If it’s Thursday, you can bet that Jessica Noll is sporting a leopard print on an article of clothing, as an accessory, or somewhere on the set. Viewers of Virginia This Morning on WTVR-TV know about Jessica’s passion for the animal print and some of them play along, sending in photos of everyone from their grandchildren to their pets wearing the same pattern.
Jessica credits the show’s leopard print Thursday segments to the show’s co-host Bill Bevins who coined
the phrase when he saw Jessica sitting on her sofa between leopard print toss pillows wearing a leopard print top.
“I love leopard print,” says Jessica, director of local programming at WTVR and executive producer, creator, and co-host of Virginia This Morning.
In 2006, Jessica created the regional morning show and started as executive producer. At the time, the show was a broadcast pioneer, leading the way for other stations, including WTVR’s sister station in Norfolk, to start their own morning shows a few years later.
Getting the show off the ground took a lot of planning and patience. Jessica is a master of time management, says Torri Strickland, producer of Virginia This Morning. “She wears different hats. Having time management is crucial and she excels at that,” Strickland says. “She has multiple projects going on at any one time.”
Jessica didn’t take her seat in front of the camera until 2011. Being on camera and co-anchoring the show wasn’t what Jessica set out to do. It was a skill she had to learn.
“I have produced. I have been an editor. I wanted to see the other side, see how the circle was formed,” she says.
“I was going out on a leap of faith, and I was learning as I went. There were new challenges and new opportunities.”
Those early months on air with Virginia This Morning made her appreciate the talents that her team at the station brought to the table. “It takes more than I ever anticipated it would. It was hard, but I like a challenge, too. There was so much to learn along the way, and you are always fine-tuning.”
The Road to a Media Career
Born in Pennsylvania, Jessica spent most of her youth in Wilmington, North Carolina. She moved back to central Pennsylvania when she started high school.
Living in a beach community as a child had a definite impact on her, a force that would eventually draw her back
to the beach after college to start a career.
“Wilmington was different then. It was more of a sleepy beach town than it is today,” she says. “It gave me the opportunity of shaping a relaxed beach mentality, but at the same time it gave me the drive that I have for communications and media.”
Jessica’s love of television and movies started when she was very young. As a girl in the eighties, she says she sat glued to the TV. “I guess TV was the magic box for me from early on,” she says.
Jessica also had a penchant for reciting statistics and identifying all the actors in the movies she watched. “That goes back as far as I can remember,” she says.
An only child, she was curious and had an easy way about her that made her a good conversationalist. “I was able to bridge the divide between having fun and playing and then coming in and having conversations with grown-ups,” she says. “I had an interest in learning. My parents were great about sharing experiences. I’ve had a lifetime of being interested in experiences and learning.”
After graduating from Penn State University with a degree in communications, film, and video, Jessica moved back to Wilmington, dubbed the Hollywood of the East and Wilmywood because of ongoing film production.
“I thought I was going to walk up to a film studio, knock on the door and make my career in film,” she says.
Instead she answered an employment ad that WECT, an NBC affiliate, had placed for a news producer. Jessica had grown up watching that station. “I was excited to get into the newsroom,” she says.
Six months later, she had an opportunity at the station to move into commercial production as a creative services producer/editor, which aligned with her film background.
She moved to Richmond in 2001 to work at WTVR, a sister station to WECT, when an opening came up for a creative services production director.
At WTVR, she worked on special projects such as the Ukrop’s Christmas Parade (now the Dominion Energy Christmas Parade). “I did that for seventeen years. We also launched Battle of the Brains,” she says, noting she still oversees that popular student quiz show.
Taking Advantage of Opportunities
The opportunities she’s had during her media journey have come up quickly. One of her special projects for WTVR was a telethon for Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU.
“I was asked to develop that and put it together,” she says. “I went out and interviewed the families of children who were fighting and living with cancer. It was a privilege to interview them and motivate others to give their support. I appreciated being able to talk to them and share their journey.”
One of Jessica’s greatest strengths is her ability to make people feel at ease, according to Shayne Rogers, who first met Jessica when she came to WTVR to offer food and cooking insight. “Jessica is always interested in hearing your story. She likes to ask interesting questions, and that’s what makes her a good host,” Rogers says. “People always feel included.”
She describes Jessica as an adventurous spirit. “She likes to see what’s next. She’s the person I go to with a creative idea. She’s smart and hard working.”
Jessica always brings out the best in the people she works with, she adds. “She pushes us to do things we never considered.”
For example, Jessica supported Rogers in doing the cooking segment on Virginia This Morning. “She said I could do it, but I was nervous,” Rogers says. “I’ve been doing it for ten years now. It’s a regular segment on the show, and I love doing it.”
She and Jessica share a love of travel, and the two have been to Maine and Italy together. “Jessica wants to do everything on the list,” Rogers says. “Jessica is a planner. We always talk about where we are going next.”
