Q&A: Claudia Barr



It all started in January 2006, when WMC-TV Channel 5 covered the Winter Olympics. With the station's 10 p.m. news broadcast running late, some regular viewers switched to other stations.

Apparently, those who switched to WREG-TV Channel 3 liked what they saw, because starting last February, for the first time, that station nudged ahead of longtime winner Channel 5 in the ratings battle — and it's held first place in the 10 p.m. slot ever since.

Now, we aren't saying Claudia Barr, who became Richard Ransom's co-anchor in January 2006, is the sole reason that Channel 3 took the lead. And Barr herself certainly gives credit all around. We interviewed this native Memphian and broadcast veteran — who started out in radio, moved on to become anchor at WHBQ-TV Channel 13 for 24 years, and worked briefly in real estate before joining the WREG team — to find out what led her into TV journalism.

We hear you were Miss Booker T. Washington High School.

I was! I grew up in the Hamilton High area but it was a dream of mine to attend BTW High. Teachers there had a mission for teaching. Our [1967] senior class was competitive, driven, passionate. It was just a fine school.

And you went on to college at then-Memphis State.

Yes. That was a tough time, a learning time, for Memphis, for the country, for the world. I became involved with the Black Student Association, whose goal was to further minority interests on campus. I was the first Miss BSA.

How did your interest in broadcast journalism start?

Vietnam. Civil rights. Peter Jennings. Coming up during that time, and just watching the news. Seeing young soldiers in body bags, and young students fighting for voting rights. All that couldn't help but impact your life. Journalists were on the front lines like the soldiers, bringing us the story, and that was awesome. So I changed my major from audiology and speech pathology to radio and TV journalism.

Where did you start in radio?

Chuck Scruggs at WDIA called me to fill in for someone on maternity leave. Then I went to a little country-and-western station. I developed a Southern accent and even started saying "far" for "fire." When I got a job at WREC radio, I didn't plan to leave, but TV came calling.

Channel 3?

Yes, but Channel 13 had a better offer. I'm shy, so I preferred radio. But I've always been brought up to meet head-on anything I'm afraid of. I took the job.

What was the first TV broadcast like for you?

Oh, gosh. I reported for work and that morning someone asked, "Where's Marge Thrasher [the noon anchor]?" She was off that day so I was recruited. I said, "You're kidding, right?" They weren't. On the way to the studio I got a crash course [in reading the script], I went on the air, and I didn't miss a beat. And it's mostly because I was angry at them for doing that to me. When you're angry, you're focused.

Channel 3's position in the ratings must be a point of pride.

It's a point of hard work, teamwork. Every-body has the attitude of "we," not "I."

The most memorable news story you've done?

One on teen pregnancy, covering a 15-year-old girl delivering a baby. Those are the ones that stay with me, that cause me to lose sleep.

How can TV news help problems like that?

We put it out there — stories that make people pay attention — and hope that someone will come forward with solutions.

Tell me about your family.

I grew up with very loving parents and grandparents. I've been married 15 years to Robert Woods, who's retired from the NFL. He played with the Jets and the Saints, and now coaches at Overton High School. No children.

Hobbies?

I love to travel, but I spend most of my spare time with my family. I'm really a homebody.

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