Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Phil Archer to retire from KPRC 2

Phil Archer

Phil Archer announced his retirement from KPRC 2 will take place March 4, 2021 after 44 years with the Houston NBC affiliate.

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The legendary Houston reporter has covered it all, including being stabbed and knocked unconscious during the Moody Park Riots coverage (which is now the subject of a Vox Media podcast called the Chicano Squad.) More on this in a minute.

"Phil’s the guy you send when your own reputation is on the line," former NBC News Bureau Chief and KPRC reporter Larry Weidman told mikemcguff.com. "He always delivers and he has for nearly half a century.  Plus, he’s also from Wichita Falls."

Phil Archer's early life

The Wichita Falls, TX native graduated from S.H. Rider High School in 1969 and headed to Houston to attend the University of Houston. 

"I’ve been fortunate enough to make my career in Houston, which is one of the best news towns in the country," Archer said in his bio.  "I’ve worked with some of the most talented journalists in the business; folks who pursued the craft with honesty, accuracy, and passion. It is more than a job – it’s a calling."

Archer got started in the Houston news business with the Houston News Service which was owned by Jack Cato and George Nelson.

That led to a job at Big 2 KPRC in 1976. Archer replaced Mike Capps on the Channel 2 night police beat.

"From the time he walked in, he became a sponge, using his biting wit, his raucous sense of humor, and good ole boy Wichita Falls, Texas charm, learning the rudiments of our craft as quickly as he could and as a result won over all of us in the newsroom," Capps, who later worked for WFAA, ABC and CNN, told mikemcguff.com.

Moody Park Riots and Phil Archer

In 1978, Archer and Cato, who was also working for KPRC, were covering the Moody Park Riots, sparked by the death of Joe Campos Torres by the actions of Houston police officers. 

"There was a car on fire and ambulance supervisor's car on fire," Archer told KPRC in 2019. "And so we went past the police line to get video of that. When we we're doing that, we got jumped. And so that's that's how it ended for me. We were...Jack was stabbed. I was knocked unconscious and stabbed. We watched the rest of the rioting lasted another two days, three days from our hospital rooms."

"Their camera gear was cut up and news car destroyed along with several police and fire vehicles," retired KPRC 2 photographer John Treadgold told mikemcguff.com.  "Both Phil and Jack went right back to covering the same stories afterwards, sometimes going in before police or firefighters. They were the best in the city in this regard."

In the KPRC history book, "The Fault Does Not Lie With Your Set - The First Forty Years of Houston Television," Archer described his face looking "like hamburger" with cuts, bruises and a particularly nasty gash on the top of his head. He recalled police officers believing he had been stabbed in the crotch.  So they laid him on the hood of a patrol car. An officer, who has previously been a nurse, ripped open his pants to examine if he had been castrated. 

KTRK photographer Dave Davis, who later became WABC New York's General Manager, caught the moment on camera. 

Archer was stabbed in his rear end and bleeding profusely - turning his blue pants red. 

Fortunately, some kids nearby dragged Archer out of harm's way.

"And and if those kids had not gotten me out when they did, I might very well bled to death because I lost...I was close at the time...I lost a lot of blood," Archer recalled in his 2019 interview with the station.  "So a lot of things luckily happened in the right order for it...to prevent it...from being a really bad day for my mom."

"He obviously laid it on the line in Moody Park, and I think that reportage from Phil and Jack Cato that night pretty much summarizes who Phil Archer is as a news reporter," Capps added.  "He offered an intrepid attitude, a no nonsense demeanor and thoroughness beyond reproach as his reportorial tools. Professionalism personified, an unbridled passion for his craft and the stories he reported, and a respect for those who watched his work, simply sets him apart from most and he did it for more than 40 years."

 When Archer woke up in the hospital, he was concerned about the whereabouts of his expensive TV news camera, especially when his news director Ray Miller came to visit. He was also concerned about not wearing a tie while covering the riot, a must for Miller who had a rule all news photographers had to look professional.

For his coverage of the riot, Archer received the Perringer Award from the Texas Association of Broadcasters.

That would not be his only award on the shelf.  According to his bio, Archer has received more than 50 awards from the likes of the Associated Press, Texas Association of Broadcasters, Houston Press Club and other organizations.

In 1983, Archer was selected as a William Benton Fellow at the University of Chicago which was a program designed to "advance the work of midcareer radio and television professionals, enabling them to bring greater depth and understanding to their work."

The Moody Park Riot story will always come up in Phil Archer retirement goodbye pieces.  But Archer's journalistic career is so much more than that one moment.  

What fellow journalists say about Archer

He has been that steady voice on KPRC for four decades, who can cover any story with grace and ease, no matter the difficult subject matter.  Sources trust him, the Houston television news community respects him and as you will read below, his co-workers liked and looked up to him.

"The only thing I could add is that Phil was one of my ethical policemen in the newsroom," former KPRC news manager Rich McFarland told mikemcguff.com.  "You always need watchdogs asking journalists in the room, 'Why are we doing this story?'  As a manager it can be a pain in the ass but you appreciate the question.  He was also a great coworker, mentor, and friend."

