Dave Ward's 50 year KTRK abc13 anniversary is this week and he's got a Guinness World Record under his belt now for his effort.
All this week, read my sit down interview with Ward. In this post we talk about the poor ratings KTRK had when Ward was hired, how he angered fishermen, his game show career, the Astrodome's connection to channel 13, how his father didn't want him working for KTRK and much more.
Mike McGuff: What's it like actually hitting 50 years?
Dave Ward: I never set out to make a 50-year career out of one television station. It just worked that way. I've been very fortunate, because the people of Houston and Southeast Texas have come to trust our news cast, Eyewitness News on abc13, to tell them what's going on, to tell them what's fact, what is happening, without editorial opinion and, just give them the facts in a very short, concise manner.
It wasn't always that way when I first started there at 13. Our newscasts were poor, number three, in like a three-station market, you know. But over the years, and it took quite some time -- two or three or four years -- for people to gain that trust to turn to us.
They were so ingrained in the other two stations, that were very dominant in Houston at the time. It took quite a while for the, audience to develop, and it finally did. And we had this number one rating there at Channel 13 since, about the mid '70s, early mid '70s.
Mike: Who was the anchor when you got there? Who did you take over for?
Dave: The man who hired me. The news director, Ray Conaway. He was an old, B-24 bomber pilot in World War II. And he met Willard Walbridge who was the station manager somewhere in the military. He was the news director and the anchor.
We only did 15 minutes at 6:00PM and 15 minutes at 10:00PM. That was it. And, Ray had a very grim, delivery. "Here's the news," you know. And, in '67 they put me on the 7:00AM news, which I didn't even know we had, [laughs] to tell you the truth.
Mike: Now, there's no way you enjoyed that shift.
Dave: I had to be there by 5:00AM, because I was a one-man band, you know. I had to write it, pull wire copy, write up local rewrites, stories from the 10 o'clock the previous night. Check, to see if anything had happened overnight, re-edit the film from the night before, and then go on the air and anchor it.
That was a 30-minute newscast. The guy that was doing it earlier, he'd started the seven o'clock. He'd read about five minutes of wire copy. And then the rest of the 25 minutes, he'd called bait camps, all around the bay in Galveston. And it was more like a fishing report than anything else.
And after I started it, within a week I got calls from all these bait camps, "Where's Bob Stevenson? Why ain't he calling us doing their fishing. Tell them people we've got live bait here," you know. [laughs] I'd tell them, "Bob is no longer on that program. There's been a change. And, uh, the bait camps were a little upset, but whatever. [laughs]
Mike: Is that also the time you did "Dialing for Dollars"?
Dave: Yes. I went on the 7:00AM in January of '67 and that summer -- it seemed like it was April or May -- they decided they wanted to do this, like a game show in the morning from 9:00 to 10:00. It was an hour-long program. I made six phone calls during that hour trying to give money away. It was a funny format.
They had what they called the count and the amount. We took phone books, every phone book in our coverage area, and cut each page into little strips about that long. There'd be maybe 15 names on each little piece of paper.
We put them all in a big drum, and I'd make a big to-do out of one. In the morning, I'd pull out one piece of paper out, or six pieces of paper out. These from the phone books. And I would give them the count, which was like five from the bottom, or six from the top, or three from the bottom of, you know.
Count six names down from the top of that strip and call that number. Just ridiculous. And then the jackpot went up by, I think like a hundred dollars every time nobody won.
We went on the air with that thing, and it was weeks, eight or 10 weeks before finally I got somebody that was watching that program, [laughs] and knew the count and the amount. They had to know the count and they had to know the amount of the jackpot. And if they knew it, they'd win it. And we brought the lady up to the television station to give her her check.
It boomeranged on me because then the news director, after I started doing this, he said, "Well, David, you're spending two hours in there on that program. That's programming. That's not news. You have to be in there at 8:30. You're on the air from 9:00 to 10:00 and you're never out of there before 10:30."
He said, "So that's two extra hours you owe the news department." I was getting there at 5:00AM to do the 7:00AM news. Then I had to go out and shoot news film for the 6:00 and 10:00, and I usually got out of the station about 1:00 in the afternoon. But now I would stay until 3:00 in the afternoon. So I was getting there at 5:00AM and leaving at 3:00PM. [laughs]
And for that I made an extra $25. The programming paid me to do that, that Dialing for Dollars show.
Mike: So this was there, uh, around that time when Cadet Don and Kitirik were on.
Dave: Yes. Yes.
Mike: Were they around the same time, like right before you or after you or were they afternoon shows?
Dave: Cadet Don was on early in the morning. As a matter of fact, I think he was on from 6:00 to 7:00, I believe. Something like that. And then Kitirik came on in the afternoon, like at three o'clock in the afternoon. And Kitirik, Bunny Orsak. I've kept in touch with her. She lives in New Mexico now. She could still fit into that cat suit. She's like 83 years old. [laughs]
Mike: Were you friends with her at the time?
Dave: Oh, yeah. Very much so.
Mike: Have you realized...or you didn't realize at the time what she would mean to a generation of Houstonians. They still talk about her.
