Club Events Off the Record

Press Club of Dallas honors new group of North Texas Legends at packed event

June 17, 2016

Reunited: Previous honoree Gloria Campos & honoree John McCaa.

Photos: Ed Bark

Author: ED BARK
@unclebarkycom on Twitter
When in doubt, print the legend.

No further embellishment is needed, though, for Thursday night’s sold out event at the downtown Dallas Sixth Floor Museum. The Press Club of Dallas’ sixth annual North Texas Legends event drew a capacity crowd of 150, a dozen of whom wore yellow roses of Texas to signify them as this year’s honorees. The 13th of this esteemed group, Fort Worth-based author and former Star-Telegram book editor Jeff Guinn, belatedly was unable to attend due to health issues. But previous honoree Carlton Stowers ably stood in for him.

NBC5 anchor-reporter Kristi Nelson enthusiastically hosted for the second straight year, with each inductee speaking individually and adding to the list of 69 fellow members of what amounts to a Hall of Fame for the region’s enduring media standouts. Besides Stowers, previous honorees in attendance included Hugh Aynesworth (who would get a major surprise at the close of the ceremony), Carolyn Barta, Gloria Campos, John Gudjohnsen, Jimmy Lovell, Bob Mong, Rena Pederson, Bob Ray Sanders and Bobbie Wygant.

(Campos in particular stood up for honoree John McCaa after station management at his longtime employer, WFAA-TV (now owned by TEGNA), declined to do so. More on this in the “Epilogue” below.)

Press Club president Frank Librio saved the night’s most rousing moment until last. A 2007 scandal had torpedoed the non-profit organization’s annual Katie Awards and prompted many journalists to shy away from becoming members.

“It’s been too long,” Librio said. “The actions of one rogue person (former Press Club president Elizabeth Albanese) do not define our club. We define our club. And tonight we are going to give it new definition and new purpose.”

This was prelude to the esteemed Aynesworth, now 84, being named as the first recipient of the Hugh Aynesworth Award for Excellence in Investigative Journalism. “Goodbye, Katie. Hello, Hughey!” Librio declared.

Aynesworth, who had not been apprised of this by his fellow Press Club board members (including your friendly content provider), took the stage to a prolonged ovation after Librio said this will be a lone annual award for starters, with more categories “very likely” established in future years.

“I’m very pleased the club is back,” Aynesworth said. “We’re doing some things that are exciting. We’re doing some things that are worthwhile.”

This included the 13 previous awards accepted during a night in which a number of the recipients were honored in the presence of family members and close friends. In the alphabetical order in which they took the stage, here’s a highlight reel:

A combined 80+ years on camera: Bob Phillips and David Finfrock.

NORMA ADAMS-WADE (retired trailblazing columnist-reporter for The Dallas Morning News and founding member, in 1975, of the National Association of Black Journalists) — She’s proud to be a modern-day “griot,” which in western Africa connotes storytellers who pass along the oral histories of their people.

And although she’s done her share of investigative reporting for the newspaper she joined in 1974, “what I truly enjoy is shining a positive light on other people,” Adams-Wade said. Being honored as a North Texas Legend means “I am not a voice crying hopelessly in the wilderness. You’ve convinced me that I’ve been heard.”

FIL ALVARADO (Fox4 street reporter for 31 years) — Many people tell him they watched him since they were kids, Alvarado said. “At least they’re still watching,” he added. “I think I’m working on my third generation now.”

Pounding the pavement day after day has not beaten him down, Alvarado said. Instead he advised, “Pick your head up once in a while and take a look at all the people who support you.”

STEVE BLOW (retired featured Metro columnist for The Dallas Morning News) — He gets this all the time. Is that your real name? His response: “Would I make that up?”

Blow said he also questioned whether he was “born to be a columnist or a porn star.” But he soon deduced that an engineering degree from the University of North Texas would be a fruitless pursuit because of one word — “calculus.”

Blow credited the aforementioned Mong, the former Dallas Morning News editor, with cajoling him to be a columnist. He ended up writing some 3,000 of them, leading to his now legendary status.

“It was only when I saw the other 12 names that the depth of this honor kicked in,” Blow said.

SANDRA BROWN (romance-suspense novelist with more than 60 books on The New York Times bestseller list) — “I’m the biggest fraud that will cross this stage tonight, because most of you kept your jobs,” Brown began.

She referred to her short stint as a PM Magazine reporter for WFAA-TV before the station manager told her, ”Your limited talent in this capacity is no longer desired.”

At the urging of her husband of 48 years, former TV news anchor and documentary filmmaker Michael Brown, she began writing novels. “And it turned out OK,” she noted. So every time she has another bestseller, Brown said she toasts the WFAA boss who fired her.

JO ANN HOLT CAUSSEY (former “women’s editor” of the Oak Cliff Tribune who founded her own public relations agency in 1984) — “I can’t believe I’m following Sandra Brown,” she said. “I should be getting her autograph.”

