LOCAL LEGENDS

Dave Ward Eats, Sleeps & Breathes Houston

The anchor has been with ABC O&O KTRK since 1966, and remains an iconic newscaster who still delivers No. 1 ratings in the No. 10 DMA. At 73, he’s got no plans to go anywhere else. “They’ll probably carry me out of here feet first,” he says.

General managers and news directors always hope they’ll find the anchors or reporters who have that hard-to-figure something that creates a special long-term bond with their communities. Those people bring continuity to the station, giving it a hometown feel that can make one news outlet seem more in touch than all the others. In this periodic series, TVNewsCheck is profiling these Local Legends and the great stories they have to tell. For earlier installments, click here.


Friday the 13th 2012 was unucky for Dave Ward. The veteran anchor was heading to deliver the 6 p.m. news on KTRK Houston. He tripped and fell, breaking his left hip.

After four decades on the job, the native son was off the air. Viewers flooded the station with well wishes and stuck around. They were still watching a month later when Ward returned to anchor the 10 p.m. newscast and, a short time later, the 6-7 p.m. show.

“For most people [Ward and KTRK) are one and the same,’ says David Barron, Houston Chronicle reporter and TV blogger.”He’s been there longer than most people around here have been alive.”

Houston TV blogger Mike McGuff seconds that assessment: “When there is a big story, many tune in to his newscasts to hear about It. At this point, Ward has the reputation as the no-nonsense, dean of Houston news.”

In a culture where contracts can run only 13 weeks, Ward, 73, has been with the ABC O&O since 1966, and remains an iconic newscaster who still delivers top ratings in the No. 10 DMA.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

“I love the city,” Ward says. “I grew up in Huntsville, just to the north of Houston. There’s always something going on in this city and I’m a curious kind of guy. I just like to know what’s going on and who’s involved in it. I enjoy being a news reporter.”

Over the years, he has interviewed heads of state and drug addicts and traveled to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Nicaragua and Colombia on numerous stories. He has also covered many national political conventions and worked extensively with NASA on Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and shuttle missions. “I covered the first shuttle flight and the last one,” he says.

Ward has a long history with fellow Houstonian George H.W. Bush. He said he first met Bush at the 1964 Republican Convention in San Francisco when Bush was just an alternate Texas delegate.

He was with Bush when protestors blocked the turnstiles to the Cow Palace and wouldn’t let anyone in. ”I asked him [Bush] what he thought of these demonstrators and he said, ‘If they’d go home and take a bath and clean-up a little bit, we’d probably talk to them.’ ” The quote got a lot of reaction, he says. He interviewed George W. Bush only once, at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston when his father was nominated.

Ward says you can’t beat experience.

“Older anchors? I think they bring experience to the table that the young people just don’t have,” he says. “Young people are in the process of gaining that experience. Older and more experienced anchors and reporters do bring a lot to the table. At least they’ve got a lot of history in their heads. People just don’t realize.”

Ward does not believe that he is the sole reason for KTRK’s stranglehold on the English-speaking Houston television audience. “Our news department has worked long and hard for years,” he says. “In the news business it takes a long time to develop a trust in the market for people to tune into you when something blows up.”

KTRK has a reputation as a station of record. Ward says people turn to ABC13 because of its careful gathering of the news and strict fact checking.

“I hate I hate with a passion to go on the air and make a correction. I [tell] our reporters and our producers/writers, ‘You get this right. I don’t want to go back on the air and say, Pardon me, we were wrong.’ By and large, they do a damn good job.”

During his tenure, the news department has grown from nine to 120 people, and the technology has turned over several times.

Gone are typewriters, Scotch-taped scripts hand-cranked though the prompter and cameramen on each studio camera. The switch to super-sharp HD was culture shock to many anchors, but not to Ward. “The switch from black and white to color was much more traumatic…,” he says.

As far as technology is concerned, Ward is analog. He doesn’t Tweet or Facebook. And he admits that he is “pretty-much computer illiterate.”  His digital knowledge is limited to writing or editing his scripts on computers. Ward jokes that he, like Regis Philbin, views the technology as “a passing fad.”

KTRK has a history of holding on to on-air talent. For instance, there’s the legendary KTRK consumer reporter Marvin Zindler whose stories in 1973 on the Chicken Ranch brothel led to its closing. Those reports were the basis for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas musical.)

Ward had pressed the station to hire Zindler after he was ousted from his job as a Harris County deputy sheriff in charge of consumer protection by a newly-elected sheriff. Zindler’s reports and Ward’s “Thank you , Marvin,” remained a nightly fixture on KTRK for 30 years.

An ailing Zindler continued his reports for the station from his hospital bed. The final restaurant report, naming eateries failing health inspections, aired only a few days before Zindler succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 86 in 2007.

Ward is in the middle of a three-year contract. Following Zindler’s example, Ward expects to exit KTRK only when he exits permanently.

“They’ll probably carry me out of here feet first,” he says. “KTRK-TV is like my home, I’ve been here so long. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t come into work every day. I still feel like I contribute to the newscast and they seem to want me here.

“As long as they want me to stick around, I probably will.”


To read about other Local Legends, click here.


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