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Friday, November 09, 2018

Don Kobos honored in Lone Star EMMY Chapter Silver Circle

Former abc13 KTRK journalist Don Kobos to be inducted in the Lone Star EMMY Chapter's Silver Circle

Former abc13 KTRK reporter, and later assistant news director, Don Kobos, made sure his journalism career was rich and vast.

During his 40 year career, 32 of those years with channel 13 in Houston, Kobos not only distinguished himself for his reporting, but also his newsroom leadership community involvement.

This weekend, Kobos will be recognized by the Lone Star EMMY Chapter as he is inducted into the Silver Circle for 2018. That means he has devoted a quarter of a century or more to the television industry and made a significant contribution to broadcasting.

"It’s a wonderful honor a recognition from my contemporaries," Kobos told "I’m truly humbled."

In 2017, Univision 45 KXLN news director Martha C. Kattan was inducted into the Silver Circle. As far as fellow KTRK colleagues, Dave Ward was inducted in 2011.

These days, Kobos is retired and recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, but that has not slowed him down.

He has trained his Labrador retriever, Maggie Rose, to be a therapy dog. Now Kobos and Maggie visit nursing homes, schools and hospitals throughout greater Houston several times a month.

Since no longer covering the courts, Kobos also served on a Harris County criminal grand jury for three months.

Currently, he's also filling his time writing a broadcast news textbook for college students dealing with everyday ethical issues facing broadcast news managers.

So does he miss the daily grind of the TV news biz?

"For forty years I faced three to four deadlines a day," Kobos said. "It’s a job where you are always on the clock checking newspapers, magazines or meeting viewers who give you ideas and now there is the internet. I enjoyed it, but glad I have time now to read a book for example."

Kobos is one of those journalists who wasn't born in Houston, but sure made it is home.

Television news wasn't even his first career choice.

While attending Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on a football scholarship, the Salem, Massachusetts native earned a bachelors and masters degree while spending his summers working on the docks of Boston as a lobsterman.

After teaching junior and senior high school for two years, as well as coaching, Kobos decided a career change was in order.

"I was head coach of a Virginia high school team and only won one game and lost nine," he admitted. "I knew it wasn’t for me."

So he pivoted into the world of television news, something he always wanted to do in the back of his mind.

His first job was in 1974 at WGHP High Point, North Carolina as a film photographer. Three months later, he was gathering information, shooting film, editing and reporting.

His next stop was WWBT Richmond, Virginia, as the city hall reporter four days a week and sports anchor on the weekends.

In 1978, Kobos joined WRAL Raleigh, North Carolina where he concentrated full-time on hard news. As the station's investigative reporter, Kobos would learn that hard-hitting reporting can lead to death threats.

After reporting on the North Carolina vehicle inspections program, Kobos uncovered how dozens of inspectors were approving deficient vehicles. The Governor called for a state wide investigation.

Then the call came into the newsroom threatening Kobos for reporting the story.

"The police drove by my house that entire night," he recalled. "As you can imagine my wife was nervous."

The other investigations he recalls from that time of his career:
- Uncovering the illegal use of state telephones to conduct political campaigns.
- Investigating the illegal use of state helicopters by the Secretary of Commerce who used the helicopters to fly him to and from his home everyday over 60 miles each way.
- Spending six months analyzing 1,500 felony cases in the Wake County courts for trends on how judges treated different crimes.
- Exposing the low graduation rates of scholarship football and basketball student athletes from the five major universities in North Carolina.

In 1982, Houston came calling where Kobos would find his last television home for the next 32 years at KTRK.

"I knew KTRK had a great reputation, but when I visited, they told me about Marvin Zindler, but never showed me Marvin's stories," Kobos remembered. "So the first day here, I watched the 6pm news and there was Marvin.... I was stunned. I ran to the phone and called my wife in North Carolina and said, 'We made a mistake!' Of course I didn’t. I just had never seen anyone like Marvin Zindler."

Kobos ended up covering everything from crime, the Texas prison system, police, education to city and state government.

Some of those highlights include:
- Recognition by the State Bar of Texas (1982) for a series of reports on the death penalty.
- Filing a lawsuit in federal court (1984) to allow TV cameras in the Texas execution chamber. His action triggered a national debate on lethal injection and recording executions.
- A series of reports (1983) showing how few Southwest Conference University scholarship football players graduated with degrees.

Kobos also had his passion projects that he worked on while away from channel 13.

He wrote an article which appeared in the Houston City Magazine chronicling his year long investigation into the death of football player Paul Gipson.

Gipson played in the NFL four seasons for the Atlanta Falcons, Detroit Lions and New England Patriots. Before that, the Native Texan played for the University of Houston. According to his Wikipedia page, Gipson was one of the first black athletes recruited by UH.

Ironically, Kobos played against Gibson in the Astrodome while at Wake Forest in 1967. The two later reconnected 18 years later in a Texas prison unit while Gipson was serving time on drug charges.

With sports still in his blood, Kobos also served as color-analyst for Rice University's football radio broadcast from 1988 to 1991. At the same time, he even found the time to write an award winning weekly sports and education newspaper column, "Play-It S.A.F.E./Student-Athletes For Education," published in 15 Houston area weekly newspapers

"I was a student athlete in high school and college, I wanted to pass along to younger student athletes things I learned the hard way," Kobos recalled. "So when I did one of those stories for the KTRK news shows, I stock piled over 15 of them and thought, 'Why not write in a newspaper about these people and provide tips and pointers in one of the weekly papers?' I spoke with our news director at the time, Jim Topping, who said go ahead."

The educator in Kobos clearly never left. He wend on to write and solicit funding for an award study skills booklet. The 110,000 copies were printed in English, Spanish and Braille and distributed free to Houston area middle school students.

Outside of his channel 13 television work, Kobos also hosted an award winning series of ten, two-hour long Town Hall meeting programs (1989-91) sponsored by Houston's PBS station KUHT. The award winning series explored topics such as crime, police brutality, health care, and public school education.

Even with his extra projects outside of abc13, Kobos also believed in giving back to the community.

"The vehicles I found were different and unconventional, but because of my job and the contacts I made, worked for me," Kobos said. "These projects I was able to complete, I couldn’t have done in other cities. I found Houston and the many people here had a 'can do' attitude about so many things. I think of the history of this city and the people who lived and worked here, like building a Ship Channel from Galveston to the east side of Houston or building an indoor air conditioned baseball/football stadium, the Astrodome. I wasn’t afraid to ask."

Other Houston community volunteering efforts Kobos was involved with:
- A Rotarian (Rotary Club of Houston) 1987-96.
- An executive board member for ten years on the Lombardi College Lineman of the Year Award benefiting the American Cancer Society 1987-96.
- An executive board member on the Houston Dyslexia Society 1990-94.
- Served as chairman (1997) of the Paul “Bear” Bryant College Coach of the Year Award. The event raised $121,000 for the American Heart Association.

The newsman also served as a visiting professor teaching news writing at Houston Baptist University in 1997 and 2000.

In August of 2000, after 26 years of reporting, Kobos moved from in front of the camera into a management role at KTRK.

Through the next 14 years, while running the day to day news operation, he helped KTRK maintain its dominance in the local ratings. During that time KTRK was recognized twice as the best news operation by the Lone Star Emmy awards.

Congrats Don Kobos!

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