Friday, January 31, 2020

Bill Balleza signs off KPRC 2


Well, tonight is the night that Bill Balleza signs off KPRC 2 for the last time at the conclusion of the 10pm newscast.

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WATCH: VIDEO: Bill Balleza's goodbye on last KPRC 2 newscast

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I keep getting asked when I'm writing the Balleza retirement post and here it goes. It's a post I've been procrastinating on because it's not one I want to write. And besides, channel 2 has done some great pieces this week as tributes.

Balleza is an icon who has been on Houston TV since I was born. It's unthinkable that he won't be behind the Big 2 news desk any longer.

A steadfast and calming voice that has reported the news since May of 1971 starting at KRON San Francisco (he got back to Texas as soon as he could), Balleza would no doubt be one of the faces carved into the mythical Houston TV anchor Mount Rushmore.

From San Antonio to Vietnam and back again


The legendary channel 2 anchor always was gracious with his time when it came to my blog. In 2016, Balleza told me how he started his broadcasting journey.

Before television even came into his mind, Balleza served in Vietnam as a Marine Scout Sniper during the 1968 Tet Offensive. In a recent TV interview, Balleza said he thought after the war he would return to be a San Antonio police officer.

When Balleza's San Antonio College guidance counselor advised him not to enter broadcasting, since at the time, few Hispanics worked in the industry, Balleza pursued it anyway.

"I chose broadcasting anyway because there was no math requirement, and I had flunked algebra twice in high school," Balleza joked with mikemcguff.com.

After graduation, Balleza landed a job as a member of the KSAT San Antonio production floor crew. Then his first break came.

"In those days a studio announcer sat in a small booth and tagged out commercials and read public service announcements," Balleza told Ken Hoffman last October. "One night the studio announcer got sick at dinner and the program director pressed me into service. It was my first time ever on the air. All my family in San Antonio was listening as I said, ‘Sale good through Thursday at your neighborhood H-E-B.’ I also did ‘Joske’s of Texas, by the Alamo. Open tonight ‘til 9.’ That was my favorite day."

Go West, young man - but hurry back to Texas


His next break came thanks to a change in society and the TV business.

"Stations around the country were looking for minority candidates because activist groups began challenging their licenses based on employment practices," Balleza told me. "My first reporter job was at KRON in San Francisco in May of 1971."


The native San Antonian made his way back to Texas at Houston's KHOU 11. Famed channel 11 news director Dick John recognized the talent in Balleza's journalistic work and hired him from San Francisco TV.

"Dick hired me in June of 1973 to work at KHOU," Balleza told mikemcguff.com in 2014 upon John's death. "I had been reporting for KRON-TV in San Francisco and wanted to get back to Texas. He took me to lunch at the old Warwick Hotel where we sealed the deal. I recalled telling him that I planned to be in Houston no longer than two years. He reminded me a few months ago that two years can stretch into forty in the blink of an eye."

There the young reporter began anchoring along side the likes of Steve Smith.

Kotton Port Rail Center - "You know what I mean, Vern?"



After seven years, Balleza headed down the Southwest Freeway to KPRC in 1980 where he has been an anchor/reporter ever since. In 1990, when Ron Stone retired, Balleza became the main anchor of channel 2.

In his time anchoring for the Houston NBC affiliate, Balleza shared the desk with Paula Zahn, Jan Carson, Linda Lorelle and his current co-anchor Dominique Sachse.

"Bill, Frank [Billingsley] and I have been family since April 2001," Sachse said in a statement last year announcing Balleza's retirement. "Our friendship runs deep, palpable by our viewers and colleagues alike. What an incredible ride as a team, based on love, comradery, humor and respect. We’ve always attributed any success not to the efforts of one, but to the contribution of all. It’s that mindset that made us work and will continue to do so. I’m elated for my co-anchor who is writing his own script but sad that this era is coming to an end. What a legacy you leave, Bill, and a high bar you’ve set."

So did Balleza ever think about leaving channel 2?

"I actually did have a few offers to leave," he told Ken Hoffman in 2017. "Paula Zahn tried to get me to join her in Los Angeles, but when I went to interview for the job, the news director told me he drank four Wink sodas in less than an hour. When I told him I decided to stay in Houston, he said, 'OK, see you on another planet someday.'I also had a job offer from CNN in 1981, but I was actually making more money at Channel 2 than they were willing to pay."

“It’s never easy saying goodbye to a family member, and even more difficult losing an icon,” said KPRC 2 Vice President/General Manager Jerry Martin said in a 2019 statement. “For over 35 years on the anchor desk Bill capitalized the “J” in journalism for our newsroom. It is only fitting that he is retiring at the top of his game with both our 6pm and 10 pm newscasts leading the market since 2017.”

Never to be totally confined to the anchor desk, Balleza anchored the news from around the world. His world-wide reporting work took him aboard the aircraft carrier USS Truman during Operation Iraqi Freedom, to the Vatican while covering the death of Pope John Paul II and then the later election of Pope Francis. State side, Balleza also covered the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, the Murrah Federal Building explosion in Oklahoma City, and the crash of American Flight 587 in New York, one month after the 9-11 attacks. He won a Lone Star Emmy Award for his reporting of deadly West, Texas fertilizer explosion.

“Bill is an incredible journalist and anchor,” said KPRC 2 News Director David Strickland said in a 2019 statement. “His ability to communicate with the viewer and earn their trust is what makes him unique and special. He is also a wonderful co-worker, whose leadership inside this newsroom will be greatly missed.”



What's Old Is New Again


As he signs off, Balleza says the TV industry has come full circle from when he first started.

"When I started, a reporter shot film, wrote the script, and edited the pictures," Balleza told CultureMap in 2019. "They called us, ‘a one man band.’ We’re back to that again 50 years later only now they call us, ‘a multi-media journalist.’ The reason is that TV news revenues have been siphoned off by cable, the Internet, Spanish language television, and a rapidly declining TV news audience. We used to win the 10 pm news with a 17 rating. Now we win with a 1.9 rating. The television news platform is slowly dying."

Now Balleza did not make it to 50 years in the TV business as promised.

We'll forgive him.

Instead of the craft of journalism, Balleza says in retirement he will pursue his other passion - woodworking. He's made furniture, keepsake boxes and even Radar the Weather Dog's first dog house.

He'll also be spending time with family - his wife of 27 years, Melissa, three children (Heidi, Kate and Travis) and two grandchildren. And let's not forget his dog of 12 years, Brinkley.

And if you think you see a guy that looks like Balleza at Whataburger ordering a number 4, it might be him.

Congrats Bill!

Leave Bill Balleza a goodbye message!



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