"Phil Archer was a veteran reporter when I was born, so this news is depressing," former abc13 KTRK investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino told mikemcguff.com. " His knowledge of Houston is irreplaceable. The consummate tv reporter.  He has done this town proud." 

For this blog post, I reached out to those reporters and anchors who worked with Archer throughout his career.  They enthusiastically shared their respect and stories from their time with him.

“You could do an entire blog on 'Phil moments' at KPRC, but among my favorites are Phil riding the trail to Houston with the Rodeo cowboys," former KPRC anchor Linda Lorelle told mikemcguff.com.  "On horseback. Every year and loving every moment.  Whether covering the Rodeo or Hurricane Katrina, Phil is a consummate storyteller whose passion and perspective give Houston viewers a bird’s eye view unlike any other.  It’s a privilege to have worked with him during my years on the anchor desk at KPRC.  Happy Trails, my friend, as you enjoy your well deserved retirement!"

"Always loved talking about Texas history and folklore with Phil," former KPRC reporter Ron Stone, Jr. told me.  "We’d talk about our love for J. Frank Dobie’s books or he would quote an obscure Western Swing song lyric and it was just a great way to stay sane in the midst of the chaos of a TV newsroom."

“It’s the end of an era," former KPRC reporter Mary Benton told mikemcguff.com.  "Phil Archer is a consummate professional and a wonderful person. Full disclosure - it took time for me to warm up to him when we first met, because I assumed we would not have anything in common. Over my 20 year tenure at KPRC, we sat near each other in the newsroom, and I got to see Phil for who he is - decent, sensitive, hilarious and a great storyteller. He has earned his retirement and I wish him all the best!” 

"Phil is a reporter's reporter. An absolute legend in Houston news," former KPRC morning anchor/reporter Rachel McNeill told mikemcguff.com.  "I learned so much from watching him work. His tenacity, his dedication and his wicked sense of humor are unmatched. You could always count on his support from your very first day in the newsroom and he always kept us laughing with his classic Texas quips!"

Former KPRC reporter Suzanne Boase Honeycutt shared these great moments which I am including in full:

"Phil will hate me for saying this, but I watched him on TV as a kid when my family moved to Houston from Australia.  He looked like a cowboy, seemed larger than life, and told amazing stories.  He was just so good at what he did - a great writer and reporter.  I desperately wanted to make it to the Houston market someday like Phil.

When I first started working at KPRC in the mid 90’s, I was excited and a little intimidated to get to work alongside him.   Phil was the senior reporter – he’s always been the senior reporter! - and has a wicked wit. I quickly learned though that under the zingers is a very sweet man.

I shared a desk with him.  I’ll never forget his kindness to me, offering suggestions and sharing potential sources for stories.  His knowledge of Houston and its history is second to none.  But he zinged me, too:  I remember Phil noticing a zit on my face one day - that was carefully concealed, so I thought - and asking me about my third eye!  Whenever I wanted to get him back, I reminded him that I was watching him on TV when I was in elementary school.

Phil is simply the best at what he does. He has covered every important story in SE Texas for the past 40 years.  What strikes me is he has never lost his zeal to chase a story and tell it better than anyone else. Phil makes complex stories – like the collapse of Enron and the Arthur Andersen trial – understandable.  But what I remember most is how Phil lights up every year at rodeo time.  He is a real cowboy and loves every minute covering the rodeo and enjoying the festivities after.

Phil is the consummate journalist. I cannot even begin to imagine how many stories he has told!  His very well-deserved retirement is a true loss for KPRC and for Houston."

Former KPRC 2 reporter Brendan Keefe shares his thoughts with me concerning Archer:

"Phil Archer is the dean of Houston TV news. Phil IS Texas. You know those people you see at rodeo who clearly just bought a brand new Stetson, as if it's about dress up? They're the opposite of Phil Archer. When we say Phil is hanging up his spurs, it's not a figurative description of his retirement. Phil literally hangs up his spurs because he has one of the best antique spur collections in all of Texas. 

When I was a cub reporter at KPRC, I absolutely relied on Phil for both pronunciations of Houston streets and Texas towns, but also for his encyclopedic knowledge of history. Phil's institutional knowledge was absolutely indispensable. 

Some reporters and anchors would get on a horse for a brief on-camera appearance during a trail ride -- Phil actually quietly and humbly participated in the trail ride every year. Real cowboys don't have to show off or brag. Phil is a real cowboy, though I can't believe he gave in and shaved the mustache. 

Phil Archer is the real deal. He is also kind and generous. No one since the great Ron Stone, Sr. is worthy of the title The Eyes of Texas. Phil has earned that moniker one story at a time over decades."

Now Archer will spend more time with his wife Joy and look back at a fantastic career.

"I never wanted to do anything else," Archer wrote in his bio.  "Working as a journeyman reporter has given me a front row seat to the major events and personalities of our time, and the chance to provide a vital public service."



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