Friday, January 2, 2015

Somewhere In Texas

I've told you previously about how I landed my first TV producing job outside college at KRGV in Weslaco, Texas, where I stayed five-and-a-half years.

"Don't you know you're heading to the hottest, driest place in Texas," my former Six Flags boss chuckled, himself a Texan. I don't really care. I just wanted to start working in the business I earned a degree for.

In those five-and-a-half years, I earn my stripes as a producer, learning every trick in the book from Jenny -- my weekday boss and mentor -- along with things they should have taught me at Mizzou's J-School. Even the world's greatest journalism school can't cover the same things as on-the-job experience. I put together a lot of newscasts, win a lot of leads and mess up more than a few times.

My first weekend, I'm under the watch of the weekday 5pm producer, who's looking to move off weekends as soon as I'm up to speed. She shows me what elements I have, how to get more, how to work the wires and the feed services and get it all done by deadline. Saturdays run slow. Sundays run even slower. "But you have the Texas Lottery," she reminds me when I'm hunting for filler material. I learn how to do assignment editing and remind the reporters to make their beat calls in more ways than I can remember.

Weekend news is an exercise in scrounging, especially at 6pm with a skeleton staff. I figure if each of our two reporters can get me a package, a VO/SOT and two VO's, I can take care of the rest. I insist on hard-news leads: no more stories on car washes or craft fairs. I'm going to make the weekend shows more like the weekday shows, and that's the way it's going to have to work if I'm going to level up.

I can dress down. I can wear shorts, but I keep a pair of slacks in a bag just in case the general manager or some other higher up decides to pay a weekend call.

My first outing in the November 1994 weekend ratings comes with disappointments. We're not winning a single newscasts, even on Sunday. The margins of victory compared with KGBT is small, but it's still painful.

Mr. D, however, is optimistic. "Look here," he says, pointing to one number. "You doubled your lead-in."

"You're shaking all over," Jenny observes as we talk about the numbers in the boss' office. "You can't say you're a failure."

I lick my wounds and fight on. Eventually, like a football coach rebuilding a mediocre team, we develop a strong but fun weekend team and we own our turf. Eventually the Sunday 10pm newscast, which carries a lot of weight with advertisers, gains a 10-point lead over the competition.

Still, I keep looking for the next move. The Rio Grande Valley is not my home, and it never will be, not for a highly Anglo kid from Kansas City who speaks broken Spanish like a tourist living in a border town. The goal is to get back to family.

So as I work my tail off in Weslaco, Texas, I scout other stations in bigger markets. If I can't jump directly back to St. Louis, I can find the next step up.


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