Longtime WSB Radio, Atlanta Reporter Pete Combs has died after a short illness. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in September, just over a month after his 60th birthday and was in hospice care near Atlanta when he died.
Combs had two stints at WSB. He reported and anchored for the heritage news station from 2006-2015, and returned in May, 2018 to report for WSB and ABC News Radio, covering events in Atlanta and the Southeastern US. In between, he reported and anchored for KOMO-AM, Seattle. Combs also reported for CBS News Radio as a freelance journalist from 2003-2015.
His earlier career path was typical of many broadcasters, who tend to move from city to city. There were stops in Tulsa, Pittsburg and Topeka, Kansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Dallas, Charlotte and other towns. He was a journalist for many legendary news operations including WGST-AM, Atlanta, KRLD-AM and the Texas State Network, Dallas, USA Radio News, Dallas, WINK-AM Fort Myers, FL, and WBT-AM, Charlotte. He also reported for TV station in Charlotte and Tulsa during the early 1990s.
After his arrival in Atlanta in 2006, WSB sent him to big stories in the region-and occasionally to far flung places. His last travel assignment was to cover Hurricane Dorian as it approached the Carolina coast last summer for ABC and WSB. But sometimes he went much further. In July 2011, he reported on NASA’s final Space Shuttle Mission from the Kennedy Space Center. In January, 2010, he went to Haiti to report on the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people for WSB and CBS. Just a few months later, and closer to home, he wound up in the Gulf, commandeering a boat and reporting on the BP Oil Spill, up close and personal, for WSB, CBS and the radio stations of the Cox Radio Group. He covered numerous hurricanes for WSB, CBS and ABC while based in Atlanta.
Longtime WSB News Director Chris Camp was glad to get Combs back to Atlanta last year. He calls him a “reporter’s reporter” who knew a good story and always had his bag packed and ready to go. That included the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in the Florida panhandle, where, he says, “I’m not sure if Pete ever gave anyone the shirt off his back but he did give up his shoes to a poor soul who’d survived the storm but lost everything.” He says Combs returned in December for follow up reporting. “He was struck by all the blue tarps on damaged roofs in place of homes and businesses with Christmas decorations.” The result was an award winning documentary, appropriately called Blue Tarp Christmas.
When Combs returned to WSB last year, it was under a joint agreement with ABC News Radio that provided WSB with another in-house journalist while giving the network a dedicated radio reporter in the South. Andrew Kalb was ABC’s Executive Director of Programming and News at the time and calls Combs a “unique all-star storyteller. You always wanted to hear more Pete. It didn’t matter what the story was. When the opportunity came about to have Pete join ABC News Radio, it was a very easy decision. He was among the best at his craft….and an even better person.”
Marshall Adams was the Program Director at WBT, Charlotte, when he –and CBS- hired Combs for the legendary station’s news department, and to give the network another reporter in the Southeast- in 2005. Adams recalls his first assignment…the aftermath of a drag racing crash that wrecked a Dairy Queen store. “Pete brought the story alive -- trotting around the building during live shots tethered to a cell phone headset, waving his arms and "showing" listeners the damage, stamping his lively storytelling skills on an event that without him would have been told flat. I listened from the front seat of the news car and knew we had something special.” His other assignments there included coverage of what was expected to be Billy Graham’s last Crusade in New York, and Hurricane Ophelia, when he brought back an invoice for the motel room door he knocked down after locking himself out. “He didn’t want to miss a live shot,” Adams says, with a laugh. “The station sent the motel owner a check, quickly. “Pete’s expense reports,” he says, “were always intriguing.”
CBS News Radio Correspondent Peter King covered several stories with Combs, and remembers sharing a hotel room with him in Kenner, Louisiana, during the BP Gulf oil spill. He says, “One morning, Pete was doing live reports for several of the Cox radio stations, not just WSB. He was really scrambling to keep up and was SO busy, he had a network reporter-me-fetching his coffee every few minutes! He never let me forget that I’d been his ‘coffee boy’ for a morning!” King says they had already become lifelong friends in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley in 2004, and though they often lived in separate states, he says they saw each other often on assignment-or during personal visits. “He was a fine reporter, extremely industrious, and never turned down an assignment. He was dedicated to a fault. But he was also a good human being and our bond went far beyond our work. We helped each other through all kinds of personal and professional things and you couldn’t have found a better listener than Pete.”
Combs loved technology and gadgets and was always on top of new ones that could help him get his job done, but occasionally, they worked too well. WSB’s Camp recalls he bought a strong battery powered lamp to be used in a power outage, when he was working out of one of the station’s news vehicles. “It was so hot, he melted the back seat of the truck! We never had it repaired and we laughed about it many times.”
Combs’ career includes 5 Edward R Murrow Regional Awards, and nearly three dozen other awards from Associated Press Broadcasters Associations in Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma as well as other organizations starting in 1985.
Combs was a licensed pilot and an avid aviation enthusiast who wrote and produced podcasts for the National Business Aviation Association, and founded two companies, Human Factor Productions and Earful Productions. He also reported while serving as Senior Editor for Aero-News.Net in the early 2000s.
Family members recall that he loved great restaurants, great food, especially barbeque, and wine. In his spare time, he also loved playing his guitar, although his sister, Cathy Williamson, remembers that he played “Stairway to Heaven” one too many times during junior high and says she nearly hit him over the head with it to make him stop.
Combs was an Air Force veteran, serving as a Broadcast Information Specialist in the US and overseas. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism from Georgia State University, attending classes while working professionally in Atlanta.
When he learned that his cancer was spreading rapidly, Combs’ friends say, he kept his sense of humor (enjoying the gift of a Looney Toons DVD Box set during his final weeks) and never gave up hope. He was buoyed by text and Facebook messages on a special “Pete’s Journey” page set up by his wife, Karen, for friends and family. CBS’s King says during their last visit, Combs said he hoped the two of them would be able to watch the Atlanta Braves opening day game for 2020 together. Perhaps more prophetically, he told him that he knew his time was probably short, and that “every day is a gift.”
Combs was born in Arlington, Virginia, on August 8th, 1959, but considered Tulsa Oklahoma, his home town. He’s survived by his wife, Karen Hewett Combs, the co-founder and President of the couple’s Earful Productions, their dog, a silky coat, wire hair Doxie named Stella, his son Daniel, of Seattle WA, Morgan Roberson of Peachtree City, Blake Floyd of McDonough, a brother, Stephen, and his wife, Ann, of Keller, TX, and a sister, Cathy Williamson of Houston, TX.
Funeral or Memorial arrangements will be announced when plans are complete.