Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Rick McFarland retires from KPRC 2 after almost 40 years

Rick McFarland has worn many hats at KPRC 2 in his three plus decades with the station. Last Friday, just before Christmas, he pulled the curtain on his career with the NBC affiliate as he officially retired.

From sports photographer to news director and as of late senior executive producer, the longtime news department employee has helped usher channel 2 into the 21st century.

"The technology has changed so much," McFarland told "News gathering is still news gathering. You still want to get your facts right. You want to be first, but you want to be right. It doesn't matter if you are first, if you are wrong."

The equipment certainly has improved since McFarland was a recent University of Missouri graduate in the early 1970s.

As a WTVH Syracuse photographer and one man band, McFarland was one of the early users of the RCA TK-76 camera.

The state of the art equipment, replaced film cameras and weighed nearly 30 pounds. On top of that you still needed the 3/4-inch U-Matic cassette recorder that attached to the camera. The recorder weighed another 30 pounds. And forget about blending in with the crowd. The camera was gigantic and bright blue in color.

It was in Syracuse that McFarland had his first live truck experience. There were no cell phones or portable TVs to know when you were live on the air. You just got a "go" to start your live report from the station on a two-way radio.

At end of the decade, McFarland arrived to Houston at KHOU 11. There he shot stories for the likes of reporter Bill Balleza.

In June of 1980, McFarland moved across the street to channel 2 where Balleza would later join him just months later in August.

Once at KPRC, McFarland moved exclusively to sports in his early tenure with the station.

He still has vivid memories of shooting Houston Astros games through the plexiglass windows at the Astrodome.

"Nolan Ryan's fast ball was amazing, but what was really impressive was the curve ball," observed McFarland.

When McFarland arrived at the recently built KPRC studios on the Southwest Freeway, the Hobby family owned the station. He says this legendary Houston family spared no expense when it came to its TV station.

"It was an amazing building at the time," he recalled. "We had the first Ampex Digital Optics (ADO) in the country."

That meant the station could do those new fancy page turn effects from one video to the next. Hardly any TV news departments could do that at the time he added.

He said KPRC was also one of the first stations that had the equipment to edit a video in a live truck instead of having to drive back to the station and do it there.

Being such a pioneering station, KPRC's national reputation even saved McFarland from technical trouble.

"Once at an Oilers game, I had camera issues," recalled McFarland. "I started asking the NBC guys who were televising the game, for help. They fixed it quickly. When I asked where to send money for payment repairs, NBC said, 'You are from KPRC, they've done us a lot of favors, it's no charge.'"

From sports to news, McFarland continued to rise through the ranks of the news department.

Once Post-Newsweek Stations (now the Graham Media Group) bought the television station from the Hobby family, McFarland became assistant news director and eventually news director.

In his last years, you may know that McFarland became the senior executive producer of the station. What you might not realize is he became a caretaker to a famous station on air talent.

Radar The Weather Dog was on air at the station from 2004 to 2007. When the Wheaten terrier mixed-breed was retired from daily appearances, McFarland and his family adopted him.

"He is now a very well-behaved family dog," McFarland said at the time. "But, he still poses when he sees a camera."

Sadly in 2016, Radar lost his fight with cancer at the age of 12.

As McFarland leaves the station at the end of 2017 coming off a ratings high in November sweeps, he looks back at quite a news year.

From the highs of a Super Bowl showdown in Houston and an Astros World Series, to the lows of Hurricane Harvey's fury, McFarland had quite a last year in the journalism world.

So as the pressures of breaking news, sweeps, endless planning meetings and everything else melts away with retirement, McFarland's thoughts will be with the folks he spent the time with in the news trenches covering stories that affected Houston viewers.

"I'll miss the team members I worked with," McFarland told me. "You want to do something magnificent, and the magnificent thing I got to do was work with these people. These are just the greatest people. People don't realize the struggle and the stress."

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