CENTRE - Two of Cherokee County's most prominent community news providers will be honored by the Cherokee County Museum and Historical Society June 29 at 6 p.m. The organization has named an award in tribute to their respective careers.
WEIS radio station manager Jerry Baker and Cherokee County Herald editor Terry Dean have been bestowed the honor of the Baker-Dean Media Award.
The award will be presented annually or bi-annually to a member of Cherokee County's local media who has demonstrated outstanding coverage to the community as well as having a minimum of five years service. The first honoree of the Baker-Dean Media Award will be announced in the coming week.
Baker, Dean and the first recipient's bios and accomplishments will be on display in the museum's newly-refurbished sports room.
"To have the Baker-Dean award as an addition to our sports room is so much a part of the goal of our mission, to preserve history until the end of time," museum committee chair Kathy Marko said. "Our sports hall of fame room has taken on new life since 2016, and we want to give credit to those in the community who have meant so much to it. The Baker-Dean award is long overdue, and it will make a welcome addition here. We recognize what the media does for us, and we're looking forward to having its first recipient."
Both Baker and Dean are humbled by the honor.
"Never did we think doing our job to serve the community was worthy of any distinction or honors. We were just here to serve the community, and we took that seriously," Baker said. "We are quite humbled and pleased people in the community would think our work done over the years is worthy of any special recognition.
"I enjoy getting up every morning, coming in and being a part of somebody's life. I learned a long time ago that if we could make people smile, help them get up and off to work with a smile on their face, it might help their day be a little better. That's what we've set out to do in broadcasting. That's the way we've built our business, just trying to help other folks."
Dean shares Baker's sentiments.
"I can't begin to tell you how humbled and honored I am," Dean said. "I have to be one of the most blessed guys in the world. I get to come to work every day and do what I love in a community that I love.
Like the others at The Herald, I try to give my best every day, with the attitude that every story is important. To the best of my ability, in my daily tasks, I want to strive for excellence, honesty and objectivity at all times."
Baker and Dean are also honored to share the name of the media award with each other.
"Terry has been instrumental in covering news happenings, sports and all types of events for the community over the years," Baker said. "He's a dedicated, hard-working journalist who takes his work seriously and is here to serve the community."
"I commend Jerry Baker and his staff at WEIS," Dean said. "In many communities, I am sure there are adversarial relationships between various media outlets, but WEIS has never hesitated to provide assistance when we needed it and I hope we have been equally as accommodating to them.
"Also, I commend their daily news coverage and professionalism. I have learned much from them over the years about news coverage, working with people and more."
A licensed insurance agent in Alabama by trade since 1970, and the owner of Baker Insurance Agency in Centre since 1981, Baker has done his part to insure the public trust over the airwaves as owner and general manager of WEIS since 1983.
Baker, a native of Blountsville, was offered a sales manager position with a prominent insurance company in 1977, which meant he and his wife, the former Linda Thomason, would have to move to Centre. The rest is history.
Baker began covering high school sports in Northeast Alabama in 1984 by recording football games on Friday nights and playing them on the air on Saturday mornings. By the fall of 1985, WEIS had obtained full-time status, which meant the station could broadcast games live as they were played. The live coverage met with some resistance from coaches and principals because they were afraid it would negatively impact the attendance of local games. However, the live coverage generated more interest and excitement among the fans.
It was in 1985 under Baker's direction that WEIS had live coverage of the Class 1A state championship football game, Sand Rock at Repton. The Wildcats won the state title by the final of 14-6. Since then, WEIS has carried live coverage of all Cherokee County teams as they have advanced to state championship events.
During the summer of 1989, Coach Mike Welsh approached Baker about the possibility of live broadcasting of county basketball games, and the live coverage of basketball was born. Basketball games were broadcast from local gyms on Tuesday and Friday nights and still continues today.
WEIS has also covered Northeast Regional Basketball Tournament games from Jacksonville State University each year the county has had teams to make it and all basketball state championship games from Birmingham.
Under Baker's guidance, WEIS has received numerous "Best In Broadcasting" awards from the Alabama Broadcasters Association, including one for "Cutting Edge Technology", when the station began to use the internet to deliver sports programming from sports venues.
"I hadn't ever really planned on being in radio," Baker said. "Insurance was my first career love, but we had an opportunity to just happenstance into the broadcast industry. We wound up with something we knew nothing about, so we had to do a quick study in broadcast rules and regulations and learn the industry, learn the business and learn what the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) expected. Broadcast stations are there to serve the public's interest. We learned that early on and we take it seriously. It gave us an opportunity to be integrated in people's lives on a daily basis."
That integration has evolved from a 250-watt, daytime-only AM station in 1983 to a 1,000-watt, AM and FM format that currently serves the surrounding areas. WEIS also has its own news site on the Internet to go along with its broadcasts over the airwaves.
"Our online presence as a working news site garners more than 300,000 visits per month on a regular basis," Baker said. "We have three employees who work full time in keeping content on that site on a daily basis. We're amazed that a small broadcast station in Northeast Alabama can be heard around the world on the Internet. There's people who visit and listen to us online from 78 different countries around the world.
"Our motto is we need to do a better job today than we did yesterday, and we need to do a better job tomorrow than we do today because our listeners and business clients deserve that from us."
The Bakers reside in Centre and have three children, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Dean, a native of Etowah County, began his career with The Herald as a general assignment reporter in July 1988. He covered a little of everything at that time, including city and county government, education, fire and police news, and sports.
Although not known for covering sports, Dean earned company awards for two feature stories including one on Inez Rattray, Cherokee County's first and only female football coach who filled in during the World War II years and a local pastor who competed in the Iron Man Triathlon in Hawaii.
Some of Dean's most memorable news coverage events included the Blizzard of 1993, the Goshen tornado in 1994, and the April 27, 2011 Alabama tornado outbreak.
One of the most memorable moments for him was the pastor of Goshen United Methodist Church, Kelly Clem, whose family carried on even after they themselves received injuries and even lost a child among the 20-plus people killed that day.
Dean served under editors Paul Dale, Kerry Yencer and Kathy Roe before rising to the position in 2008. During his tenure, The Herald has been honored and recognized with numerous awards, including the Alabama Press Association's Public Service Honor (2006), the Alabama Farmers Federation Communications Award (2013), the National Alliance on Mental Illness Award and the DeKalb County Area Governor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities Media of the Year Award (2016).
"I think these awards are a testament to the quality coverage of the paper and also the paper providing well-rounded coverage on community issues," Dean said.
Dean lives in Centre and continues to cover the community he's been a part of for the past three decades.
"I never imagined my name would be part of something that might live on long after I am gone, which is an even greater honor since I hold the Cherokee County Historical Museum and the Historical Society in very high esteem," Dean said. "I will strive even harder to live up to this honor and look forward to the many Baker-Dean award recipients we will have in coming years."