If there were such a thing as a Houston TV news Hall of Fame, there’d be no shortage of nominees. That got me thinking that it’s not a bad idea.
It all started months back after the death of beloved weatherman Ed Brandon. He was the guy that a lot of us grew up here in Houston watching tell us what we should and shouldn’t wear the next day during his weathercasts. As a staffer at the Houston Chronicle at the time, I wrote about his life and times, fleshing out his days in Houston as a KTRK-TV meteorologist with the help of his friends and colleagues.
All of the major sports have them, so does rock ’n’ roll. There is even a Hall of Fame for people who have “made a significant and lasting contribution to the insurance industry” according to the International Insurance Society.
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Just recently, team historian and authentication manager Mike Acosta and the Astros announced a Hall of Fame of their own to honor some of the team’s most beloved players. I am really hoping the mighty Casey Candaele makes it in.
Now, before you think this is just another case of the media trying to canonize some of their own, understand that to many of us, TV news people in most markets are not unlike actors or rock stars. We get starstruck around them. We beg for selfies. We hang on their every word.
Yes, there are important news-gathering duties they tend to, but many of us have long-lasting memories of these people inside of our homes every single day. These days, they are usually invading our smartphones on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with live videos and behind-the-scenes looks at their workout regimens.
Which brings me back to Brandon. He was on a team at Channel 13 that included all-stars like Marvin Zindler, Dave Ward, Bob Allen and Shara Fryer. For you baseball fans out there, these guys were like the 1927 Yankees (or 2017 Astros): a murderers’ row of personalities and faces that we saw almost daily.
According to Fryer in 2018, they used to call themselves the “junkyard dogs,” for their dogged determination to deliver the news. But I would like to think it was because they got into Ron Burgundy-style adventures on the weekends.
All of the other major networks in the city of Houston have their own version. You had Ron Stone at KPRC-TV doing a homespun and quirky telling of the day’s events, part morning radio zoo crew and Houston bulletin board. KPRC-TV also had Ray Miller and his “Eyes of Texas” show pointing the camera on contemporary Texas history. KHOU-TV had stars like Steve Smith, Sylvan Rodriguez, Dr. Neil Frank and Giff Nielsen.
I went to my friend Mike McGuff, a former TV newsman himself and current chronicler of the Houston news scene with his blog, with my idea. Of course, he was into it. He immediately threw out names like Ward, Smith, Fryer, Stone, Bob Nicholas, Jan Carson and Minerva Perez for his first ballot.
“I would send it back all the way to the beginning of TV, but the ones I put in have the most significance in terms of time and notoriety,” McGuff added.
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That means that Dan Rather gets a seat in the hall.
A stint at KTRK-TV lead to a gig at KHOU-TV where he made this true mark and garnered the attention of national audiences. Rather made an impression on national media with his coverage of 1961’s Hurricane Carla, which was a large, fearsome hurricane that hit Galveston Island. CBS News in New York plugged into Rather’s coverage and ran it nationally. This was his ticket out of Houston and onto an international arena. A star was born.
Where to put it
Local historian and author Mike Vance had an idea for where the hall should be located.
“The TV news Hall of Fame should be over there on what is now the feeder road of Loop 610 but what was Post Oak Road in 1949 when the first TV station opened as KLEE-TV,” Vance said.
KLEE-TV, later KPRC-TV, was the Bayou City’s first TV station debuting in January 1949.
There are still plenty of decisions I need to make about this Hall of Fame, McGuff reminded me.
“Would you still count people who are regularly anchoring? Is there a certain time limit of years on Houston TV needed?,” McGuff needled me.
Hey man, one thing at a time. I still have to raise the $20 million for the Hall of Fame land and building complete with howling Marvin Zindler hologram greeting everyone in the lobby, the Isiah Carey Bug Experience out back, the Dave Ward Lounge and the animatronic Wayne Dolcefino asking you why you are wasting taxpayers money.
In the meantime, my talk-radio colleague Justin King and I were able to whittle down a very incomplete shortlist of possible Houston TV News Hall of Fame inductees.
Anchors (Male): Dave Ward, Steve Smith, Ron Stone, Bill Balleza, Ford Atkinson, Mike Barajas, Tom Koch
Anchors (Female): Jan Carson, Dominique Sachse, Shara Fryer, Linda Lorella, Melanie Lawson, Shern-Min Chow, Gina Gaston
Sports: Mark Berman, Bob Allen, Craig Roberts, Giff Nielsen, Steve Mark, Matt Musil, Tim Melton
Weather: Dr. Neil Frank, Ed Brandon, Frank Billingsley, Tim Heller
Traffic control: Don Nelson, Darby Douglas
Investigative reporters: Ted Oberg, Wayne Dolcefino
Wild cards: Marvin Zindler, Ray Miller, Alvin Van Black
Of course, feel free to send me your recommendations at [email protected]
Craig Hlavaty is a Houston-based writer.
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