Dave: Oh, yeah. And when the station decided to take Kitirik off the air, oh, my Lord. We had mothers and their children protesting, carrying signs around the front of the building, you know. "Unfair. Keep Kitirik." Yeah.
Mike: Was it just simply a ratings issue why they took her off?
Dave: No. They wanted to put on a movie in the afternoon. They could make more money with a movie.
Mike: Was that the three o'clock "Million Dollar Movie."
Dave: Yeah. The Million Dollar Movie...Most of those movies weren't anywhere near a million dollars, but that's what they called it, you know.
Mike: That was a Capital Cities thing, wasn't it?
Dave: Yeah. I went to work there in November, November the ninth of 1966. And they made the announcement like in January of '67 that a company called Capital Cities Communications out of Albany, New York had bought that television station.
And I thought, "Oh, my Lord, I may have made a dumb move from going from radio into this television station now that new owner's coming in." But it worked out. It was OK. I remember they announced that they paid $21.5 million for Channel 13. And I thought, "$21.5 million bucks for this? They've got to be crazy."
Well, the news director they sent down here, Walter Hawver, who was a delightful man, he wrote a book later after CapCities went on and then later bought ABC. And he wrote a book "CapCities ABC" or "How the Minnow Swallowed the Whale."
Dave: And he wrote in there about the purchase price, $21.5 million. He said they made that back within two years. And then every year after that, they've made at least that much in profit every year. Most years, twice that.
Uh, then that gave me some idea how much money there is in broadcast television, or at least there was back then.
Mike: But you weren't making it at that time, I assume.
Dave: Oh, no. Good heavens.
I took a pay cut to go from radio into television. I was the news director of KNUZ radio, which no longer exists. KNUZ is no longer on the air, but I was making $675 a month. And I came to work at Channel 13 for $625 a month. Took a $50 a month pay cut.
And my father was not at all...He said, "David, you've had a, a good eight-year, nine-year career in radio. Are you sure you wanna do this TV thing?" And I said, "Dad, trust me. I feel good about this." And it worked out. But there when they ma-, [laughs] when they announced that CapCities had bought the place, I thought, "Well, maybe dad was right," you know.
But, no, it worked out. Everything worked real well.
Mike: So you were hired under the Jones' [family of Jesse H. Jones].
Mike: I know there were some other owners involved. It wasn't just the Jones family, but you were hired under the Jones family.
Dave: Yeah. Judge Roy Hofheinz was one of the owners of the station. Jones, two or three other families. And I think Mr. Walbridge, who was the general manager, had a part ownership in the station, too. And, you know what our studio looks like. It's a scale model of the Astrodome.
Judge Roy Hofheinz, when they built that studio, he had the dream then of building a dome stadium so they could play baseball indoors. And everybody thought it was crazy, but it all turned out he was exactly right. And the Astrodome, the same company that built our television studio there on Bissonnet Street, same architectural firm, later went and built the Astrodome.
VIDEO: Houston newsreel video from the 1940s to 1960s
Dave: The industry has changed so much over the years. When I went to work there, there were, uh, what, seven of us in that news department. Seven. Today there's 110, 120, something like that.
We did 30 minutes of news at 6:00 and 10:00. And today we do, what, four, four and a half hours of news every day, something like that. Uh, it has changed dramatically over the years.
Mike: Obviously TV news was still new when you got into it. And radio probably seemed like, like your dad thought, a safer bet maybe.
Dave: Yeah. Well, at KNUZ, we were very big on the space program, the man space program, because NASA was headquartered in Houston. They hadn't built the Space Center yet. They were in the process of building that, but they were in buildings all around the city.
And Channel 13 was big on the space program, too. A guy named Jim Wisnet was the assistant news director of Channel 13 when I was at KNUZ. And I knew him, and he called me one day. I was down near the Johnson Space Center, covering a space shot.
And he said, "Dave, I'm leaving Channel 13. I'm going to the ABC in Atlanta. The job of assistant news director is gonna be open. Are you interested?" And I said, "Yes. I am." So I came over and talked to him about it. Well, I didn't get the job of assistant news director. But they did hire me as the first on the street reporter/photographer. I had learned how to shoot news film. And, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I mean, it was, it was new. I've been in radio for eight years. It was, exciting. It was a challenge to me to see if I could develop into a television news reporter. And, worked out pretty good for me.
Mike: People in the industry now would want know how hard was it to work that film camera back then.
Dave: Well, it was an old Bell & Howell 16mm hand wound camera that was invented back in the '20s first. And it weighed about eight or nine pounds. It was heavy. Uh, but it took good films, 16 millimeter, black and white. Uh, and I've ran a lot of film through that, through that old camera.
I used to ride with our photog-, night photographer late at night. After I was on the 6 and 10 o'clock newscast, I'd get with him and we'd run police call, fires, wrecks, you know, whatever 'til 2:00, 3:00 in the morning. That was in after hours. No longer having to be there at 5:00 AM, you know.
And, shot a lot of film. I enjoyed it. I really did.
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- Dave Ward's honor saved by waitress and other radio stories
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FULL COVERAGE: Dave Ward 50 Years KTRK abc13
Dave Ward will leave abc13 KTRK December 9th, 2016.
To follow Dave Ward after he leaves KTRK abc13, like Dave Ward's Houston.