NEWS REPORTER AND ANCHOR
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Russ Bloxom was in the
right place at the right time. He not only saw the evolution of TV
news from newsreels in the 1960s to live reporting in the 1970s, he was
an integral part of it as longtime news anchor and reporter for WBAP-TV/KXAS-TV
from 1967-79. Russ worked alongside some of the pioneers in TV broadcasting,
including weatherman Harold
Taft, announcer Frank
Mills and news executive James A. Byron, and shared the limelight with
notables such as Bob
Schieffer, Chip Moody, Jack Brown and Boyd
Matson. During his tenure at Channel 5, the station pioneered
the use of multiple anchors in a single newscast, and enjoyed its highest
ratings to date by the mid-1970s.
Russ Bloxom's broadcasting
career began at radio station KCLE
in Cleburne, TX at age 17. He was a junior at Paschal High School
in Fort Worth then, and worked at KCLE as a staff announcer from 1956-59.
(Russ attributes much of his early entry into broadcasting to his high
school speech teacher, the late Miriam Todd; to KCLE's owner, George Marti,
who accepted Russ for on-air work with no prior experience; and to mentor
Sam Riddle, another Todd speech student who already was a popular KCLE
announcer...Riddle spent later years as a radio DJ in Los Angeles [where
he lives today] and eventually formed Sam Riddle Productions for television
projects.) Fortunately, owner Marti remembers with a smile the night
Russ locked himself out of KCLE while a 45 RPM record was playing on FM.
Russ had stepped outside to look at the moon. The door automatically
locked and he had no key! The song, "Moonglow," soon ended as Russ
made a frantic call to the (late) news director John Butner. An amused
Butner showed up laughing so hard, he could hardly get his key in the door.
Russ dashed inside to stop the strange noise of a thrashing needle on the
blank part of a vinyl record, which listeners heard about 15 minutes!
Or maybe they didn't. No one called. A forgiving and patient
never discussed the incident.
While attending college
at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, he made the move to local
KJIM as an announcer, and stayed there from 1959-61. He also concurrently
worked for campus station KTCU as
the general manager during his junior and senior years. Upon graduation
in 1961, he joined the Air Force and later took his Speech and Radio/TV/Film
degree to radio station KXOL in Fort
Worth, a top-rated station that launched his journalism career (KXOL was
#1 for its Top 40 music and 24-hour news coverage on the scene.)
He worked as a field reporter and newscaster there until 1967, under the
tutelage of station owner Earle Fletcher. [Ed.
note: Read more about Russ' experiences at KXOL here]
Schieffer, best known today as a CBS News correspondent and host of
Nation", was fresh out of a stint in Vietnam and was a reporter for
the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
and KXOL when Channel 5 News Director James A. Byron (d. 11/3/1979) hired
him to host WBAP's newsreel program. Bob contacted his friend Russ
Bloxom and urged him to make the switch from radio news to TV news.
Russ left KXOL in 1967 and joined WBAP-TV. James A. Byron enticed
Russ with a salary increase to make the move, and his long career in television
news was officially launched! He was first a weekend news anchor
and a staff reporter, and was soon promoted to anchor the "High Noon News".
Russ continued with Channel 5 as primetime anchor and reporter until retiring
from broadcasting in 1979.
Russ tells the rest of
the story in his own words. In 1998, Russ was called upon to produce
a segment for Channel 5's 50th anniversary program. Unfortunately,
the piece did not air, but Russ has given me the honor of publishing the
original script (with minor updates as needed) on this website:
the late '60s and early '70s, KXOL Radio became the springboard for a group
of reporters known only by voice and name to make their introduction to
television. The station was number one for its music and news.
Reporters covered breaking stories from the scene with distinctive red
mobile units. Eventually, these radio voices would become Channel
5's new breed of television newscasters and reporters. The exodus
would turn out to be part of a historical format change in Channel 5's
"Bob Schieffer was a KXOL
product also. Bob Schieffer got me into television. The others
who followed us from KXOL were: Roy
Eaton (currently publisher of the Wise
County Messenger,) Bruce Neal (d. 10/19/1999,) Bill Hix (d. 2/25/2002,)
"Jay" Duncan, Breck Harris (currently the FW Stock Show arena events
announcer and retired spokesman for Lone Star Gas,) Ron Spain, and a fellow
younger than all of us, who would rise higher than all of us...Doug Adams.
Doug became news director and eventually general manager of Channel 5,
a position he served until 2000.
Adams is now GM for The Denver Symphony Orchestra.]
"Also in the late '60s,
Channel 5's bosses sensed that a changing audience wanted something new
in TV news. Twenty years had passed since WBAP-TV had become the
first television station in Texas in 1948. Audiences were no longer
in awe of TV. Viewers were more selective in what they watched as
the business grew more competitive. Channel 5's ratings were slipping
to stations in Dallas. [Ed.
note: The friendly "Metroplex" moniker that merged the interests
of Dallas and Fort Worth came about later, in 1972; previously, competition
and animosity between the two cities was rampant on many levels.
