Update: Chattanooga TV’s “3 Musketeers,” Bob, Darrell, and Don

Darrell Patterson, Bob Johnson, and Don Welch

Recently, I had lunch with Bob Johnson, Darrell Patterson, and Don Welch.  If those names sound familiar, you’ve watched a lot of Chattanooga TV during the past four decades. They often refer to themselves as “The Three Musketeers” of local television. Although they haven’t worked together in more than a decade, they’re still widely known. Why is their popularity so enduring? First, let me share a little history, and then I’ll provide an update on their lives.

In 1975, Channel 9’s manager wanted to get the station out of last place, where it had been since it signed on in 1958.  The station had selected Patterson, an Athens, TN native who had worked in radio, to be sports director. They then hired Johnson, a former Marietta, GA deejay and Atlanta TV personality to be news anchor. They needed a weather forecaster to complete the team.  Patterson and Welch had worked together in radio, so the connection was made.  Welch was hired away from Channel 3, and suddenly the last-place station started getting some attention.

Don Welch, Bob Johnson, Darrell Patterson in 1975

The new team clicked immediately. While the other channels stuck with their “just the facts” style of delivering the news, the Channel 9 crew poked each other like wayward frat boys.  Some called it “happy talk,” but Bob, Darrell and Don just chalked it up to natural chemistry.  “I’d talk about wooly worms and Grandpappy’s weather lore, and I’d get it right more often than the meteorologists,” Welch laughs. “One time Bob asked me if it would rain tomorrow, so I got out my lucky quarter, flipped the coin, and tails said no.  It didn’t rain, so we kept using that quarter.”

“I had never anchored the news,” Johnson said.  “We started out in third place. It took a few years, and then we were ahead of the other channels.”  In contrast to Welch’s folksy forecast style and Patterson’s evangelical energy, Bob was the authority figure, trying to keep everything under control. From 1982 on, their newscasts were always at or near the top of the ratings

Johnson’s last few years on the air were marked by tragedy and illness. MaryEllen Locher, his co-anchor of 17 years, battled cancer for much of that time.  In June 2005, she passed away at the age of 45.  Bob spoke at her funeral, paying tribute to “My buddy.  She had such a good heart.”

Not long after MaryEllen’s death, Bob began to have some problems of his own. He said, “I’d be standing, and suddenly my leg would just freeze up.  I couldn’t move it.  I didn’t know what was wrong.  My brain would tell my body to move, and nothing would happen.”  The stiffness was diagnosed as Parkinson’s Disease.

“Nowadays, I get out as often as I can,” he said. “It’s about the same as it was a few years ago. Most of all I miss going to work. I get bored. I miss doing the news, and I miss the people I worked with.”

He said people still recognize him, and he loves the interaction.  “Some of them get my name mixed up, they think I’m Don Johnson or Bob Welch,” he laughed.

Patterson recalled the first time he met Johnson, in the WTVC lobby. “We hit if off right then, we had so much in common.  We both started out as disc jockeys, and had the same sense of humor.  We stood around that day, and talked for hours.  He’s been my best friend ever since.” In retirement, Patterson stays busy on the golf course, and doing commercials.  Patterson and Johnson have both been inducted into the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame in recent years.

Welch, a Dayton, TN native, first made his mark in Chattanooga broadcasting in the 1960s, as a disc jockey.

After leaving radio in 1968, he became an announcer at Channel 3. He soon worked his way into the control room where he learned to direct newscasts. “Yep, I told Mort Lloyd and John Gray what to do,” he laughed. One day, they needed somebody to fill in doing the weather, and Welch figured, “I can talk my way through anything, I can do this too.”

Like Johnson, Welch was diagnosed with Parkinson’s around the time of his retirement in 2014, but he stays active. When I commented on his own series of TV commercials, I asked if he was following in the footsteps of Patterson. He said, “Absolutely! I’m not letting Darrell get ahead of me!”

Welch’s wife Sammie recently posted this on Facebook: “My wonderful husband, Don, has Parkinson’s. Some days are great and some days are awful. If I had a dollar for every time I hear people whisper, “There’s Don Welch and he’s drunk.” People, educate yourselves! Just because he jerks or has a hard time walking it is due to Parkinson’s. We hear the whispers, and it hurts his feelings.

I wouldn’t wish this disease on my worst enemy. Please, think before you speak. This could happen to you or your loved ones.”

To read my previous story  about Bob Johnson, click here

To read my previous story about Darrell Patterson, click here

To read my previous story about Don Welch, click here

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

12 thoughts on “Update: Chattanooga TV’s “3 Musketeers,” Bob, Darrell, and Don

  1. Robert Keil

    Since they’re all radio guys at heart I wonder if they listen and critique today’s jocks (on stations other than US-101)

    Reply
    1. Lisa Ridge

      I hope they do! I used to be in radio here first then up the ladder. I came home after being in Kansas City to do my final radio job at US101 in the beginning days of the station. To this day, I can’t listen to any radio station without critiquing! It makes listening hard sometimes, lol! I believe once in your blood, always in your blood.

      Reply
  2. Beverly Hudson

    Great story as always, David. I learned something from it that I didn’t know and I’m not sure how much of the public knows. I did not know that Don Welch also has Parkinson’s Disease. I hate to see that people make fun of him. Not defending them by any means, but maybe if more people knew then it would stop a lot of that. I know it’s very personal for Don and his family, but hopefully, after people read this, they will be more understanding. Keep up the good work, I always enjoy reading your posts.

    Reply
  3. Teresa Bak

    Glad they all still have their sense of humor, they have all been great for Chsttanooga in so many ways. I’ll pray for them and their families. God Bless them and You David.

    Reply
  4. Charissa

    My first crush was Bob Johnson! I was 4 years old and had to watch him every night. My family thought it was cute. I thought Bob was cute. 🙂 Prayers for all & thanks for the memories.

    Reply
  5. Sammie Welch

    David, thank you for this beautfully written piece on my favorite guys. Don laughed so hard. Brought back great memories. I appreciate your adding my post. It is all in educating people to this debilitating disease. Enjoyed lunch. You are a breath of fresh air. Wishing you and your family a healthy, happy new year.
    Sammie &Don Welch

    Reply
  6. Thomas Burrows

    In the mid 70s I eat breakfast with Don Welch on glass st. He was a welder out of the boilermakers Union Hall on riverside Dr.

    Reply
  7. Debra Cooper

    Thank you so much for sharing all this with us. I am so sorry to hear that Don has Parkinson’s. I had a best friend whose father had this and Don’s wife is right, it is a horrible disease. Shame on any and all who make fun of anyone or accuse anyone of something like being drunk when they don’t know that person.

    Reply
  8. Lisa Ridge

    Thanks for keeping us informed about our buddies. It’s nice to know that we can depend on you to let us know how all our area personalities are doing even though they come from a different station.

    Reply
  9. Karen Crocker

    As a child I remember watching these “Three Musketeers” and always loved them, as a teenager I saw them at Kings Lodge in the evening for dinner many times. With moving away from the area 20 plus years ago I had lost track of Chattanooga happenings. I was sad to see that the iconic Don Welch was ill. Sending prayers to him and his family. May God bless you all. Thanks for all you all did for “my hometown”.

    Reply

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