The concept was pretty simple: put a reporter and a cameraman in a Ford Econoline nicknamed Esmerelda. Send them all over Texas to interview interesting people in small towns, especially folks who make things with their hands and hearts, like rocking chairs and poetry. The weekend show that resulted became a huge hit in Dallas and this year celebrates its 50th year on the air.
Texas Country Reporter, now carried nationally on RFD-TV, claims to be the longest-running independently produced TV show in the country. It started in 1972 on Channel 4 and was called 4 Country Reporter. Bob Phillips, son of East Dallas, didn’t host that first year, but he soon took the wheel, eventually steering the show to Channel 8, where it was renamed 8 Country Reporter. In 1987, Dallas Morning News TV critic Ed Bark called it “the best and most beloved local program in the history of Dallas television.” That same year, Channel 8 canceled the show, and Phillips started syndicating it himself.
To celebrate the show’s longevity, Phillips has written a memoir titled A Good Long Drive: Fifty Years of Texas Country Reporter, and he’s embarking on a 13-city tour that will culminate with a festival in Waxahachie.
Q&A: 5 Mostly True Things You Didn’t Know About Bob
- He owes his angelic singing voice to Willie Nelson. “I wanted to be a singer in a rock-and-roll band when I was about 11, but my dad wanted me to be a country or gospel singer. One Saturday night, Daddy took me to Panther Hall in Fort Worth for audition night. There was a guy playing onstage when we got there, but he took a break and they let a few wannabes come up and perform. When my turn came, the band leader asked what I wanted to sing, and I said, ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ The problem was, I had only sung that song with my dad’s Hank Williams album playing on our boat anchor stereo in the living room. When the band started playing, I was so confused that I just fell apart and ran off stage, where I buried my face in my dad’s chest. The guy who had been singing when we got there came over and tried to make me feel better. He said, ‘You done real good, Bobby. Just keep practicing.’ That guy was Willie Nelson, before he was famous. We’ve been friends ever since.”
- He went to live with his girlfriend when he was 15, after his one-armed father, who called him Booger, blew a hole in the ceiling of their East Dallas house with a shotgun. “Well, yes and no. Daddy did call me Booger or, sometimes, Boy Kid. And he did have only one arm. He was my hero, and I thought I lived in the blue-collar version of the Leave It to Beaver house. Until one day I didn’t. When I was 15, my parents, who had been married more than 20 years at the time, decided to join the popular American pastime of the mid-’60s called divorce. They argued, they split up, got back together over and over. One night I was asleep when a loud boom woke me up. Daddy was trying to leave the house and wanted to take his shotgun with him because he thought my mother was suicidal. She tried to wrestle the gun away and pulled the trigger in the process. It blew a hole in our hallway ceiling and a bigger hole in my heart. I was done. The next day, the saintly parents of my high school girlfriend invited me to move in with them.”
He might never have gotten a chance to host 4 Country Reporter if the show’s first host hadn’t gotten himself arrested. “This is touchy because I think the original host of the show always thought I was the guy who turned him in to the Dallas Police Department, but I did not and really didn’t even know he was involved in drugs. Who wasn’t in the early ’70s? Me, that’s who.”
- At the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, he had to run a TV camera while his brother got to party with Ray Charles. “Why do people think everybody who isn’t on the air at a TV station runs a camera? At the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, my brother, Bill, was the chief of staff of the Republican Party, and I worked behind the scenes as a producer who sat in a control room and talked into anchor Clarice Tinsley’s ear about who and what was coming up next and how much time she had to talk. No one outside of the TV people knew I was there, while my big brother sat on the podium next to Ronald Reagan. He reminds me to this day that he is a much bigger deal than I am. Truth is, I agree with him, though I would never tell him that. By the way, Bill has a great story about how, moments before the final session of that convention, Ray Charles demanded more money to play after the acceptance speech. Bill delivered it to him in cash in a brown paper bag, and the show went on.”
- When he made the jump from Channel 4 to Channel 8, none other than Dale Hansen drove the taxi that took him to his new job. “After 16 years working at KDFW and more than 14 years of 4 Country Reporter, the station canceled my show. I quickly closed a deal to move to WFAA. A couple years earlier, my friend Dale Hansen had left Channel 4 to move to Channel 8. ‘You need to come over here and work,’ he told me several times. When Dale made the switch, Channel 8 produced a promo that showed him walking out of Channel 4 and getting into a taxi. ‘I’m moving down the street to go to work,’ he told the oblivious driver. The cab pulled up to WFAA, and Dale got out and went inside. When I left KDFW, I walked out of Channel 4 and got into a taxi. I told the driver how I was going to work at the station down the street. He couldn’t have cared less and dropped me off at WFAA. As I walked away, the camera cut to a tight shot of the cab driver and he says, ‘Cheapskate didn’t even leave a tip.’ It was Dale Hansen.”
Big D Boys Club
- Wes Wise (1929–) was a sports anchor at Channel 4 (then KRLD-TV). In 1960, he called Cowboys games with Davey O’Brien for CBS. He went on to become the mayor of Dallas (1971–1976) and sue D Magazine for libel in 1975. He lost.
- Harold Taft (1922–1991) was the first TV meteorologist west of the Mississippi and worked at Channel 5 for 41 years. When he started, in 1949, his show was called Weather Telefacts.
Charlie Rose (1942–) started his eponymous show on Channel 5 in 1979 before going on to national fame and infamy.
- Bob Schieffer (1937–) also started his broadcasting career at Channel 5 before going on to anchor CBS Evening News and moderate Face the Nation.
- Jerry Haynes (1927–2011) was better known as Mr. Peppermint. He was also the father of Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes and the first reporter
to break the news on local TV of the JFK assassination. His children’s show
produced in the Channel 8 studios started in 1961 and was syndicated to 108 markets before its end in 1996.
- Bill Camfield (1929–1991) played Icky Twerp (aka Ichamore Twerpwhistle) on the Channel 11 kid’s show Slam Bang Theater from 1959 to 1972.
Jim Lehrer (1934–2020), who went on to fame at PBS, started his TV career in 1970 at Channel 13 by moderating the show Newsroom, which featured a reporter named Jim Atkinson, who would go on to co-found D Magazine with Wick Allison in 1974 and get sued for a story he wrote about Wes Wise, the mayor of Dallas.