LEXINGTON – Jim Caldwell was a lanky 16-year-old disc jockey when he was asked to co-host the Miss Magoffin County pageant with a former pageant winner and WKYT-TV Executive Producer Melissa Wireman Hounshell.
“I told her, ‘Hey, if there are any openings at WKYT, keep me in mind,’” said Caldwell.
Some 16 years later, Caldwell has come full circle.
Caldwell, a 2004 Big Sandy Community and Technical College graduate, has served as meteorologist at WKYT-TV, a Lexington-based CBS affiliate, for the past two years.
“It’s been a remarkable journey to this point,” said Caldwell. “Never, in a million years, did I think that I would every end up at WKYT.”
The journey for Caldwell has been unconventional. Some may say he is wise beyond his years. At the age of 15, he got his first job as a disc jockey for WRLV, a radio station in his hometown of Salyersville.
“I thought I had arrived, I’m not going to lie,” Caldwell said, smiling. “It was a great opportunity, and it was the start of many, many opportunities that led to here.”
Throughout high school, Caldwell worked at the radio station and listeners quickly gravitated towards his hometown demeanor behind the microphone.
“I always approached the radio business as if I were having a conversation with my neighbor, and that’s something I still strive to do every day,” he said.
After graduating from Magoffin County High School in 2000, Caldwell enrolled at Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC).
“I didn’t think twice about it,” Caldwell said, reflecting on his decision to attend BSCTC. “It was affordable, close to home, and the people there had a genuine interest in me and my success.”
His life took an unexpected turn just a few months into his second semester at BSCTC. Caldwell’s phone rang and it was the late Tony Turner, who served as station manager for WYMT-TV in Hazard.
“Tony asked if I was interested in a job doing the weather on television,” said Caldwell. “I responded by saying absolutely, but you know I’m 18. Tony responded by saying, “It doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t bother you.”
The rest was history.
Caldwell started on March 12, 2001 as a weather caster on WYMT. He immediately became a part of an extended mountain family that spanned the entire eastern Kentucky corridor.
However, through all of this was his underlying commitment to his education. The station supported his efforts, but there were other obstacles. He lived in Salyersville and his commute was more than 140 miles roundtrip to Hazard five days a week.
“I never considered not finishing school,” said Caldwell. He took several 8 a.m. classes and attended classes five days a week during some semesters. His perseverance paid off in 2004 when he was awarded an Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees from BSCTC.
Caldwell said the faculty and staff understood his challenges firsthand. “Most of them were watching me do the weather each night, and then run into me coming on campus the next morning,” he said, chuckling.
Shortly after completing his associate degrees from BSCTC, Caldwell took another significant step in his career by enrolling at Mississippi State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree with an emphasis in Broadcast and Operational Meteorology in 2007.
“I’ve always come from the school of thought that if you have a degree, you’ll not only out-learn others, but also out-earn them,” Caldwell said. “I wanted to be the first in my family to complete college, and I knew that earning a degree would be the difference in whether or not I had the ability to reach my potential.”
Completing his degree was one of the best days of Caldwell’s life, aside from marrying his wife, Terri, also a BSCTC graduate, and the birth of their son, affectionately named Storm, on June 26, 2012.
“Storm and Terri changed my life, and they validated that the journey I took to get my degree was worth it,” he said.
One of the toughest decisions Caldwell ever made was leaving his mountain family at WYMT.
“For 12 years, the people of Eastern Kentucky welcomed me into their homes,” he said. “That was something I never took for granted. They had a choice, and they chose me.”
Some two years after joining the team at WKYT, Caldwell knows, unequivocally, that he made the right decision.
“Lexington is a great place to work and raise a family,” he continued. “The city and central Kentucky in general have welcomed me into their home and communities, and we are close enough to where we can always reconnect with our mountain family on a regular basis.”
Caldwell admits that it doesn’t seem real sometimes.
“As a child, you grow up watching UK basketball and dreaming of watching a game in Rupp Arena,” said Caldwell. “Well, I can not only do that, but my photo is inside the arena.”
For Caldwell, BSCTC was the instrument he used to come full circle.