Recently, we had the opportunity to visit with Dan Modisett, general manager of WLBT for the past 30 years. Dan is getting ready to celebrate his retirement at the close of the year, and shared some of his recollections from a long career in Jackson television.
Born and raised in Jackson, he received his B.A. and M.B.A. from Mississippi College. Aside from a stint in Flagstaff, Arizona, he spent his entire career in Jackson.
“I never wanted to live anywhere else,” he reflected. “I still don’t.”
He originally began working for the station when it was owned by the Clarion-Ledger, and his office was originally in the Clarion-Ledger building.
“Of course, that changed with the ownership rules,” he pointed out.
In 1970, WLBT was the first television station to lose its FCC broadcasting license, and actually operated without a license from 1970-1982, due to ownership issues,and the lingering effects of the civil rights era. He came back to Jackson in 1984 and took the helm of the station, where he would remain for the next 30 years.
“There aren’t many people in our industry who have had the opportunity to spend 30 years in one place,” he pointed out, saying that he feels “blessed” to have spent his career in Jackson. “There’s no doubt that I’m a huge Mississippi booster.”
Dan was hired by Frank Melton, whom he described as “one of the most dynamic people I ever met, but one whose later problems eclipsed his accomplishments in earlier days.”
Under Dan’s leadership, WLBT became a driving force in Mississippi media, with the largest broadcast news staff in the state.
“TV news has certainly gotten more serious through the years,” he said. “Today, we have over 47 hours of news on the air every week. When I arrived at WLBT, we were doing about 11 hours.”
Asked why, he pointed to a firm commitment to cover the region and state, and suggested that Jackson is one of the most “news-rich markets” in the entire country.
WLBT has certainly embraced the digital age, in addition to its commitment to broadcast news.
“Last week, our site got 1.7 million page views,” he said. “And we got 2.2 million mobile views. Times have certainly changed since I started, when rotary dial phones and desktop calculators were still pretty much the rule.”
Asked what he sees as Mississippi’s challenges in the coming decade, he suggested that continued racial reconciliation and education are 2 of the most important concerns to the future of the Magnolia State.
“Unfortunately, we still have people in our state who are in both ditches, and opposed to each other. But we also have a lot of good folks in the middle, working hard to make things better,” he suggested. “Look at our staff, for instance. We have a great team of folks who are racially diverse. They work together and do great work. It can happen.”
He definitely believes that Mississippi has a bright future, that it’s an “asset-rich state that has so much going for it.” He points to the major successes such as Nissan and Toyota as examples of a “great business future.”
Although he may feel a bit nostalgic about leaving behind a long and wonderful career, he said that he and his wife are looking forward to “many new adventures.” They love to travel, and plan to stop off from time to time to visit with their sons (one of whom is an investment banker in New York, and the other works for the Grizzlies in Memphis) and their families. But they do plan to keep their residence in Mississippi.
“This is home,” he said fondly.
We know from other acquaintances at WLBT that Dan will be sorely missed, but there’s no question that he will have left a lasting impression in Mississippi media.
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1021.