Texas Talent: Dave Ward

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Dave-Ward-2Recently, I watched the 6 o’clock news. When it ended, I picked up the phone and made a call to Dave Ward, the man I had just finished watching.  My degree is in radio/television, and I’ve long admired his work.  It is believed he has been doing the same news show on the same station longer than anyone in the history of American television. In fact, it was a little difficult for Postcards to decide whether this feature should be “Texas Talent” or “Texas Treasures”, because Ward is certainly both.  Mr. Ward greeted us in the station lobby, then showed us around the newsroom and his cubicle…yes, cubicle. He loves being in the middle of the action.  After a few moments, we retreat into a conference room to talk.

Dave-Ward-21We see Marvin Zindler’s picture there on the wall – we understand you two were friends?

Very much so.  I’m actually the one who brought him here.  I moved to Houston in 1962, working at KNUZ radio. I was one of five news reporters there.  A call came out one day about a fugitive arrested for murder.  They sent me to the location. I could see patrol cars and uniformed officers, and here was this one guy in a white suit with white starched collars, a wig on his head, and full facial makeup. It was so hot, the makeup was running down his collar.  I asked one of the newspaper photographers, “Who is that clown?” He said, “Oh that’s Marvin Zindler, he’s the sheriff’s deputy who caught the guy.”  I thought, “If that’s the deputy, then I have come to a very colorful county!” Sure enough, he was a hoot.  That guy was unbelievable.  Gina (Gaston) was telling me last night she checked on the most “Googled” people for Channel 13, and it’s him. He was something else.  Zindler’s reports followed by Ward’s “Thank you, Marvin,” remained a nightly fixture for 30 years.

He became a little “larger than life” through his story on the chicken ranch. How did he feel about Dom Deluise playing his character in the movie?

Well, when they first announced the movie was going to star Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, he just assumed Burt Reynolds was going to play him! I had to tell him, “No Marvin, you’re being played by Dom Deluise.” He loved the stage play, but he hated the movie.  Matter of fact, about halfway through the movie, Marvin got up and walked out.

You started here in 1966; did you ever think you’d be here this long?

No, I really didn’t.  I didn’t set out to make a career of one television station; it just evolved that way.  I started here as a reporter/photographer.  We shot film – black and white 16mm film – and I had to learn how.  They gave me a Bell & Howell hand-wound 16mm camera and a little 8 page booklet, “How to Shoot News Film.” I’ll never forget one of the pages in the book had the hint, “Never shoot a parade from both sides of the street,” which makes sense because you want your parade to be going in the same direction.  Of course, today we shoot them from every angle.  I was the first “on the street” reporter this station ever had.  When I came to work here, I became the ninth news department employee.  Today, we have well over 120 people working in this news department. It has been a whale of an education and quite exciting to be a part of the development of television news.  We did 15 minutes at 6 o’clock and 15 minutes at 10 o’clock, and that was it. Today, we do six to seven HOURS of news every day, so it’s been a tremendous evolution.  Going from black and white to color was quite a transition, too.

You were an anchor by then, right?

Yes, and it was a big change in the type of makeup we used and the color of clothing we wore.  In black and white, they didn’t really like a totally white shirt–they had to be kind of muted.  That’s been so long ago, I’ve really forgotten all the stuff we went through. The biggest transition I went through here at the station wasn’t going to computers or HD—it was going from black and white to color!

How many co-anchors have you worked with over the years?

My first anchor job was the 7:00 am news from 1967 to 1968.  I also hosted the Dialing for Dollars show. Then in 1968, they teamed Dan Ammerman and me as co-anchors.

Was that the first time that had been done?

Yes it was; there had been no co-anchors on television up to that time.  Dan and I co-anchored together until the early 1970s. He got a great offer and went back to radio.  Radio was his first love; he didn’t much care for staying here until after 10:30 every night.  After that, I single anchored for a while, then they brought in Jan Carson. She co-anchored with me at 6, and I solo anchored the 10 pm for quite some time, then they decided to keep her on for the 10, and I’ve been co-anchoring ever since.  Shara Fryer followed, then Gina Gaston.  Gina and I are still working together.  There were some other temporary ones in there, but those were the main ones.

There’s a YouTube video out right now about a couple of news anchors at WGN who have a fun routine they do during commercial breaks. Do you and Gina have anything like that you do?

(Laughing) No. The other day I found out that, during a commercial break, our microphones remain live on the webcast.  How this happens I have no idea, but if you’re watching us on the web, you can hear what we say during commercials. I didn’t know that, and I don’t like that!

Other than going over your script in preparation, is there anything else you always do to get yourself ready for your newscasts?

When I am putting on my jacket, picking up my scripts, checking my makeup before I get on that set…I find myself singing hymns from the old Broadman Hymnal.  My father was a pastor of the First Baptist Church in Huntsville for 10 years from 1941-1951. I grew up in the church, so every time they opened the church doors, we were there.

People tell me there’s no way I can remember this, but I do. I was born on May 6, 1939. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, I was two and a half, and I will never forget that. I had seen my mother cry, but I had never seen my father cry. The phone was ringing, then people started coming over to the house, and THEY were crying. Around mid-afternoon, my dad said, “We are all going to the church.” He called KSAM radio, had them announce First Baptist Church was open, and invited people to come pray for our military. We were there the rest of the day, and I’ll never forget that.

