Ken Koontz, long-time member of the WBTV news team, brightened every room he entered.

People | Erv Melton

Erv Melton Always Stayed On Top Of The News

by Phil Hudgins, Clayton (Ga.) Tribune,

Erv Melton, his friends say, never stopped being a newsman.

"He would call me every week with some news," said Carol White, a longtime friend in Clayton. "Sometimes he'd call and tell me a storm was on the way. I'd say, 'Erv, I didn't need to know that'."

Ervin T. Melton - newsman, photographer, movie producer and volunteer firefighter - died Monday [August 23, 2004] following a brief stay in a Gainesville hospital. He was 83.

A memorial service is scheduled at 11 a.m. Saturday at Clayton Baptist Church, where Melton was a deacon and a member of the Friendship Sunday School Class.

"I remember going over to Erv's house and he showed me all those pictures of movie stars he has known," said the Rev. Mike Campbell, pastor of Clayton Baptist, who will lead Saturday's service. "To him, these were just ordinary people. He didn't put them up on a platform. Some he liked and some he didn't."

But in Clayton, Campbell said, "Everybody liked Erv. He would speak to everybody. There was no uppiness or egotism about him."

Son of E.T. and Mary Ethel (Thomas) Melton, Erv Melton was born Jan. 23, 1921, and reared in Bennettsville, S.C., where he learned as a teenager to operate a movie projector at the local theater.

He began his career as a reporter for the Marlboro Herald Advocate, a newspaper in Bennettsville. He received training in news production at Paramount Studios while in the U.S. Army and chronicled a number of events during World War II. He filmed the building of the road to Burma and helped produce war documentaries narrated by the late President Ronald Reagan.

As a reporter and news director, he covered events during the terms of seven presidents, including the Bay of Pigs invasion and desegregation of southern schools. He covered every hurricane to hit the east coast for 30 years.

After 20 years as news director for WBTV in Charlotte, N.C., Melton left television news to form Carmel Productions. He produced a number of his own movies and served as locations manager for such TV productions as "Movin' On" and "Dan'l Boone."

Melton's friends and family recalled his dedication to the news business and to volunteer firefighting - sometimes at the same time.

Tom Lawrence, whom Melton hired at WBTV and who now manages a production studio near Raleigh, N.C., told of riding with Melton to New York City in the 1960s to pick up film equipment.

"Erv was driving this big white and red Pontiac station wagon that had a red light and siren and contained oxygen and cot and first-aid stuff," Lawrence said. "Taxis and everything else were getting out of our way." Melton used the vehicle in his work and as a volunteer firefighter.

Natalie Howard, a Lake Burton resident, said Melton told her and Johnny, her husband, about the time he was photographing a Ku Klux Klan rally in South Carolina when suddenly he recognized through his viewfinder the woman standing next to the burning cross. It was his wife, Bonnie.

"Well, it was cold that night, and I was trying to get warm," Bonnie Melton said.

The Meltons moved to Clayton in 1980 after his wife retired as a teacher. Erv Melton semiretired in 1990 but continued to serve the community through volunteering. His most recent service was on the planning committee for the new Clayton Fire Department.

Besides his wife, other survivors are: his sister, Mary Melton Truesdell of Clayton; a brother-in-law, Esly O. Greene of Clayton; a sister-in-law and her husband, Violet and Kenneth Westbury of St. Matthews, S.C.; two nephews, Ken Westbury of St. Matthews, and David Westbury of Columbia, S.C.; and a niece, Bonnie Westbury Stevens of Seneca, S.C.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Clayton Fire Department, Rabun County EMS or Clayton Baptist Church building fund.

Reprinted with permission from the Clayton (Ga.) Tribune. Copyright the Clayton Tribune.

More From Richard Waters

Melton went to work at WBTV in 1956 and left sometime around the mid 70s. He succeeded the late Nelson Benton, who left to join CBS News as a correspondent. Benton succeeded Jack Knell, WBTV’s first news director. He was a member of the WBTV Pioneer Club. He was named Fireman of the Year while with the Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Department of Charlotte. He also served as its chief.

His broadcast career included: WDSC, Dillon SC, (announcer/news reporter); WBSC, Bennettsville SC; and WJMX, Florence, S.C. (announcer/reporter), also served as a stringer for the Charlotte Observer and other newspapers. He was listed in “Who’s Who” during the 60s.

News Director Erv Melton (right) and WBT News Supervisor John Green, Jr. May 1966

The Meltons moved from Charlotte to Clayton, GA, in 1979. Erv operated a film production and movie equipment rental company and screening room for major film distributors based in Charlotte in the late 70s. At one time, Erv told a friend, he was given a special award by Frank Capra, Jr., son of a the legendary film director, during a ceremony in Wilmington, N.C. Erv also produced an independent studio film in the early 1990s “The Judas Project,” a modern day version of the life of Christ.

Erv headed up both radio and TV news for a while and directed TV news during some of its most dynamic growth from a news department of about a dozen to more than 40 when he left in the 70s. He assembled if not the largest TV news staff in the Carolinas, then one of the largest.

He hired the likes of C. J. Underwood (“Carolina Camera”); John Jamison (Charlotte News and NCNB); Joe Epley (Epley Associates-PR man); the late Ken Alvord (NBC News); John Greene and Ben Waters (both of WRAL-TV, Raleigh; Tom Lawrence (WRAL-TV), who named his daughter actress Sharon Lawrence the godchild of the Meltons; John Edgerton; Al Dale (ABC News); Bill Ballard; Robert Hager (NBC News) and many, many others.

Erv, a close friend of Channel 3 President Charles Crutchfield, raised the bar for TV news coverage in the Carolinas and the Southeast, especially with his coverage of the NC legislature in Raleigh, national political conventions, live coverage of hurricanes that hit the Carolina coast, race riots of the '60s, and live political events in both states. Under his tenure, Doug Mayes was the 6 pm anchor; Bob Bean at 11 pm. He often produced feeds that were used by CBS or on the Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

Melton was succeeded as news director by Bill Ballard .

Richard Waters, now retired from broadcasting, lives in Hendersonville, N. C. He was a WBT-WBTV newsman from 1965 to 1968. Much of this information in this article was provided by Bonnie Melton, Erv's wife of 53 years.