Holt otherwise was short and sweet, crediting former Press Club members with schooling her in the PR trade after finding it impossible to make ends meet as a community newspaper reporter. She’s now freelancing as an arts, entertainment and travel reporter.

DAVID FINFROCK (chief meteorologist for NBC5 since 1991) — As the station previously announced, he plans to retire in May 2018 at age 65 when his current contract expires. But “they seem open to the idea of me coming back and maybe helping out with severe storms,” Finfrock said almost longingly. This time, though, “I want to do it on my schedule, not the boss’s.”

Handpicked in 1975 by the late, legendary Harold Taft, Finfrock noted that his paychecks for the first two years came directly from Taft, not the station. He lobbied for a change in the Legends awards that would accommodate posthumous honorees in future years.

Former sports radio antagonists Mike Rhyner and Randy Galloway.

RANDY GALLOWAY (retired Star-Telegram sports columnist and sports talk host on ESPN Dallas) — Galloway easily spoke the longest, but also was the funniest. His failure to graduate from the University of North Texas wasn’t due to partying or drinking, but “just flat stupidity,” he emphasized.

Lampooning himself throughout, Galloway said the best advice he received as an apprentice sports writer was to stop copying the style of “my hero,” the late Blackie Sherrod. Ordered to find a voice of his own, he complied and later took it to the realm of sports talk radio, where his deep Texas drawl clashed with the other smoothies.

“I’ve got a radio face, but I don’t have a radio voice,” Galloway said.

Now fully disengaged from professional sports opining, he has no intent to get back in the saddle. “In retirement I do nothing. I’m very good at doing nothing. And I don’t start until noon.”

CARLTON STOWERS ON BEHALF OF JEFF GUINN — Stowers recalled the time his old friend wrote an obligatory “Christmas Story” for the Star-Telegram back when newspapers just had to have a new one each season. So he researched the life of Santa Claus, put a little story in print and then was encouraged by a publisher to turn it into a full-fledged book.

Guinn adamantly refused until he was vacuuming one day and heard a voice that said, “You are right to believe in me.” He supposedly rushed upstairs and began working on the book that became The Autobiography of Santa Claus, which remains a seasonal favorite to this day.

Stowers said he has no idea if this story is really true, but that Guinn swears by it. In more recent years, he’s penned a series of true-crime tomes, the latest on Charles Manson. But Christmas books remained in his earlier repertoire, including a companion autobiography of Mrs. Claus.

Honoree Sylvia Komatsu & longtime KERA colleague Yolette Garcia.

SYLVIA KOMATSU (KERA program developer and now executive vice president/content officer) — Komatsu said she first got the news of her Legends award from Aynesworth’s wife, Paula, who exuded her usual enthusiasm before pausing and adding, “Now Sylvia, don’t worry. This does not mean that you’re old.”

Komatsu, who long has worked behind the scenes to make others look good, accepted on behalf of all her KERA colleagues.

“This is very much a shared and collective award,” she said. “Aren’t we lucky to be able to do work that we love and we find meaningful?”

JOHN McCAA (anchor-reporter for WFAA-TV) — Host Nelson set this up by noting that in her formative years, McCaa was the first to return her phone call in connection with a story on minority journalists. It inspired her, she said, to continue in the business.

McCaa was a pre-teen in Madrid, Spain (where his dad was stationed while in the military) on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He never envisioned someday making his mark in Dallas and said he likely wouldn’t have been hired back then because “people who look like me” were basically invisible in local TV news rooms of the early 1960s.

He worries about the “direction” of current-day TV newscasts after experiencing WFAA at the height of its powers when he arrived from Omaha, Neb. in the mid-1980s.

McCaa said he’ll likely retire in “a couple of years” after earning a Ph.D in philosophy last year from the University of Texas at Dallas. “And I’m truly looking forward to getting up at noon.”

BOB PHILLIPS (host of Texas Country Reporter) — He was just 18 years old when the late Eddie Barker first hired him at KDFW-TV (Channel 4). Just a few years later, Phillips got permission to do a 4 Country Reporter special for the station. It was strictly intended to boost ratings in the so-called hinterlands within Channel 4’s viewing area, Phillips said. But both management and many viewers liked the finished product. And so it began.

“The great Eddie Barker changed my life, and I think about it all the time,” said Phillips, who now hosts the statewide-syndicated Texas Country Reporter with his wife, Kelli Phillips. “We have followers around the world, and it still blows my mind.”

MIKE RHYNER (co-founder of KTCK (“The Ticket”) and principal host of the radio station’s The Hardline since that time) — Usually hard-shelled and impervious to sentimentality, Rhyner said for starters, “I am absolutely blown away by this.” And damned if he didn’t seem to really mean it.

He then praised Phillips, who “invented Texana before anyone knew what that was.” And after going “pretty hard” at Galloway, whom The Ticket ridiculed as “Grandpa Urine” during his time as WBAP radio’s lead sports talk dog, “I hope we’re cool with one another,” Rhyner said, because Galloway in reality taught him more about baseball than anyone before or since.

