CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Anchor Debi Chard is celebrating her 40th anniversary with Live 5 News.
Chard, who joined the team on April 19, 1976, has served in a variety of roles besides anchoring at the station over four decades. She has been the medical reporter, a managing editor, an assignment editor, a producer and even the news director for a time.
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"I was really interested in journalism, but not specifically television," she says. "I grew up reading a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, and so journalism was always a wonderful career, especially for women."
Chard's earliest journalism work was in her high school newspaper and yearbook. She double-majored in journalism and speech and dramatic arts from the University of Iowa, then earned a Certificate of Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi State.
She then moved to Columbia, South Carolina where she began her career in radio.
"At the time, there were not women in broadcasting when I was going to school," she said.
But radio was already beginning to change that. While in Columbia, she covered local news and did live reports, gaining valuable experience in broadcast journalism.
"Radio really taught us to go live in the field," she says. "People who started in TV in the early days really didn't have a way to get those skills. So I learned early on and I'm thankful for my radio background."
The ability to do live remotes on radio could be as simple as making a telephone call, while going live in television at that time required equipment that generally wasn't available to most stations.
In 1976, Chard and her then-husband moved to Charleston.
"There were so many opportunities, but I thought, 'Charleston is a beautiful place and I want to have a family,'" she says.
Early that year, she took a job as news director at WCSC radio, and within a couple of weeks, she found herself working six days a week, producing and anchoring the Saturday night news on WCSC-TV. She occasionally had to come in Saturday mornings to handle morning TV updates when the regular morning anchor called in sick.
She recalls one incident during a Saturday morning cut-in that illustrated how small the staff was then compared to today.
"We had a camera locked down on the anchor desk. There was no camera operator," she says. "I rushed in and sat down and the monitor I used to tell when I was on was tuned to a different station. So I didn't know when I was on until I heard the master control operator shouting through the door, 'Go! Go!' Then we had a cue worked out so that when it was time to do the weather forecast and wrap up the cut-in, the master control operator would kick the door. That's how I knew when it was time to sign off."
After about seven years of working six days per week, she made the move to television full-time.
Chard was news director at a key moment in Live 5 News history: when the station became only the sixth in the nation to purchase a live satellite truck.
"It was unheard of for a market our size to have a satellite truck back then," she says, crediting the station's original owner, John Rivers, Jr., as always wanting to keep the station at the forefront of technology.
Reporting has taken her across the state, across the country and even across the globe, where she has reported from exotic locations like Egypt, the former Yugoslavia, the Philippines, China and Taiwan. She also covered Hurricane Gilbert in Jamaica, Hurricanes Andrew, Katrina and Irene in Florida and floods in her native Iowa.
She has also interviewed President Barack Obama at the White House.
Through the years, she has formed strong bonds with her on-air colleagues like Bill Sharpe, whom she says is like a brother, Ann McGill and Raphael James, all of whom also came to television from radio.
In 1993, Chard started an initiative called "Debi's Kids" that would serve families with limited resources by helping make their holidays brighter for two decades. In 2003, her work to help needy families was recognized when July 15 was proclaimed "Debi Chard Day" in the city of Charleston. The following year, Debi's Kids formed a partnership with The Salvation Army Angel Tree program to provide new, unwrapped toys for children 12 and under for Christmas.
Children have always been close to Chard's heart, and children played a major part in the story she calls the most memorable and one of the toughest she has ever covered.
She made a trek to Croatia to cover efforts to help refugees from the Bosnian War.
"As a journalist, it is something you will never forget," she says of seeing the impact of war firsthand.
But during her trip, she toured a hospital where children, the war's youngest victims, were being treated for injuries. She admits she cries every time she thinks of it.
"As a journalist, you don't want to cry, you don't want to react, but when you saw it, it stayed with you," she says.
The biggest change Chard says she has seen in 40 years is technology.
"That's a no-brainer."
She began in television as film was on its way out and videotape was on its way in. She has seen camera shrink in size to the point that stories can now be shot on cell phones.
"Technology has changed journalism," she says. "Now anyone can be a journalist."
Those considering a career in the field she has been part of four decades may want to know what her best advice would be.
"Listen," she says. "Learn to be a good listener."