Before Russ McCaskey began his gig co-anchoring CBS 11 News This Morning on June 1, KTVT/Channel 11 ran a promo about all his North Texas connections: born in downtown Dallas, third-generation Texan, grew up in Plano, went to TCU (“go Frogs!”), family all over DFW.
McCaskey, who comes to CBS 11 after a nearly 15-year stint at KJRH in Tulsa (where he anchored the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts), was never that far away, and returned to DFW frequently. But still, he notices a lot of change.
“It has grown tremendously,” he says. “Some things still look familiar to me, but so much is new, and one of the things I look forward to is exploring all the new stuff that’s out there.” He’s a fan of the old-school stuff in Fort Worth: Angelo’s, Kincaid’s, Joe T.’s.
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McCaskey fills an anchor hole that had been open since August, when former morning co-anchor Brendan Higgins was fired after being arrested in Aspen, Colo., after an altercation with local police. CBS 11 reporter Jason Allen filled in alongside Adrienne Bankert till she left at the end of 2014, and then alongside Karen Borta when she moved to mornings early this year. Allen was always “temporary”; McCaskey is “permanent” in the slot. We chatted with him about his gig and his career.
On whether he’s a morning person: “[Laughs] I am. I consider myself a morning person. But getting up at 2 o’clock in the morning is a whole different ballgame. So there’s an adjustment period, no doubt about it. My body’s feeling that at this point. It can be jarring when you go from working evenings as long as I did. But so far, so good. When I get up, I’m one of those people who’s up. I don’t hit the snooze button again and again and again. It’s several hours later that you start to hit that mid-morning lull.”
Coffee regimen: “I’m not a huge coffee guy at this point. Evertone keeps telling me, ‘You will be, you will be.’ When I go to Starbucks, I usually get the chai tea and stuff like that, but I may be heading that way soon.
Before he was on TV: “My first job, I worked at Foot Locker in Collin Creek Mall [in Plano]. We had a poster in the back room that said, ‘The guy in the striped shirt controls the game.’ It was a great job for a high-school kid. It was indoors, it was in the mall, and all your friends were coming to the mall, so you got to hang out with your friends and eat lunch with them and so forth on your lunch break. I started working there just before I turned 16, worked there my junior and senior year of high school.
First paying journalism job: “I was sports editor at the TCU Skiff. The guy from the Austin-American Statesman called me, and this is when TCU was in the Southwest Conference. He said, ‘We’re looking for some people to write some stories’ — and actually, stories is kind of a loose word, mainly it was just injury updates, things like that during the week. It was pretty much the sports editors for most of the schools [doing this]. He said, ‘It pays $100 a week, and I said, ‘I’m in.’ ”
On whether he got into broadcast journalism accidentally or on purpose: “When I went to college, I had no idea what I was going to do. It was my sophomore year, I was taking writing classes, still in the core curriculum. I had an accounting class that semester that I barely scraped by in and got a C, and a mass-media journalism class and got an A. ... I had a great teacher who inspired me, and I thought, ‘This is something I can do, and this is something I want to do.’ I’ve been doing it ever since.
First time on-air: Sherman, Texas, KXII. It was my very first job. I interned at [DFW’s] KXAS with Scott Murray in sports. I was looking for a sports job, so I went to TV stations around the Dallas area, sent letters to Wichita Falls, Tyler, places like that. So I went to Sherman and talked with the news director. He said, ‘Well, we haven’t hired a sports guy in three years. But we have news jobs that come open from time to time, would you be interested in that if something came up.’ I said, ‘absolutely.’ I was out of school and needed a job. So he called me a couple of weeks later and said, ‘We’ll hire you as a photographer/reporter.’ I said, ‘Great.’
My first day on the air, I did a taped story, and at the end of the day, the news director, Loren Farr, said, ‘Have you ever anchored before?’ I said, ‘No.’ And he said, ‘Why don’t you try the midday show tomorrow?’ What I didn’t know was that a weekend anchor had just quit. The next day I showed up to do the midday show, and at a placre like KXII, you’re pretty much doing it all. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even really know news at all, I came from the sports world. I got with the director and said, ‘What do I do?’ [Laughs] He had to guide me through it, but when we got done, it was one of the best feelings in the world. I realized that this was what I was going to do the rest of my life. It was one of those watershed moments where you just realize, ‘This is it.’ ”
Most memorable story: “Probably the one I get asked about the most is witnessing an execution. It’s something not a lot of people see, and it’s become so controversial, with the changes in the drug protocols. It was interesting to see how that transpired. The one I witnessed was eight or nine years ago, so it was before all the issued that have come up, but I still think about it some. It’s to see a planned death and witness it and see how it happened. I will say the one I watched was just like watching someone go to sleep. ... There was nothing frightening about it, but it did take a little bit to come to terms with that.”
Any Ron Burgundy moments? [Laughs] Probably — I probably have a ton of ’em, but none that really come to mind. [Laughs harder when asked if he’s witnessed any.] When I was in Sherman, we had a guy who was filling in in sports, and it was a photographer who had never been on-air before. I’m reading the news, the show starts — and I hear yelling out in the hallway. I thought we literally had a fight going on in the hallway outside the studio. Come to find out it was this guy who had never been on-air before, and he was practicing his scripts, and he was shouting them at the top of his lungs, he was so keyed up. And when he got on the air, it was sweat just pouring down his face the entire time.”
[Update: In our original interview, I forgot to ask McCaskey one of my standard questions for anchors. His answer, via email, is below]
“Secret life”: I have a passion for riding a bike … and not the Harley Davidson kind … the bicycle. I got into cycling about 10 years ago and did some triathlons … but the coolest thing I ever did was a bike ride from London to Paris.
4 days. 315 miles (ish)
It was a charity ride for a group called Action Medical Network out of the U.K.. I have a friend in London who called me and asked if I wanted to participate, and I jumped at the chance. The first day we went from London to Dover and caught the ferry across the channel to France. And spent the next three days touring around the northeastern part of France. We rode Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Arrived in Paris on Saturday. We rode right down the Champs-Elysees and then crossed the Seine River and ended at the Eiffel Tower.
And if that wasn’t enough, the following day — Sunday — was the end of the Tour de France. So we got to see the real cyclists in action. It was amazing.