FOX News anchor Bret Baier vividly remembers his daily race to the Hilton Head Island airport.
Baier was a reporter for Beaufort's WJWJ-TV in the early 1990s, back when an airplane carried footage each day from Hilton Head to Lady's Island, where it would be picked up by station staff.
To make the 6 o'clock news, Baier's tape -- a story already shot, edited and ready to air -- had to be on that plane by 3 p.m.
And, well, sometimes deadlines were tight.
"I remember distinctly, we had this WJWJ station wagon that was like this giant boat," Baier said. "I remember speeding down airport road to try to get to that prop plane, and his propellers are turning."
These days, you're less likely to find Baier tossing tape at idling aircraft, and more likely to see him throwing tough questions to world leaders.
About two million people watch his show, "Special Report," on the FOX News Channel each day.
Baier has traveled to dozens of countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Monday, he hosted a GOP presidential debate in Myrtle Beach.
Is it all still a little surreal?
"Yeah," Baier said. "I pinch myself all the time."
LOGGERHEADS AND AZALEAS
Baier, now 41, interned at WJWJ in the summertime from his junior year in college on and then worked there full time for about a year.
"My parents had a place in Hilton Head, and I knew I wanted to be in TV, so I just reached out," he said.
Even then, colleagues said they knew Baier was going places.
"He was kind of just getting his feet wet, but it was apparent right from the start that the guy had a lot of talent," said Remi Barron, WJWJ's Hilton Head bureau chief in the early 1990s. "Looking back over my career, he was probably one of the better people I ever ran into."
Suzanne Larson, who was news director at the time, agreed.
"He had everything required for success," said Larson, now the public information officer for Beaufort County. "Not only did he have that all-American boy look, he was polite, well-mannered, objective and respectful. And he was a good reporter."
Baier was outfitted with gear to shoot and edit all of his own footage. To shoot himself narrating stories, he focused the camera at leaves on the ground, and then estimated his height using a nearby pole.
Many of his stories will be familiar: The Heritage golf tournament. Loggerhead sea-turtle nesting. Which color azaleas to plant in island medians.
But he also tried to do as much political reporting as he could, and he interviewed then-Gov. Carroll Campbell.
TO THE TOP
The strength of his reporting brought the next job in Illinois, and Baier moved up through local markets before jumping to the two-year-old FOX News Channel in 1998.
"The Atlanta bureau started in my apartment with a fax machine and a cellphone," he said.
Baier covered the southeast and Florida's 2000 presidential recount.
On Sept. 11, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, he was asked to come to New York to help out. When a third plane hit the Pentagon and another went down in Pennsylvania, he was redirected to Washington, D.C.
"I started doing live shots outside the burning Pentagon that evening for Fox affiliates across the country," Baier said. "I never went back to get my stuff. I ended my lease, I think, over the phone."
A company packed up his belongings, and he stayed on as national security correspondent.
In 2006, he was bumped to chief White House correspondent, and he took over the "Special Report" anchor chair three years ago this month.
WJWJ colleagues say they're happy for him, and proud he's made it so far.
Larson said she's lived vicariously through Baier and others who went on to do great things.
And all in all, though Baier is now on a much bigger stage, Barron said he seems to be the same guy.
"When I see him up there, to be honest, it's almost like I'm flashing back decades ago," Barron said. "He was good back then, and it's almost like I'm sitting in the bureau office on the island again, watching Bret do his thing."
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.
Former TV news station produced notable alumni, Nov. 5, 2010
WJWJ-TV ends nightly news, Nov. 12, 2005