Investigative Reporter Jim Otte retires from WHIO-TV

News Center 7 Anchor Cheryl McHenry profiles the man behind the I-Team

DAYTON — After more than 43 years in radio and TV news, the last 33 at News Center 7, WHIO’s iconic, respected statehouse/investigative journalist, admired colleague and adored family man Jim Otte retired from WHIO-TV & Radio on Nov. 1, 2021.

Jim grew up on Cincinnati’s west side, in the close-knit community of Monfort Heights, with his parents, two older brothers, and younger sister.

His favorite hometown lunch?

“A Skyline 3-way. As a matter of fact, in our family, when you go to have your blood drawn at the doctor, a little bit of chili comes out,” Otte said.

As a boy, Jim loved being outside, but not so much the summers he spent working in his family’s homebuilding business.

“I was a carpenter, I was a crane operator, a truck driver, a roofer,” Otte remembered. “It’s an incredible amount of work, and I don’t know how many times I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to do something else.’

He found it at La Salle High School, where he was instantly drawn to the TV studio and learned to shoot video. From there, Jim went on to Miami University.

“We really didn’t have much in terms of television, but they had a radio station and that’s how I got into radio,” Otte said.

Jim worked at radio stations in Oxford and Hamilton, before moving on to Columbus and launching his lengthy career covering the Ohio Statehouse.

He worked full-time in radio news, occasionally doing public television reports. He did not make the full jump to TV until 1988 when WHIO had an opening for a statehouse reporter. A job he loved and a place where he knew everyone.

“What’s great about the statehouse is you have an opportunity to get access to all the people. You can literally just walk up to people in the hallway and say ‘Hey, whatever happened to this issue you were working on?’ Otte fondly recalled. “They would give you an update. Presto, change-o. Instant story.’”

Jim’s career took him through eight governors, as well as members of Congress, senators, and presidents.

He interviewed Presidents Obama and Trump and never shied away from asking the tough questions of even the biggest political figures. And he committed himself to fair and unbiased reporting.

“You have to approach it in a manner that leaves everybody guessing, and I try and try really hard to just play it down the middle,” Otte said.

If there were any question about his ability to do that, just ask elected officials on both sides, including Gov. Mike DeWine.

“I have no idea how Jim Otte votes. I have absolutely no clue.” Gov. DeWine said. “Look, he’s a straight shooter. Otte’s going to call it as he sees it and he again is really going to put it in perspective.”

That’s something he and Dayton mayor and gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley can agree on.

“I don’t even know how Jim really feels about an issue,” Mayor Whaley said. “I think he really moves through issues in a sense of wanting to make sure the public understands it, from his weekly Sunday reports, to making sure they get to the crux of the issue quickly, which makes him great for TV journalism.”

For the last fifteen years, Jim has also hosted the weekly public affairs show, WHIO Reports. Frequent guest YWCA Dayton CEO Shannon Isom was part of the award-winning segment bringing together community leaders in the aftermath of the 2019 Oregon District mass shooting.

“I think that was not only smart, but it was important to our healing,” Isom remembered. “I think Jim has been so sensitive to the issues within the community.”

The leader of the Dayton Foodbank calls Jim Otte ‘a hunger hero.’

CEO Michelle Riley says she is grateful for Jim’s Foodbank spotlight, especially its’ efforts within hours of the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes.

“Jim was instrumental in making sure that we were boots to the ground right away,” Riley said. “He did a great job of spending time making sure the public understood the chronology of what was going on.”

Jim’s body of work spans a wide range of topics. From the removal of the Great Miami River low dam to the testing of self-driving cars at the world-renowned Logan County Transportation Research Center.

He even traveled to the Arizona desert when the CBS show Survivor first hit it big. Jim brought back a series of stories with survival expert, Cody Lundeen, from whom he learned to make fire using a dried plant and small magnifying glass.

The great outdoors is where Jim is his happiest: canoeing, camping, hiking and kayaking. He has shared his love of nature, or tried to, with his wife of nearly forty years.

“For Cindy, it’s an acquired taste,” Otte said.

But it is a taste their three children, Liz, Kate, and Jack, have embraced.

“I think most of our vacations were in a tent somewhere, you know exploring national parks or just different places,” Otte said.

Now an avid rock climber, Kate Otte says her dad taught her so many important life lessons.

“Definitely a work ethic and having projects and hobbies,” Kate Otte said. “I one hundred percent don’t feel like I learned how to write in school. I learned how to write from my dad.”

The last year and a half of Jim’s career brought the COVID crisis. That meant covering daily news conferences with the governor and health leaders, as well as protests over lockdowns and mask mandates.

Among Jim’s plans for retirement?

“I’ve got a long, long list of places, my bucket list of places to go, mostly for canoeing and kayaking, mostly for camping,” Otte said.

And he has another list of updates needed to the couple’s nearly 100 year old house. He talks about it with his typical dry humor.

“Some of it I’ll have to do, some of it will have to be contracted out,” Otte said. “But I know just enough to be very dangerous when it comes to working on my own house.”

Jim admits he will miss covering news.

“Oh, yeah. This is part of us, this is what we do. You get up in the morning and say ‘what did I miss last night for those six hours I was asleep,’” Otte said.

But after decades of countless standups and constant deadlines, he says he is ready to sign off.

“My hope is that my toughest deadline is getting the grandkids to soccer practice at the right time, at the right place.”