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There’ll Never Be Another Lee (Carle)

Virgin Islands newsman Lee Carle passed away on St. Thomas on May 8. (Facebook photo)

Broadcast news legend Lee Carle signed off from this life on Monday, six weeks shy of his 93rd birthday. Generations of Virgin Islanders tuned in to his daily radio broadcasts and local TV news segments that aired on St. Croix’s Channel 8.

Carle — born Leo Antonio Carlo in Troy, New York — came to the Virgin Islands in 1954 after starting his radio career as a young Navy veteran. Some of the skills he picked up as a radio operator helped him along the way. A gift of the gab and an agreeable nature helped him form lasting ties to the famous, the powerful, and the average Virgin Islander.

When not on the air at radio station WSTA-AM, St. Thomas, the young Carle found the spotlight at 1950s and ’60s night spots where he emceed hotel floor shows. Through his links to the entertainment scene, he met and interviewed Hollywood celebrities Sidney Portier, Harry Belafonte, and Maureen O’Hara.

The young Carle also worked as a local promoter for popular Rhythm and Blues singers, including James Brown and Stevie Wonder. He also taught ballroom dancing to youth and showcased them as a nightclub act.

Among the young performers who went on to enrich V.I. history and culture were the late Gov. Roy Schneider, Senate President Elmo D. Roebuck, Senate spokesman and broadcaster Lee Vanterpool, and entertainer Sonny Davis. One of the troupe dancers, Jewel Jeppsen, became his partner in the act and later his partner in life. Before the marriage ended in divorce, the couple had one daughter, Althea.

When he slipped behind the mic to present the news over WSTA, the program named The Town Crier eventually became “Lee Carle’s Newsday.” He was the U.S. Virgin Islands man- on-the-scene when the late Queen Elizabeth II paid a visit to Tortola. But his most famous on-the-scene report came during emergencies that threatened life and property. Those who met Carle in a storytelling mood heard his account of dodging a fireball while covering the Carib Gas plant explosion in November 1970.

Eighty-six firefighters were injured battling the fire that followed the explosion. Fire Captain Geroge Scott was killed, according to a story printed in the Virgin Islands Daily News.

There was also the story about his arrest on the West Indian Company Dock while covering a major fire onboard the cruise ship Angelina Lauro. The coverage was picked up and carried by CBS News as a national story as the incident unfolded.

It was a tale told frequently where Carle credited former Police Chief David Canton for cutting his broadcast short while emergency workers tried to put the fire out. Carle would talk about being honored years later by the V.I. Retired Police Officers at a luncheon where jokes filled the air about his man-on-the-scene account of the Angelina Lauro. By then, the newsman and the cops were back to being friends again.

He was again on the scene when the Virgin Islands staged its first election of public officials in 1970. Again, the V.I. Hotel provided the backdrop for live coverage of a three-way race for governor between Melvin Evans, Cyril E. King and Alexander Farrelly.

Evans won the first gubernatorial contest, but eventually, all three candidates would take their turn winning elections and serving as governors in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Years later, Carle, along with WSTA Morning Show host Addie Ottley and Assistant News Director Jean Greaux, teamed up to provide round-the-clock coverage of natural disasters, the impact of and recovery from Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Marilyn in 1995.

Legendary radio man Irvin “Brownie” Brown and talk show host Anita Davis joined in the effort to keep the public informed in the storms’ aftermath.

He employed that same passion to coverage of live cultural events. World-famous bands like Milo and the Kings would perform on-air from the station’s studios in the early days. Years later, Carle, Greaux, and Brownie would pick up overnight shifts from Carnival Village to entertain listeners with live soca music from some of the region’s hottest acts. Carle would wrap up the season, providing color commentary of Carnival pageants and parades.

He called that kind of coverage important for the blind, the aged, the disabled and the shut-ins who could not come out to enjoy Carnival in person.

Along the way, Rotary Clubs on St. Thomas honored Carle twice as the winner of the international service club’s Paul Harris Award. Except for periods when he returned to New York in the 1960s or switched seats to deliver news over WVWI-AM in the 1980s, Lee stayed on the job at WSTA until he hung up his mic after Hurricane Irma in 2017.

No Navy ship could drop anchor near St. Thomas without a visit from Carle, who would interview the commander on a recorded tour for the newscast. He would likewise attend every cruise ship plaque-and-key ceremony held to welcome new vessels making port on their maiden voyage.

Newscast listeners were also kept up to date on Senate hearings and full sessions, with recorded clips of notable moments and statements aired on the show. Carle was also famous for his WSTA News Break-Ins, where the public heard his version of news as it happened, although that kind of spot coverage wasn’t always on target.

Praise for his dedication to the news and the people of the Virgin Islands came quickly from the territory’s leaders as word of his passing spread. “Lee was a consummate journalist who brought the news to radio listeners throughout the Territory for decades. Many of us grew up hearing his familiar voice, which was instantly recognizable and needed no introduction,” said Gov. Albert Bryan Jr.

Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach recalled the days when his work as an editor for the Virgin Islands Daily News abutted with Carle’s work on the airwaves.

“ … One such notable event was the assignment by our respective media outlets to cover the ceremonies surrounding the emergence of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis as an independent country in 1983. Lee was in his element, engaging the regional and international communities, including a number of visiting dignitaries, with the aplomb for which he was renowned locally. I admired the ease with which he conducted himself and the professionalism which was at the heart of his character,” Roach said.

Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett added her memories of dedicated news. “Although I was saddened to hear of his passing, I remember the tremendous impact he made on our community through his skilled reporting and coverage of Virgin Islands news over so many decades,” Plaskett said.

Members of the 35th Legislature observed Carle’s passing with their own accolades. Senate President Novelle Francis said news coverage in the Virgin Islands will never be the same. “During a career that spanned over 60 years, Lee was defined by his news gathering and distinctive voice. He was tenacious yet personable and knowledgeable about our community and its people. Lee was exceptional in all his efforts and contributions to our communications industry, and the landscape of news gathering will not be the same,” Francis said.

“His voice was a powerful force for change, and his ability to tell stories with empathy and compassion was unmatched. He was more than just a news anchor.

“He was a trusted friend and ally to his listeners/viewers, someone who always had their best interests at heart,” said Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory.

“Let us celebrate his accomplishments, his character, and his legacy in journalism and broadcasting. Carle was honored in 2005 by the 26th Legislature. Today, we all honor his memory,” said Senator-At-Large Angel Bolques.

His good nature and gift of gab kept Carle on the minds of friends he made throughout the years, and although he decided to stay in the Virgin Islands apart from family after his retirement, he received frequent visits from those who were fond of him, and looked out for him, up until the time of his death.

Funeral arrangements for Leo Antonio Carol — better known as Lee Carle — are pending.

Editor’s Note: Some of the material used in this story is credited to Vol. I, Issue 8 of V.I. Chronicles Magazine, December 2002.

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