Above all, people with media platforms should always be aware that what they say and report impacts a lot of people, Rhyner said. “Don’t ever think the stories . . . don’t matter. Because they absolutely do.”

DAVID WEBB (former columnist-reporter for Dallas Voice, a weekly newspaper for the city’s LGBT community) — It can be tough to be last alphabetically in these circumstances, and “everything I’ve heard tonight is a lot to follow,” Webb said.

He’s covered just about everything — except sports — during a career that also took him to The Dallas Times-Herald and The Dallas Observer.

“Somebody once wanted me to cover a football game,” Webb recalled. “And I said, ‘You’re going to have to tell me a little about the game.’ “

The outbreak of the AIDS epidemic convinced Webb that someone had to step in and cover the devastating consequences. And he took it from there.

“I never planned on being a specialist in LGBT issues,” he said. “It just kind of worked out.”

EPILOGUE — Led by former anchor Gloria Campos, the WFAA troops — past and present — turned out for honoree John McCaa Thursday night.

It’s a good thing they did, because in the first year that sponsorships for the event were sought, WFAA management stiffed one of their most enduring and stalwart news anchors.

This was no shakedown attempt. Events such as these are costly to put on in a first-class manner. And the Press Club of Dallas (of which your friendly content provider is both a first-year board member and on this year’s three-member Legends selection committee) is a non-profit organization that’s still looking to re-establish itself as a respectable, trustworthy organization. Any leftover proceeds from Thursday’s North Texas Legends ceremony will be for journalism scholarships and to help fund further worthy events.

That said, a sponsorship of this year’s Legends gathering cost $250 and included three tickets (otherwise priced at $25 for members/$30 for non-members), logo displays at the event itself and in the official program, and mention in publicity materials.

The idea is to approach media entities with strong connections to those being honored, although Baylor Scott & White and Whole Foods Market stepped in as sponsors because they wanted to be a part of the event. Board members Cary Broussard and Niki McCuistion also purchased sponsorships on behalf of their communications companies.

I ended up being the solicitor (a throwback Willy Loman but with more success) with most of D-FW’s major newspapers and television and radio stations. And they soon, and sometimes almost instantly, signed on.

*** Fox4 sponsored Fil Alvarado.
*** NBC5 sponsored David Finfrock.
*** KERA sponsored Sylvia Komatsu.
*** The Star Telegram sponsored Randy Galloway.
*** ESPN Dallas also sponsored Galloway.
*** “The Ticket” sponsored Mike Rhyner.

Press Club board colleague Michael Grant, who works as director of marketing and strategic planning for Phillips MediaSource, obtained a sponsorship for Bob Phillips.

Grant also approached The Dallas Morning News and secured a sponsorship for Steve Blow and Norma Adams-Wade.

That left WFAA8, where Grant was station manager from 1989-90 and also president and general manager of Belo Productions from 1993-95, long before Belo sold off all of its television stations, including Dallas-based WFAA.

Putting it mildly, my relationship with WFAA management — unlike that with any other local TV station — is chilly at best and usually frozen solid. They don’t like some of the things I’ve written about them. So be it. Rival stations aren’t always thrilled either. It’s the price of being an independent voice without any “content-sharing” ties to anyone.

But there was no need to poison the pond in this case. So Grant agreed to approach WFAA — to no avail. He repeatedly emailed station executives asking for a simple yes or no answer on a sponsorship for McCaa. Grant says he never got that answer — one way or the other. He only received confirmation that his initial email had been received.

Apprised of this, Campos volunteered without any urging to be her former co-anchor’s ad hoc sponsor. As a Press Club member, she already had bought two tickets on her own — for herself and husband Lance Brown. She used her additional three sponsorship tickets to invite WFAA investigative reporter Brett Shipp, his fiancee, and WFAA police reporter Rebecca Lopez, all of whom were at Thursday’s Legends event.

WFAA Daybreak co-anchor Ron Corning also attended in support of McCaa, as did former WFAA photographers John Gudjohnsen (a previous honoree) and Tom Loveless, who recently took a station buyout.

Fox4 and NBC5 respectively included video of Alvarado’s and Finfrock’s inductions on their late night Thursday newscasts. WFAA also had brief coverage, with McCaa returning to the 10 p.m. newscast in time to see and hear the on-air kudos from his colleagues. None of them, save for McCaa, likely knew of their station’s indifference — or cheapness — at the management level.

But now all of you readers know. And so do McCaa’s co-workers. Campos’ name both appeared in the program and on-screen at the Legends event. WFAA’s logo very noticeably did not.

Among the 69 inductees before McCaa took his rightful place, eight of them made their reputations at WFAA. More Legends are likely to come. Once upon a time, they made WFAA what it once used to be in times when station management assuredly would have stepped up to support them with a sponsorship on a night that singled them out as all-time greats.

John McCaa deserved far better from WFAA. And it’s both a shame — and shameful — that the opportunity is now lost forever. Meanwhile, let’s have the below enduring image of Hugh Aynesworth have the last word. He’s the most deserving of all.

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