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NORTH TEXAS (CBS11) – If there were ever a person who exemplified Texas and what it stands for, it just might be the man known to generations as the Texas Country Reporter.
For many North Texans, it seems there was never a time when Bob Phillips wasn’t in their living rooms on Saturday evenings.
Week after week– for 43 years– Phillips has traveled the back roads of Texas, turning out stories about everyday people.
Longtime North Texans remember Phillips from his earliest days in TV, on the then-CBS affiliate in Dallas Fort Worth. He’d managed to sweet-talk his way into an entry level position during his freshman year at SMU.
“I was 18 years old, and I was young and dumb and knew nothing,” recalls Phillips. “And for some reason, they hired me because I said I’d sweep the studio, I’ll wash your war, I’ll pick up the dry cleaning, whatever it takes to get my foot in the door and get a job in television.”
That decision paid dividends, because from there his star began to rise. He worked his way up to photographer, reporter, and then, in October of 1972, he and several colleagues convinced management to let them put together a series of Charles Kuralt-style “good news” stories in a one-time only special.
“They threw me the keys to this old 1968 Ford Econoline van that was set to go to the junkyard,” says Phillips. “It had 173,000 miles on it already, and it didn’t have any air conditioning, and they said, ‘Okay, take that. By the way, here’s a gas card, and go see what you can find. Put a show together.’”
And they did– to wide viewer acclaim. But it may surprise viewers to learn that Phillips wasn’t the show’s first host.
“I was not the first host of the show, or the second, or the third. I was the FOURTH choice,” Phillips says with a laugh.
The show was such a success from outset that Phillips and his colleagues were asked to put together another show, and another…never quite knowing how long their luck would hold.
“As a matter of fact,” says Phillips, “we would do a goodbye episode at the end of every season, because we thought surely they’re not going to let us do this again next year.”
But they did—week after week for 15 years– until Phillips crossed the street to another Dallas station. That was when he decided to syndicate his show so it could be seen beyond North Texas.
“Here it is 30 years later,” says Phillips. “And we’re still on in every television market in Texas, and nationwide on a small cable outlet. We get people who’ve never even been to Texas who watch this show on our nationwide broadcast, and say, ‘Gosh, I love these stories about Texas.’ And that’s because of the whole mystique and the history and the culture of Texas.”
Not much has changed about the show since its inception in 1972. The theme music has been updated, and since the beginning of this current season, Phillips’ wife, Kelly– who is a longtime television journalist in her own right– is now sharing in the hosting duties.
“It’s changed the dynamic,” says Phillips, “but the stories are exactly the same. We haven’t changed what we’re doing, it’s just that we’re doing it together.”
And even after traveling every inch of our great state, it seems they’ll never run out of stories to tell.
“I have people say to me, ‘Well, when are you going to run out of stories?’ And I say, ‘When they quit making more people,” says Phillips.
“There’s so much myth and majesty and history and all of the stuff that combines together to make this place called Texas, and we get to tell its story week after week, year after year.”
And fortunately for us– and the rest of Texas– Phillips has no intention of slowing down.
“I love it, I absolutely do,” says Phillips. “You’d think I would have gotten tired, and maybe that’s some sort of personality flaw, that I’ve been doing this for my entire adult life—more than 40 years—and I’m not tired of it. I don’t ever want to do something else.”
Texas Country Reporter can be seen every Saturday at 6:30 p.m., on our sister station, TXA21.
(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)