River cruises and drumming: WFAA’s John McCaa talks about his post-retirement plans

WFAA/Channel 8 anchor John McCaa, in a 2011 file photo. An amateur drummer, McCaa says he’s not quite ready to start gigging yet after he retires March 1. But he says he could be with a little practice.
WFAA/Channel 8 anchor John McCaa, in a 2011 file photo. An amateur drummer, McCaa says he’s not quite ready to start gigging yet after he retires March 1. But he says he could be with a little practice. Star-Telegram archives

Practically from the moment news of WFAA/Channel 8 anchor John McCaa’s impending retirement hit Facebook on Monday night, DFW social media began spreading the news. Rapidly.

His Facebook Live and other WFAA social-media posts were quickly shared or retweeted. Congratulatory comments poured in. And this was all before McCaa told his news the old-fashioned way — during the 10 p.m. newscast.

In these social-media-savvy times, when viewers connect more directly with media personalities than ever before, it can sound almost naive when the personalities say that they’re shocked and flattered by such a response. After all, McCaa has been one of the steadiest anchor presences on DFW TV in the past few decades — co-anchoring weeknight newscasts since 1992, on a station he’d been with since 1984.

But when McCaa says he’s shocked and flattered, it doesn’t sound naive.

“It’s nice to be well thought-of, it really is” McCaa said in a Tuesday-afternoon phone interview. “But I never got into this to be some celebrity. To me, it’s information. It’s a means of passing information to people through society. And I’ve always loved doing that.”

McCaa, 64, adds that he’s grateful for the response, and that he’s been thinking about retirement for a while. He and his wife Nora have been discussing moving closer to her parents in McAllen. But he’s also been wanting to do more writing and reading (in 2015, he received a Ph.D. in Humanities-History of Ideas from The University of Texas at Dallas) and a little teaching.

He is not retiring, however, till March 1 — and the long lead time from his announcement does seem unusual (although it does allow him to say through February sweeps).

“My contract would’ve expired much earlier,” he says. “At the end of this year. But they said ‘you can stay as long as you want.’ This gives Nora and I enough time to make whatever life-changing plans we want to make, it gives the station a chance to make the changes they think they need to make. It’s what everyone is comfortable with.”

He will likely get some sort of on-air sendoff, but he doesn’t want a big blowout.

“It’s just not me,” he says. “I’m from an old-fashioned military family, and those families don’t normally go around tooting their own horn. And I’m from Nebraska, and I always point to Warren Buffett [an Omaha native] . You never see Warren Buffett on the social circuit. He’s almost the richest guy on the planet, and you could down to the Omaha equivalent of Whataburger and find him standing in front of you.”

So ... what’s he gonna do for fun?

“After I retire, we’re going on a very long trip,” he says. “We want to try one of those Viking River Cruises. When we haven’t been to a particular place, we will usually cruise there, to determine whether we want to go back and spend some time. Because cruising, you’re usually only there for a day. It’s a good way to kind of briefly explore areas.”

He’ll also enjoy being able to spend more time when he travels. The longest vacation he’s taken since he’s been at Channel 8 was three weeks, and usually it’s one or two weeks.. When news anchors are off the air for long enough, viewers start wondering what happened to them.

“When I’m on vacation, I look at my email but I don’t answer it,” he says. “And about 13 days in, you start to get this, ‘Where are you?’ “

McCaa is also an amateur drummer, and he hopes to start gigging a little bit, but he says he needs more practice before he’s ready to play in public. He has performed before, but he’s a little rusty. (This is a long clip, but if you go to the 7-minute mark, you can catch a glimpse of McCaa’s playing — and you can hear him throughout.)

McCaa has been doing what he does for a long time — he was on TV in Omaha for seven years before he came to DFW — but before TV, he wanted to do radio. He grew up in the military, and went to high school in Spain. His family had a television — but he didn’t watch it. Or at least not much of it.

“I watched the landing on the moon of Apollo 11, and I watched the return of Apollo 13,” he says. “With the exception of those two, I don’t think I watched anything else.”

But he did listen to the American radio station, AFN Spain, and he was do fascinated by it that he got an internship at it. It fueled his interest in information and passing it on to people. When he entered college, he was interested in doing documentaries but didn’t have the resources to make them. And he was interested in radio.

But when he came back to the U.S., he started watching TV. And he found that he liked it.

“I thought I could make it a career as long as I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to put on the air,” he says. “The advent of the Internet and social media has changed that dramatically, because the definition of what is news is just so much larger than it used to be.”