Don Welch, the local TV personality who worked at all three local television stations and in Nashville during his 52-year career, passed away Sunday after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease and Lewy body dementia.
Welch is perhaps best remembered as a WTVC-TV 9 on-air personality known for uttering such memorable lines as "Hey there, hi there, ho there," or predicting the weather based on some wisdom passed down from his Grandpappy Welch. He is also remembered as a fun-loving guy who always seemed to be smiling.
Welch was the weatherman who, along with news anchor Bob Johnson and sportscaster Darrell Patterson, took WTVC from the cellar to the penthouse in the 1980s.
"We caught lightning in a bottle," Patterson said.
Johnson said the three became "like brothers."
"He was a catalyst for a lot of laughter on the news desk. He was different and always had something to make you laugh."
Johnson said the 11 o'clock Friday newscast was especially meaningful for Welch. He would often show up in a loud shirt, ready to start the weekend.
"One time he missed a snow forecast and didn't want to talk about it," Johnson said.
"He did the whole newscast and never mentioned it. He talked about the new Barbra Steisand album and a few songs on it. He was so mad he missed the forescast. I just said, 'OK, thank you, Don.' That was it.
"He was just a funny guy with a huge heart. I'm going to miss him."
Former WDEF-TV 12 sales General Manager Ben Cagle said the trio shook up the local scene.
"What those guys did was legendary," said Cagle. He was at WDEF in the early '80s when the station's ratings beat WRCB-TV 3 and WTVC combined. Then things started to change.
"They got under [General Manager] Gary Bolton's skin so much," Cagle said. "... I said, 'They have something we don't. Chemistry. They like each other and it comes through."
Longtime local broadcaster David Carroll knew Welch for almost four decades and said, "My fondest memory of Don is that everywhere I saw him he was the party, the life of the party. That big, booming laugh. People were drawn to him. He was just being a real person and that is part of it."
Cagle said the same, pointing out that Welch also worked on and off as a steamfitter, and he could walk into almost any room and people knew him and respected him.
"He was one of them. People loved that about him," Cagle said.
Carroll said, "Being on TV, he never took it for granted. He knew the people who came up to him, whether it was while he was eating or shopping, he knew they were the ones who paid his salary and he was very thankful for them. He always made time for them. It's hard to imagine him without a big laugh or a big smile."
Welch was born in Dayton, Tenn., and began his broadcasting career in the 1960s as the news reader and disc jockey at WDXB. His first TV job was at WRCB, where he was was an announcer reading commercials and later news director. When a weatherman was needed, he figured he could talk his way through it, and added that to his resume.
He retired from broadcasting in 2014.
Current WTVC General Manager Mike Costa said Welch was an icon of local television.
Arriving at the station in 2004, Costa said he reformatted the local morning news program to be more news driven.
"And Don was too valuable to us, so we created 'This & That' in 2006. I think it was the first local lifestyle-driven show and Don built that into the monster that it is today. Our competition has launched their own versions.
"For a lot of people, he is NewsChannel 9."
In recent years, Welch could be found attending events with his wife, Sammie, and as always, he showed up with a big laugh and a big smile.
Funeral arrangements will be announced later.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.
This story was updated Oct. 15 at 10:55 p.m. with more information.