
"This guy is a class act, let me tell you," said anchor Cynthia Smoot. "Somebody can take your place, but they'll never replace you."
News director John Hoffman called Carter, an Emmy winner, a Tampa Bay institution.
"His name has been synonymous with top notch sports coverage for many years," Hoffman said in a statement. "I'm honored to say I worked with the legendary Chip Carter."
Carter, 58, anchors Fox 13's Monday-to-Friday sportscasts at 5:30, 6, 10 and 11 p.m. He also anchors the station's Tampa Bay Buccaneers pregame and postgame specials.
After those hockey games at the University of New Hampshire, Carter got his start at stations in Savannah and Knoxville.
"I didn't even know how to edit," he said. "I never would have gotten a job today."
Sights set on a top 20 market, Carter moved to Fox 13 in 1988, though — with the Bucs as its only major franchise — the Tampa-St. Petersburg sports scene was still gaining traction.
"There just wasn't that much going on," he said. "You had to generate everything."
He worked on a Sunday sports segment, focusing on local stories. What he liked most, he found, were offbeat features — talking to hang-gliders, scuba divers and windsurfers and letting them share their talent.
"The best part about the business, to me, is the one-on-one part of it," he said. "You get to spend time with people that you would never even get to meet."
He became weekend anchor, then 5 o'clock anchor and sports director. He saw the Tampa Bay Lightning make its debut, then the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Over the years, Carter has swum with sharks, dove in caves and called a horse race at Tampa Bay Downs. He's covered the Bucs' Super Bowl win and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. He's seen Dale Earnhardt race at Daytona and worked with Phil and Tony Esposito, Brent Musburger, Monte Kiffin, John Madden — his list goes on and on.
Sports coverage shifted when the Internet became a part of the industry. Instead of simply telling viewers what happened, Carter found he had to draw them in with deeper analysis and local angles they wouldn't get elsewhere.
"I don't think there are any more passionate fans than we've had here," he said. To get their viewership, "you have to earn it, and once you earn it, you have to work hard to keep it."
After decades working nights, weekends and holidays, Carter decided he wanted to spend more time with his wife, two children and golden retrievers. He's weighing a move home to New England, ready for a life that includes seasons, hiking trails and a total lack of alligators.
Contact Claire McNeill at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]