Richard & Donna Castle

They literally scratched WCTE out of the dirt with their bare hands in the early years...

I'm sure that when Richard and Donna Castle moved to Cookeville, with their young sons, Russ, Art and Roger, they never dreamed the impact their lives would have on this area, the people in our region and the WCTE staff, both past and present.

As former UCBC Chair Emeritus, Larry McDonald and his wife, Janice attest:
“The entire Upper Cumberland Community owes a great debt of gratitude to Dick and Donna Castle. They literally scratched WCTE out of the dirt with their bare hands in the early years by working without adequate funding, for meager wages, and utilizing their entire family; to nurture and build what has now become one of the most valuable assets the region has to offer. The Castle’s refused to give up when times were tough, and the results of their tireless efforts now benefit the daily lives of all who live and work throughout the Upper Cumberland region.”
Richard and Donna Castle dedicated their lives to the Upper Cumberland’s Public Television Station, WCTE. In fact, I was in my early twenties when I first met the Castle family. I knew instantly that they were hard working, talented, energetic and passionate about turning WCTE into a powerhouse of local production. As a native of the Upper Cumberland, I knew this was the place that I wanted to be and these were the masters that I wanted to learn from.
Actually, it’s easy to say that we all learned from them, including Steve Boots, former GM of WCTE and current UCBC member and volunteer  who had this to say:
“Dick had a vision of what WCTE-TV could be long before those call letters were even assigned. In order for the station to survive, it had to provide something that people in this area could not get anywhere else. Dick decided that local programming was the key, and he had a continuous drive to do more. His passion for the station was so intense that some people found it hard to work with him. But that is exactly what was required for WCTE to thrive in our small community with limited funding – especially in the formative years. Donna was our ‘full time volunteer.’ She was at the station and at the productions, and worked more hours without getting paid than some of the full time staff.  I don’t know how many years she worked for free before the Broadcast Council insisted that she accept a salary, but she has been a very important part of the station from the beginning. On top of that, she’s very good at her job.”
Richard Castle was the General Manager and served in that capacity for many years until his retirement in the mid-90's. Donna Castle, our Director of Programming and Promotions, spent almost a decade as a full time volunteer until she was lured on staff in her current position. In addition, she carried the responsibility of overseeing the membership department for many years. Between the two of them, there is not a single job at WCTE that Richard and Donna have not performed.
Dr. Angelo Volpe, TTU President Emeritus and UCBC member remembers the Castles:  “Dick and Donna Castle are truly pioneers of public television in Tennessee. Their dedication to WCTE and their efforts have led to the quality programming which we all enjoy today.  During my time as President of Tennessee Tech, it was Dick and Donna who were instrumental in forging the bond between our university and WCTE, a bond which continues to be stronger than ever today.”
Early on, every week featured long hours of taping, editing, broadcasting and running the station, yet Donna and Richard did so with enthusiasm. Their little boys, Russ, Art and Roger, learned how to pull camera cable from the time they were 5 or 6. It was amazing to see them work alongside their Mom, Dad and the WCTE crew at every event.
It was during those early days that created the atmosphere for WCTE to truly be a family institution, both on the air and among the staff. Today, staff members continue that legacy set forth by the Castles’ in creating an environment for family and friends to take part in moving the station forward.
WCTE Traffic Director, Sue Gibbons, a multi-decade staffer shared her thoughts on working side by side with Donna Castle:
“On a work related basis, the first that I appreciate is Donna’s intelligence and how brilliant her memory has always been. I’ve told her many times that she has a memory like an elephant, which made no sense, but I said it anyway. We have worked so closely together for so many years that we can almost read each others minds, which is scary. She’s always willing to drop whatever she’s doing to answer any question I might have. She also always willingly assisted callers or anyone who might stop by the station, with any type of information they might request. On a personal basis, Donna is probably one of the most unselfish people I know. It’s never about ‘HER.’ If you ask her how she’s doing, somehow she always manages to change the subject and/or turn the question around and make it about you. She’s intelligent, strong, caring, creative, helpful, STUBBORN (Ha!), a dear friend and co-worker, and I love her.”

It’s pretty easy to love the Castle fact, it’s hard to separate them from your own if you’ve been part of the WCTE crew for any length of time. I will always be grateful for the start they gave me as a “green” college student looking for a beginning. I had no idea that day would turn into a lifetime of memories and a career that I would never have dreamed would be available for a young girl from Cookeville, TN. WCTE is one of only 177 PTV licensees in the U.S. and the fact that it is in the U.C. region is due mainly to the strong foundation that continues to receive the many layers of service to this region. As we celebrate our 30th anniversary and the quality  programming WCTE offers on a national, regional and local level, we have no choice but to celebrate Richard & Donna, the people who really started it all. We appreciate all that they have contributed to WCTE and our community and look forward to another 30 years working with them on growing WCTE, the Upper Cumberland’s PBS station!

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