Jessica’s career has also afforded her some unique, fun moments that stand out for her, like the time she met actress Molly Ringwald when she was in Richmond performing as a singer.
“I was standing next to Molly Ringwald, talking to her about her kids,” Jessica says. “I’ve gotten to meet so many people and many celebrities.”
Another favorite memory was being invited to be part of the media team in 2018 for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on a week-long trip to China for the museum’s Terracotta Army exhibit.
“We walked up the Great Wall of China. It was a profound experience to have been part of this journey,” she says.
Morning Show Formula
Jessica credits part of the success of Virginia This Morning to Bill Bevins, a legendary figure in Richmond media. “Bill is Richmond,” she says. “To be able to have him on the show early on was incredible. It’s been a natural journey along the way. I feel like we have grown together. It’s been a really cool evolution. Sharing the time with him is like sitting down with one of my closest friends every morning.”
Bevins considers Jessica a great manager of people. “I may come up with the worst idea in the world, but she listens to it and if it has any merit at all, she will give it a shot,” he says. “She is so generous, nurturing, and open. She is super talented and has a fantastic personality,” says Bevins, who adds warmly, “She’s a wonderful human being, and she’s a friend.”
As with everything else in the world, COVID has put an interesting perspective on producing the morning show. “We had a great show that was humming along the first quarter of 2020. All of a sudden, it was like you picked up a snow globe and twirled it and pulled the rug out from under everyone’s feet,” says Jessica.
By the third week of March 2020, Jessica was filming the show from her living room. The pandemic was eye opening for her. “Everything changed in an instant. Things we had never done before are now commonplace.”
Hosting the show from her home turned out to be a welcome change, one that allowed her to invite viewers into her life. “We are always asking our viewers to invite us into their homes every day, and now we are able to reciprocate because we are also at home,” she says.
Jessica’s bubbly personality is refreshing and energizing, a perfect combination for the show. “Jessica is very personable. She’s funny and spontaneous,” Strickland says. “She has a big heart. She wants to make everybody happy. She’s engaging and very likable.”
There is nothing fake about her. What you see is what you get “on and off camera,” Strickland adds.
Jessica has been able to connect with her viewers and create friendships. “It has created a genuine experience for us and for our friends watching,” she says of broadcasting from home.
Bevins does spend two days in the studio, but diving back into five days a week will take time. “It will evolve and happen,” Jessica says. “There are things we have all learned over the last year, and they will impact what we do. I hope it will be the best of both worlds.”
Working from home has given her and Bevins an opportunity to introduce new segments. “We want to be connected and have interactions with everyone at home,” she says of showcasing pictures and videos from viewers. “There are not as many studio guests now, so we have other ways we are connecting most directly with viewers.”
Learning from Parenthood
Jessica’s husband, Matt McClain, is WTVR’s creative services director. The two met at the station in 2003 when Jessica hired Matt as one of the station’s creative services producers.
“We were friends for years,” she says.
Jessica and Matt married in 2011, and today they are the parents of two girls – Pearl, eight, and Vivien, six.
For many families, the pandemic meant spending a lot more time together at home – working from home for parents and learning from home for kids. Jessica says she and her husband juggled being present for work and for the kids. “Do you ever really find balance? No. You just do the best you can,” she says. “As our world began finding a rhythm, the girls returned to their classroom spaces, and our work continued from our remote offices at home.”
When Pearl and Vivien were at home, they made an occasional appearance on the show. “That is part of our real life, and it helps people appreciate my whole self more,” she says.
Jessica notes that she was pregnant on-air (in 2013 and 2015), so it gave viewers a chance to catch up with the family. “Both pregnancies were there with everyone watching. I went through the journey twice on camera.”
When Pearl was born, Jessica and her husband had a keener appreciation for what parenthood was going to mean.
“Like every new parent, if you are going through that journey, it’s unique to you. We did the best we could with balancing our schedules,” she says. “I was able to breastfeed my girls, and that is not as natural as everyone makes it out to be. I would get up and go in to the station early and plan that into the schedule. It was a lot of juggling, but I did the best I could.”
She says television producers know about back timing, working from the end backwards, but you can’t “back up the children. You work on their schedule. It was the most eye-opening lesson. I am now working on a different schedule,” Jessica says.
“Becoming a parent,” says Jessica, “made me realize there were challenges along the way, and we have to have some grace. We have to treat each other with grace. Each one of us has unique circumstances.”
When it comes to career and family, Jessica feels that she is in the most present and rewarding place she has been in during her life.
“I work with a great team. I feel like we are really bringing something to the table that helps people.”
Over the years, she says she has spent a lot of time learning her way and operating the way she thought she was supposed to operate. This past year, while working under the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, she has shown more of her authentic self to the world.
“It just feels more natural and relaxed. When you are comfortable, you are doing a better job. I imagine we all go through that in our careers,” she says. “There is only one you, so share that.”
Photos: Matt McClain , Scott Schwartzkopf