Dave-Ward-19What are some of your favorite memories from that time?

I had a wonderful time in Huntsville.  I loved growing up in that city. I lived on top of the hill on 20th Street.  The parsonage was at 1409 20½ St. There were four other little boys in our neighborhood—Jody Kirk (I think Joe Kirk still lives in Huntsville), a kid named Sandy Lowery, George Evans (who now lives in Denver), and George Marshall Rix. Our mothers got together and decided on Monday we would all go to Jody’s house, on Tuesday Sandy’s house, Wednesday George’s house, Thursday my house, and Friday George Rix’s house. So the moms had four days out of the five where “the boy” was gone!  We had some of the most fun times growing up.  We could jump on our bicycles, ride all over Huntsville, and go wherever we wanted to go.  Behind George Evans’ house, there were woods and an old crawdad hole.  We would take a little bacon and some string, fish these crawfish out, and then race them.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think about eating one of those things. Never!

But do you now?

Laughing – Yes I do!  My wife Laura makes an excellent crawfish étouffée. She’s from Louisiana and is a wonderful cook.

What’s the funniest thing that happened on air and made it difficult to keep your composure?

There were a lot of Marvin stories.  Marvin ended his report one evening in a tirade and was pounding on the desk saying, “It’s time for someone to grab the bull by the tail and do something about this!” I said, “Thank you Marvin. Now having a bull by the tail is not to be confused with having a tiger by the horns. Those are two totally different things.”  He fractured every cliché there ever was in the world.

When they diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer, he wanted to make a statement on the air about it.  He had his wig and facial makeup on lying in his hospital bed. We started rolling, and he said, “Well, as y’all know I’ve been diagnosed with this patriotic cancer…” His whole family was there, and they cracked up.  We started over, but it was so “Marvin-esque,” we just left it in and ran it that night.

When you’re on the air live, anything can happen. Back in the days of black and white, we had a different type of lighting. Every now and then, one of those lights would explode and sound like a rifle shot! I was on air reading a story and POW! One of those things blew. I visibly blanched, then I heard the glass tinkling. I said, “Pardon me folks, one of the lights in the studio just exploded. Let me get my heart started again, and we’ll continue.” There have been a lot of funny things that happened, and you can’t help but giggle a little.

I’ve also learned if something can go wrong, it eventually will! One night, we had a new computerized lighting system in the studio. We went on one night at 6, and about four to five minutes into the newscast, the lights seemed to be a little dimmer. Somehow, it had been programmed to automatically slow dim. I ended up pulling out my cigarette lighter, and we finished the newscast by light from a flame, because it was pitch black in that studio! That was one of the most unusual moments we ever had.

Dave-Ward-13With all the changes in technology, what has been the most challenging for you?

For me, it was when we went to computers. I refused to give up my typewriter, and I had it on my desk for a good three years after. The change in technology has been unbelievable over the last 48 years, black and white to color, the change in cameras, film to videotape, tape to digital, the internet.  Everything about this business has been unbelievable over the past 48 years. I’ve been very fortunate, very lucky to be a part of it.

In 48 years, people certainly have felt they have come to know you, haven’t they?

I was recently at a fundraiser, and a woman introduced herself to me and said, “I want you to know my son is in the Marine Corps and just returned from four years in Afghanistan. He turned on the television, and there you were on the news. He turned and said, ‘Mom, now that I see and hear Dave Ward, I know I’m back home.’”  Not ten minutes later, a man approached me to tell me he was home from a two-year deployment in Iraq and knew he was back home when he turned on the TV and saw me on the news. Two people, ten minutes apart, saying basically the same thing to me. It just gave me goose bumps.

Dave-Ward-10What are you most proud of?

Not anything that I’ve really done on my own—I think the role that I played in the development and building of this television news department. As the demand for television news increased, I’m extremely proud of the role I played in developing this Eyewitness News team and what we’ve accomplished over the years.

Do you plan to hit your 50-year mark here?

I hope to, that’s only two years from now.

Two days after our interview, Ward announced he was stepping down from the 10 p.m. news, but will continue to anchor the 6 o’clock news. In the announcement to his news team, he emphatically declared, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Whatever the news day brings, whether chaos or calm, Dave Ward has been the epitome of confidence and competence for almost half a century. Thank you, sir. I think it is we who have been fortunate.

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2 Comments

  1. George Evans December 16, 2014

    My Goodness !! I guess they just can’t get of the “five skunks” as my father used to call us. We played hard and with Texas heat and humidity, we were “aromatic” in a car. Not a group you wanted to be hauling around too long.
    It was great seeing/reading the story about Dave. It brings back all sorts of memories. Especially the one when his mother caught us teaching him how to play poker at my house on a Sunday afternoon ! I think we might have had a shot at redemption up until that point, but that was canceled in a flash .
    Great story ! Great memories !

  2. George Evans December 16, 2014

    My Goodness !! I guess they just can’t get rid of the “five skunks” as my father used to call us. We played hard and with Texas heat and humidity, we were “aromatic” in a car. Not a group you wanted to be hauling around too long.
    It was great seeing/reading the story about Dave. It brings back all sorts of memories. Especially the one when his mother caught us teaching him how to play poker at my house on a Sunday afternoon ! I think we might have had a shot at redemption up until that point, but that was canceled in a flash .
    Great story ! Great memories !

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