As Channel 5 was often chastised for being exclusively a "Fort Worth" station,
management urged reporters and anchors to alternate the station ID with
"Dallas-Fort Worth" and "Fort Worth-Dallas."]
"In 1967, Channel 5 hired
Bob Schieffer to anchor its nightly news. Until then, the station
built its late news show around a continuous newsreel called "The Texas
News" (long narrated by Tom McDonald.) The format came from the old
movie theater newsreels. However, in a major change, Schieffer appeared
on camera AHEAD OF and AFTER the newsreel. Channel 5's news presentation
changed radically. The newsreel, popular in the '50s and early '60s,
gradually disappeared. The station wanted personality in its newscasts
and anchormen viewed as more credible because of their experience in field
reporting. This trend would dictate Channel 5's news format for 31
of the station's first 50 years. [Ed.
note: Channel 5 officially dropped the newsreel format in favor of
live hosted newscasts on August 1, 1969.]
L to R:
Bob Schieffer and Russ Bloxom
"A few weeks after his
start, Schieffer urged me to join him. KXOL was paying me $140 a
week. Channel 5's news director, James A. Byron, offered me $25 more
to take the plunge into television. All I had to do was move from
west Fort Worth to east Fort Worth to a place called 'Broadcast Hill.'
"I was 27 when I made
that first drive. I felt as if I had hit the lotto years before its
coming. Wow...I was on television and people started recognizing
me. However, the real thrill was adding another dimension to my reporting
skills...the picture. My Channel 5 colleagues taught me how a picture,
indeed, is worth a thousand words. And, we reinforced at Channel
5 what Earle Fletcher had taught us at KXOL: 'When you report the
news, first get it right...being first will take care of itself.'
Russ Bloxom waits for his cue at the anchor desk
"Channel 5 assigned me
to do Schieffer's job on weekends. As ex-radio reporters who only
wore white dress shirts and ties at work, our debut on television required
wearing colored dress shirts, something new in menswear, and necessary
if you were on studio camera because white caused problems in the quality
of the picture (in those days.)
"Eventually, I anchored the
station's noon news weekdays and continued as a reporter primarily at the
Tarrant County Courthouse. Along the way, I learned a new medium
and covered even more criminals and characters. Politicians were
somewhere in between. A lady named "Sammie" was one of the characters.
She was telephone operator at the courthouse. In her happy Texas
twang, she always answered with what sounded like, "Tarrant County Whorehouse!"
L to R:
Jack Brown, Russ, Jerry Desmond, Lee Elsesser
"A few years later, Schieffer
moved to CBS in Washington. I succeeded him on the 6PM newscast.
Channel 5's one and only Jack Brown was picked to solo the 10PM news until
the arrival of two new professionals: a young, eager Chip Moody in
1972, and a seasoned veteran, Ward Andrews, in 1969.
team of the '70s...L to R (both photos:) Chip Moody,Ward Andrews,
said of Russ: "He's a no-nonsense journalist...one of the pioneers
of TV journalism."
of the trio: "Despite different personalities and with Chip's wise
respect of the two 'older guys,'
formed an 'on-camera' bond that attracted high ratings from an audience
experienced newscasters who could play with one another without heavy hand."
Linda Kaye (both)
"I was fortunate to work
with Ward and Chip the rest of my years at 5. Along with Roy Eaton,
who was first teamed with Ward at 10 PM, we played a role in another change
in the station's history...the introduction of co-anchors. (Roy
Eaton later moved to 'Inside Area 5' at 5 PM until that half-hour was changed
to a regular news format.) And, between news
stories, we indulged in what became known as 'chit chat', idle talk to
make us seem even more natural. While some thought it was silly,
most viewers liked it and Channel 5's ratings soared as the 'Area 5 Texas
News' audience grew larger. Ward, Chip and I also grew to be corrected
on the air by weatherman Harold
Taft for misleading introductions. Contrary to what many thought,
it was all in fun and unplanned. Harold would get the best of us
nightly. The audience loved it! And, Channel 5's newscasts
ranked supreme in the mid-1970s!
WBAP-TV changed call letters to KXAS-TV during this period, on May 16,
for Channel 5's newscasts
"The Cullen Davis murder
case, with estranged wife Priscilla
as lead accuser, was my second biggest news story. [Ed.
note: One of the highest profile court cases ever in DFW, millionaire
T. Cullen Davis was accused of killing his stepdaughter Andrea Welborn
and his wife's lover Stan Farr in August, 1976; Davis was acquitted after
lengthy, publicized trials that lasted into 1979.]
Cullen Davis' girlfriend, Karen Masters, had her relationship details revealed
before the media.
Priscilla Davis, Cullen's estranged wife, photographed in her Fort Worth
home: (L) standing
of an eerie 1971 painting by Wayne Ingram featuring her accused husband
in the foreground
behind; and (R) in a 'glove' seat overlooking the Fort Worth skyline.
of her husband's guilt was ignored by jurors. She lived a content
after the trials, and died in February, 2001 at age 59.
