John Steed was the first photographer to work on Carolina Camera. Several others followed, including George Williams and Chuck Hemrick.





First Person | C. J.'s Last Days

By Bill Ballard

C. J. Underwood came to WBTV in 1967. Except for a short interval when he left to work for Pat Hall at Carowinds, he was at Channel 3 until his death in November 2000.

Along with Clyde McLean, Betty Feezor, Doug Mayes, and Fred Kirby, C. J. was at the top of the station's list of favorite personalities. Early on, he was a straight news reporter covering fires (News Director Erv Melton was big on fires)...wrecks (Erv liked those, too)...politics...and general stories.

C. J. Underwood

It was obvious to most of the staff that C. J. was a little different. He was not afraid to let his personality show. He was at his best when doing a story on people who had a story to tell.

When the station expanded the 6:00 p.m. newscast from 30 minutes to an hour, C. J. volunteered (actually he begged) to do feature stories like Charles Kuralt's "On The Road". C. J. got his wish. He wanted—and got— John Steed as his photographer and up to four minutes to tell the story, though sometimes he went as long as five minutes.

His feature, "Carolina Camera," aired on the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday broadcasts, and from the very beginning was a hit.

When C. J. left the station to take a job at Carowinds, News Director John Greene asked me to do Carolina Camera. I said no, nobody could follow C. J. Greene, in his usual soft-spoken manner, said "Ballard, don't make me make you do it."

I did it...and so did several other reporters after me, including Andrew Schorr and Mark Garrison—but no one was like C. J.

Several years later, I retired from the company and was working as a part-time news reporter for the station's Rock Hill newsroom. One morning, B. J. Caldwell called and told me C. J. had cancer. That was a dark day. It wasn't long after his wife had died from the same disease.

Over the following weeks I drove C. J. several times to the UNC hospital in Chapel Hill for chemo treatments.

On the way up, we talked a lot. On the way back, C. J. slept.

I knew C. J. had met a woman he liked a lot. One morning, he called and asked me to be his best man at the wedding. I was.

It wasn't long before he was back in the hospital. My wife, Dee, and I visited him before leaving on a trip to California to visit our son. As I was leaving his hospital room, he moved to get up from his bed.

I asked it he need help going to the bathroom. He said, "No, I just want to get up." He walked a couple of steps, hugged me, and asked when we were coming home. I said in five days we will be back. C. J. said, "I'll be here."

As I walked out, I reminded him that Dee (a nurse) was going to help him with his bath.

With that C. J. glimmer in his eye, he said "How do you feel about that?"

I said, "She will have to keep her eyes closed."

He said, "Let her look, she might see something she's never seen before."

Even close to death, he never lost his sense of humor.

C. J. died the following week. Dee and I were with him.