HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Dave Ward is unquestionably the most popular news anchor in Houston. And he's been on the air longer than any other anchor in the nation. This coming Tuesday night, he will sign off for the last time on Eyewitness News at 10pm, although he is not going anywhere. He will continue to anchor the 6:00 newscast every evening.
But while you know Dave Ward, you may not know how that illustrious career came to be, as he told anchor Melanie Lawson.
"Good evening, friends." He's been saying those words every night for 48 years.
And if you wonder where it came from, he says, " I don't know. I just wanted something to relate to the viewer to let them know that we're really here for you. So I started saying good evening, friends and have for all these years."
And along with his signature open, there's his signature close, which he calls "before we go".
"If it's a 30-minute newscast, for 29 and a half minutes, we've been telling you about fires and wrecks and who knows what." He decided he wanted "to leave the viewer with a little lighter touch at the end of the newscast. I don't know. It gives us a little bit of a balance. I enjoy doing it."
Dave didn't start out to be a newsman. He went to Tyler Junior College on a band scholarship, playing trumpet. But he says he wasn't much of a student and a job mixing cement out in the Texas heat made him re-think things and follow one of his fraternity brothers to work at a radio station.
"There," he says, "you could work inside where it was air-conditioned and you could sit down." That was enough for him, so he learned the audio board and how to cue up records and tapes.
It's also where he became Dave Ward. He explains, "My name is David, but the General Manager said you can't go on the air as David. It's too biblical. Shorten it to Dave. That's more jaunty. I didn't even know what jaunty meant, but if it meant getting a job at the radio station, I became Dave Ward."
Ward started off working from 5 to 7 in the evenings, making $1.25 an hour, $12.50 a week. He eventually moved from Tyler to Waco, and to a radio station with a news department. He watched the reporters there with envy.
"They were out there all the time, on the phone, ripping wire copy, writing scripts, running out the door to fires and so forth," he said, "while I'm stuck in that control room, playing Vaughan Monroe over and over and I thought that's a lot more interesting than what I'm doing."
Then in 1962, he moved to Houston when KNUZ radio hired him as a street reporter. After four years there, Channel 13 came calling. But his father, who was a Baptist minister in Huntsville, wasn't so sure it was a good idea.
He told me, "David, you've got a pretty good record in radio. You don't know anything about this television." As Dave remembers with a laugh, "I said, Dad, trust me, I think i can pick it up."
Monday night on Eyewitness News at 6 and 10, we will have more on Dave's early days at Channel 13 and some of his favorite stories over the years.