Billy Surface

Media

A Conversation With John McCaa as He Steps Away From TV News

The longtime WFAA personality calls it quits this week.

After 42 years in the business, 35 of them at WFAA, how did you get the sense that it was time to retire? I really started to think about it three years ago, when I broke my jaw. I was having an implant put in, and the dentist told me, “Make sure you don’t eat anything hard.” Well, I like French bread a lot. I bit into it and I noticed that the crunch seemed kind of strange. During the recovery, that’s when I had time to sit back and think that this really is a changing environment, not just here locally but in the media, in general. It’s become much more of a “watch me” rather than “watch this” kind of environment. So I was like, well, I worked on this degree for a long time. Maybe it’s time to make that move.

It’s a Ph.D., yes? Yeah. In history of ideas. It’s an interdisciplinary degree that they have at UTD. You pick three fields, and mine were American political thought and digital media and how people cross borders and that sort of thing throughout history.

I don’t see how that stuff applies to anything that’s going on now, John. Seems totally irrelevant. It was a waste of time and money on your part to study that. But you mentioned political thought. We’ve got a really crowded race for Dallas mayor. You thinking about jumping in? Oh, Lord, no. Lord, no. No, no. It has never crossed my mind to run for office. I have no interest in something like that.

You learned from Brett Shipp’s political flameout? You don’t want any part of that? [laughs] I knew that Brett was passionate about what he wanted to do and what he wanted to say. And I wish him well. But, again, I’m not necessarily sure that I’m the person who has those kind of answers for people.

When you think of all the years that you’ve worked in Dallas, what is the story that you’ll most vividly remember? Oh, the shooting of the police officers in downtown. The two most difficult years I had in Dallas were 1988 and 1996. In ’88, we had five police officers killed. People on all sides were using the deaths of those officers to advance their thoughts of the direction of the city. Which I thought then, and still believe, was a horrible thing. And ’96 was similar simply because of some of the same issues we’re dealing with now. It’s a sad thing. It really is a sad thing.

In 1991 D Magazine put you on the cover for a profile. We said that you were, at least symbolically, the most influential person of color in the city. How has Dallas changed—or has it—since 1991? Oh, goodness. In every city in the country, some issues continue to evolve. As far as my being influential, I think the change is in how we elect the City Council. The city’s leadership certainly makes many people of color much more influential than me.

It’s mid-January as we talk. Have you thought about how you’re going to sign off on your last newscast, on March 1? I’m halfway through writing that. I will probably rewrite it three or four times and add some ideas and that sort of thing. But, yeah, I think about that. I really do love this city. I know that people fuss and scream about all the kinds of problems that we have here. But then I look at Chicago and I look at Los Angeles and New York, and they got the same problems we got. The difference is, I think, if you have honest people in a room here, they may sit down and have a fistfight, but they at least come out with some solutions. And that, to me, makes a big difference.

You gonna be able to keep it together, not cry? Probably not. I’m a pretty emotional guy.

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