"We (Bill Hix, Linda Kaye
and I) covered the mistrial here and the acquittal in Amarillo. With
cameras barred from the courtroom, Channel 5 used special still photographs
of all parties in the case to report the trials. Not one person,
including Davis, the judges and lawyers, declined photographer Linda Kaye's
invitation to sit for pictures in a relaxed setting. As Linda clicked
away, Davis seemed to joke as he raised his arms in mock surrender and
blurted at her, 'I'm guilty!' We never showed it, but Channel 5's
possession of the photo drove Davis' PR people crazy. While other
stations groped to tell the trials visually, most viewers followed Channel
5's coverage with its exclusive, portrait-like photos of the newsmakers.
part of our lives in 1975...
L to R:
Doug Vair, Chip Moody, Harold Taft, Russ, Ward Andrews
"The pinnacle of my broadcast
career was week-long coverage of the Republican National Convention in
Kansas City in 1976 with photographer Jimmy Darnell. The age of videotape
was about to emerge. Channel 5 news was converting from 16mm film
to tape, and the convention would be our last to shoot with film.
However, the networks were showing off their videocams for the first time.
Photographers still relied on basic tools in case of a glitch. At
one point, we eyed a screwdriver taped to a new and expensive mini-cam!
Also, coverage by satellite was still the networks' toy in '76.
"For all those reasons,
Darnell and I had to fashion convention stories which would not be dated
24 hours later. We shipped by air reels of the film for 'next day'
developing, editing and airing on our evening newscasts. The newsroom
did not always agree with our choice of stories we sent back, including
a tall, wannabe Abe Lincoln, but it was indicative of the characters assembled.
limited media people on the floor by a rotation system of 30-minute intervals.
We chose to let others ahead of us as we gambled on when our floor passes
would serve us best. Timing was everything as the roll-call of states
decided Gerald Ford or Ronald Reagan for the party's presidential nomination.
Ford, and we, won. We were on the convention floor at the most perfect
time when voting gave the nomination to Ford. Channel 5 viewers saw
close-up the agony of defeat for staunch Reagan delegates in the Texas
delegation. Their painful loss, with tears captured by Darnell's
sensitive photography, was still emotional when seen a day later.
"Soon after the convention,
new news director Lee Elsesser picked me as co-anchor for Channel 5's new
newscast at 5PM. [Ed.
note: Premiering on September 19, 1977, Russ anchored with Ed Eubanks,
Harold Taft and longtime KRLD and CBS sportscaster Frank
Glieber (d. 5/1/1985.) Elsesser replaced Russ Thornton as news
director, who had been promoted to an administrative role at the station.]
goodbye to departing co-anchor Ward Andrews on camera in September, 1977.
from the station in protest of a demotion and for station management's
that he was losing popularity with viewers. He subsequently sued
Broadcasting, for age discrimination. Although Ward lost the case,
LIN was held
for all attorney and litigation costs. Letters and calls from dissatisfied
deaf ears, and Ward retired from broadcasting in the early 1980s.
"In March, 1979, I left
the station and broadcasting to go into private business. A few months
earlier, on September 28, 1978, we had aired pictures of the birth of our
only child in the operating room, a rarity 20 years ago. Some viewers
tell me to this day they remember that. [Ed.
note: Russ' daughter Stacy Bloxom graduated from Austin College in
2000, and teaches in the Arlington (TX) school district. Russ and
wife Sanda were divorced in 1988.]
former wife Sanda celebrate the birth of daughter Stacy Bloxom
28, 1978. This and other still photos of the event were shown
on the KXAS
newscasts that evening.
"I appeared at exactly
6PM to the second Monday through Friday for 11 of my 13 years at Channel
5. It was a long run for television. I remain grateful for
the experience. And, I forever will be proud of the accomplishments
my colleagues and I achieved as TV journalists.
"If you remember us as
a Channel 5 viewer in the '70s, we appreciate your loyalty then and your
remembrances today. For my time at 5, it was a hell of a ride.
Cherish the moments and thank you for sharing the saddle."
Today, Russ Bloxom lives
in Arlington, TX and is the Marketing Director for Speed
Fab-Crete in nearby Kennedale, a successful construction company his
late brother, former TCU football star and entrepreneur Dave Bloxom, started
in 1950. Speed Fab-Crete, manufacturers of "fast and fabulous" concrete
structures such as the new Don Davis car dealership buildings in southern
Tarrant County, won a $5.5 million contract to build Classic Hummer in
Grapevine, the very first exclusive Hummer dealer in Texas!
Russ was part of the business
world in his Channel 5 days as well; he and former wife Sanda owned an
antique and gift shop known as "Sanda and Russ' Pastime" in Weatherford,
TX in the mid-1970s. Sanda was a veteran of local TV as well; she
co-hosted the morning talk show "Reveille" on KTVT-Channel
11 with future 'Icky Twerp' Bill
Camfield (d. 9/30/1991) in the early 1960s.
Mike Shannon with Russ Bloxom at the KFJZ Radio Reunion, January 2001
Mike Shannon Collection
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FOR "WHERE ARE THEY NOW?"
Find out what your favorite Channel
5 and KXOL personalities are doing today!
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