Nashville Broadcast Meteorologist, CCI Alum Lelan Statom Recognized with Alumni Professional Achievement Award
Lelan Statom (‘86) has always been a weather nerd. When he was in middle school, he never missed a forecast, and he had his own weather station in the backyard. Fast forward a few decades, and Statom was honored by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Alumni Board of Directors with an Alumni Professional Achievement Award for his many years working as a broadcast meteorologist.
On the Way to Weather
Despite his interest in weather, Statom didn’t come to the College of Communication and Information’s broadcasting department to be a weather person, but instead was working towards being a news reporter or anchor. He threw himself into every opportunity the college presented, from working the news desk at UT’s student radio station WUTK-FM, to completing internships at two local television stations.
By the time he graduated, Statom felt well-prepared for the next steps in his career.
“I graduated from UT knowing about writing and editing; what I learned at the university set me up very well,” he said. “When you’re first starting out, you’re going in not doing just one job, but different jobs; so having the background of several different jobs was a blessing for me. When I was a reporter, I knew what the photographer was going through.”
His internships led to jobs at both television stations, first at one station as a photojournalist, and then at WATE-TV as weekend assignment editor and photojournalist. That’s where he got his first taste as a weather person and came under the mentorship of the station’s chief meteorologist, John Gerard. When a weekend weather reporter position opened, Statom gave his resume tape to Gerard, who passed it on to the news director.
“It didn’t get me the job as the weekend weather person, but it did get me the job filling in on the weather. The more I did it, the more I liked it. I would fill in whenever they asked—Thanksgiving, yeah I’ll work. Christmas morning, Christmas night? Sure, I’ll fill in,” Statom recalled.
From there, he landed at WCYB in Bristol and got a chance to deliver the weather news more consistently as a reporter and weekend weather person. That’s when he realized he really wanted to be a meteorologist and he began exploring what education he needed to achieve that next step in his career.
While it was before the era of internet education, Mississippi State University created a long-distance meteorologist certificate program just for people like Statom. He enrolled in the program and would spend the next two and a half years watching VHS tapes at home and taking proctored tests administered by employees at the National Weather Service office in the Tri-Cities.
In the middle of continuing his education, Statom started dating his wife, Yolanda (’90), who he had met and befriended at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He jokes that he had the “dubious distinction” of staying in Hess Hall all four years he was at UT, as he was an RA in the freshman hall. Hess Hall is where he met Yolanda, though their romantic relationship began after he took the job in Bristol.
“We burned up I-40 and 81 for a little bit going between Knoxville and Bristol,” he said.
Statom proposed to his then-girlfriend, and they started planning a wedding just around the same time he was asked to send in a resume tape to Channel 5 in Nashville to be a weather person there. He did so, but months went by. Finally, in March of 1993, he was asked to come in for an interview. He was offered the job in April and started in May, and then was married in July—and to continue the marathon of life events, he also took his finals for the Mississippi State program two weeks after his honeymoon.
But the rest is history: he’s been at Channel 5 ever since May 1993, and he’s been with Yolanda ever since July 1993. Together they have two children, Kayela and Taylor, with Kayela Statom carrying on the UT tradition by graduating from the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture’s animal science program.
Sunny with Some Volunteer Spirit
Statom looks back on his time at the College of Communication and Information with great fondness. In particular, he credits his time at the WUTK-FM news desk for giving him the skills to research, write, and deliver a news and weather broadcast, even if the format was a bit different from television.
“WUTK was fantastic because we were doing it live. That, and my experience with the internships, were great with setting me up and getting me into the business,” he said.
Current WUTK-FM general manager Benny Smith remembers meeting Statom on his first day at the station as a student, and he knew then that Statom would go on to excel at whatever he set his sights on.
“The most amazing thing about Lelan is that he looks, acts, and everything exactly as he did back then, and I mean that in a good way, because even as a student he carried himself in such a professional manner. You just knew big things were waiting for this guy, that whatever he chose to do he’d be great at it,” he said.
Smith has maintained his relationship with Statom over the years as an alumnus who can lend expertise to the next group of students working the news desks at the station. He said the meteorologist is always happy to lend his time to do a Q&A with students and is a great resource for the station. Smith also chuckled at how students who have come to UT from the Nashville area always excitedly recognize Statom’s name when Smith is running down a list of alumni who have worked at WUTK. As CCI’s Director of Advancement Mark Geller said, “He can’t go anywhere in Nashville without getting recognized, he’s a local celebrity.”
Statom currently delivers the weather during Channel 5’s top-rated morning show, which runs from 4-7 a.m., and he is also co-host of the station’s mid-day show, Talk of the Town. He still loves every minute of it, and even as the way people view the news and weather continues to evolve with the internet, social media, and streaming technology, the morning show continues to be the top revenue producer for the station.
While his star has risen, Statom has recognized the value of carrying on the Volunteer spirit through giving back to CCI and UT in various ways. Besides acting as a resource for students, Statom has also served as an inaugural member of the UT Alumni Board of Directors, and then subsequently served on the CCI Board of Advisors. Now, he enjoys staying up to date on what is new at UT through his wife’s service on the College of Education, Health, and Human Science’s Dean’s Board of Advisors.
Statom said he has no clue who nominated him for this Professional Achievement Award, but that it is truly an honor to be considered for it and to receive it. For those who went to school with him, worked with him, or volunteered with him, it’s no surprise that he is this year’s recipient. Eric Haag, director of alumni relations for the UT Alumni Foundation, has personally known Statom ever since that first alumni board was created and Statom was on it.
“Lelan has been a dedicated volunteer leader and supportive alumnus for many years. He’s always been willing to speak to alumni at events, interact with prospective and current students, and has always passionately displayed his Volunteer spirit with a big smile to anyone he meets. Growing up in Middle Tennessee, I enjoyed watching Lelan on News Channel 5 for many years, and now I am blessed to call him a friend, fellow alumnus, and loyal Vol For Life,” Haag said.