The John McCaa you don’t know is a self-described “art freak” and onetime R-rated standup comic who was raised in Spain, vacations annually in Italy, and likes nothing more than losing himself in the beat of his in-home drum set.
What’s more, he’s a man who “can listen to an opera and break out in tears.” But seriously, folks, he’s also a playful mimic known to imitate his bosses at work.
“I like to have a lot more fun than people think,” McCaa insists. “And maybe that’ll come out someday on the air. Maybe.”
Don’t bet on it.
For the most part, McCaa holds hard and fast to his public image as the rock-steady straight man of WFAA-TV’s (Channel 8) No. 1-rated 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts. It’s been a long, steady and largely unheralded climb for McCaa, who joined the station in 1984 and spent his first three years as a reporter in the Fort Worth bureau.
“John McCaa is a straight-to-the-point newsman,” says Lucy Scott, former CBS News producer of 13 years standing who now teaches broadcast journalism at Southern Methodist University. “Fairness counts, and when he tells you a story, you believe him. He’s real.”
“He’s a complex, smart and talented man in ways that people would never ever realize,” adds 6 and 10 p.m. co-anchor Gloria Campos, who arrived at Channel 8 in the same year as McCaa. “I just wish he would show a little bit more of that. It’s not that he’s shy. It’s just that he’s private. I guess maybe he’s kind of the conscience of our broadcast. The guys may go a little too far sometimes. And John won’t go there.”
The guys she refers to are sports anchor Dale Hansen and weathercaster Pete Delkus, whose spiked punches at one another have become part of the nightly routine. Campos doesn’t mind throwing a few darts herself. That leaves McCaa as the headmaster in residence, the guy who takes it upon himself to restore order en route to the next commercial break. He says it’s by choice.
“Is there something constraining about the role I play? Yeah, there’s no question, and I’ve thought for a while about trying to join in that mix,” McCaa says. “But imagine an ensemble performance, and four people trying to play the same role. I mean, that’s not gonna work well.
“But to be honest, the world is such a nuthouse that you need some joking. I’ve made it my mission to make sure that people don’t forget why we’re here in the first place.”
Hansen readily agrees. “Being dead-serious all 30 minutes every day wouldn’t work, and we’ve seen that,” he says. “But if we didn’t have John to pull Delkus and me back in line sometimes, well, that wouldn’t work either.”
“If John were another Dale, it’d be a four-ring circus every night,” Delkus adds. “I don’t know if you’d get any news, but we’d certainly have a good time.”
It’s ironic, though. Because McCaa’s the one who used to be the funny guy in Omaha, Neb., nightclubs while otherwise reporting and later anchoring for the city’s WOWT-TV.
“I’ve spent more time in front of audiences doing comedy than any of them,” he says of his WFAA colleagues. “But that was a long, long time ago.”
A Well-Traveled Background
McCaa, who turned 55 in February, is the well-traveled son of Air Force lifer Johnnie McCaa and his late wife, Margaret. They birthed their only boy in Champaign County, Ill., home of the Chanute Air Force Base until it was closed in 1993.
McCaa’s father, now 78 and living in Colorado Springs, Colo., came from a family of Alabama sharecroppers. “There weren’t a lot of opportunities for blacks in those days,” McCaa says. So his father joined the service in 1950, rising to senior airmen advisor for the 16th Air Force during his 28 years in uniform before retiring and becoming personnel director for the Harrison School District in Colorado Springs.
The McCaas—John also has a sister, Debra—relocated wherever and whenever the Air Force demanded. It took them on a path from Champaign to Mountain Home, Idaho; to Omaha, Neb.; and to Torrejon, Spain, before return trips to Omaha and Spain.
“And then I went to college” for a Jesuit education, McCaa says, at Omaha’s Creighton University, where he graduated with a degree in journalism and mass communication.
His years in Spain were formative. McCaa went through fourth, fifth, and half of sixth grade at the Torrejon Air Force Base school near Madrid. He then completed his sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school after Johnnie McCaa was reassigned to Spain.
Margaret McCaa regularly took her son and daughter to The Prado, where John developed his life-long appreciation of art. The McCaas also were in Spain when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
“My sister was taking a bath” when neighbors came calling with the news, McCaa remembers vividly. “It was night in Spain, and at the end of every street they had these little poles where these red lights would flash whenever there was an alert. So it was a real experience, a very different feeling there as opposed to here.”
He rarely looked at television, though. The airwaves were controlled then by “Franco TV,” says McCaa, referring to Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.