Larry Stogner, the trusted face of WTVD television who delivered four decades of North Carolina news in a conversational style, died Sunday night after a two-year battle with ALS. He was 69.
As the station’s anchor since 1982, Stogner brought both the modesty of his Yanceyville roots and the polish of a seasoned newsman to his nightly broadcasts, carrying the Triangle through elections, hurricanes and the flashing lights from a thousand crime scenes. His work took him to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and brought him eye-to-eye with several U.S. presidents, but he remained the sort of man who would sign autographs at the State Fair – amazed that the line stretched 50 yards long.
“Larry Stogner is an icon,” said Charlie Gaddy, the former anchor of WRAL and Stogner’s longtime rival. “He may have been the best news anchor/reporter in America. His passing is a great loss to journalism. He avoided the pitfalls of show business. He was a hard news reporter and an excellent writer.”
Stogner started work at WTVD, now the Triangle’s ABC affiliate, in 1976, joining as a reporter before moving to the anchor spot. For nearly four decades, Stogner began each broadcast with, “Good evening. I’m Larry Stogner,” and finished with “Thanks for the company.” He aimed his blue eyes straight at the camera, spoke plainly so viewers could understand and warmly so they would listen, then told them the truth as best he knew it.
“I would just like to think that I helped people to understand the news in a very conversational way,” he told The News & Observer in 2015, “as if I was in fact sitting with them in their living room telling them the news instead of trying to be very official or something. ... What that indefinable element is I can’t put my finger on. But the word ‘trust’ keeps coming to mind.”
News of his death brought condolences from both Gov. Pat McCrory – “Larry Stogner was a pioneer in journalism and beloved by generations of North Carolinians” – and McCrory’s opponent in next month’s election, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, who said, “He was a giant in the local TV business and will be missed.” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas called Stogner “a true pro.”
Born in Burlington, Stogner grew up in Yanceyville as the son of a radio DJ. When he wasn’t at his father’s side in the studio, he worked a part-time job at a pharmacy in town, which triggered a misguided decision to pursue a pharmacy degree at UNC-Chapel Hill.
“A huge mistake,” he once recalled. Too many courses that ended in “-ology.”
He volunteered for Vietnam after his freshman year, spending most of 1968 in the back seat of an aircraft whose crew marked targets. At the end of his tour, Stogner returned to UNC and took broadcasting courses on the advice of an airman who had told him he had a voice for television. He became so well versed on any topic that WTVD anchor Steve Daniels once quipped, “We didn’t need Wikipedia; we had Stogner-pedia.”
“There has never been a better anchor in this market than Larry Stogner,” former N&O columnist Dennis Rogers wrote in 1997. “Lord knows he ain’t just another pretty face, but he’s good folks from Yanceyville and has been in the business around here long enough to know what is real news and what is time-filling fluff.”
In February of 2015, he delivered his final broadcast with a speech that circled the globe on the internet.
“I am sure that in recent months you’ve noticed a change in my voice,” he said. “My speech, slower. As it turns out, I have ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure. My career in broadcast journalism is coming to an end.”
He fought a very open battle with the disease. In July, he told The N&O that his speech had become mostly unintelligible and that he communicated with a writing tablet called a Boogie Board. “It’s just plain frustrating,” Stogner said. “Your brain works like normal, yet when it comes out of your mouth ... it’s like Chewbacca. What happens is ... you stop getting involved in conversations. Too much trouble. By the time you write it out ... the conversation has moved on.”
Veteran WTVD reporter Ed Crump said that he saw Stogner only a few weeks ago at a company picnic, and that he looked strong despite breathing with an oxygen tube.
“Larry’s a very proud man and should be,” Crump said. “For him to have this illness and fight it publicly, I think he hoped it would make a difference in the ALS fight. Whenever anyone says the letters ALS to me, I’ll never feel the same again. He was a journalist’s journalist. He could make you laugh and cry and feel all kinds of emotions, and he was able to translate that to his broadcasts.”
Stogner was a member of both the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame and the N.C. Broadcasters Hall of Fame. He is survived by his wife Bobbi, their six children, and grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Oct. 12 at New Hope Church in Durham.