Local Morning Newscasters are Horned Frogs
Four familiar faces on Dallas-Fort Worth morning TV learned their craft at TCU.
Purple has spread across morning news in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Chip Waggoner ’91, Russ McCaskey ’87, Marc Istook ’98 and Deborah Ferguson ’87 are the morning faces of competing television stations in a top 10 media market, but they are connected by a shared passion for keeping their community informed on current events.
“What happens locally matters and affects our daily lives,” said Istook, anchor for Daybreak on WFAA-TV (Channel 8). “It’s important locally [for the] same reason it’s important nationally.
“The role of journalism in a free country in a democracy cannot be overstated when it comes to letting people know what’s happening in their neighborhood, on their block, in their city and their state,” he said.
Chip Waggoner: From Chopper to Studio
Waggoner, traffic reporter for KDFW-TV (Channel 4), once envisioned himself as a great teacher in the making. Pursuing an education major in his first semester at TCU, Waggoner wasn’t hooked on journalism until he took a radio/TV/film class, he said.
“I’ve never had a problem with being in front of crowds. I was in plays and musicals growing up,” Waggoner said. “So I just decided: You know what? I’m going to change majors and see what happens.”
With a major in radio/TV/film, a minor in journalism and experience announcing baseball games on KTCU, Waggoner had the skills to produce, edit and write. That landed him a job as an airborne reporter at the Fox station.
“When I applied for the position, they were looking for someone who could be the reporter, cameraman, engineer and edit a tape deck, all in a helicopter,” he said, “and cover breaking news by running a camera that was mounted to the nose of a helicopter.”
For 12 years, Waggoner flew in a helicopter covering breaking stories before he was assigned to the studio as a traffic reporter in 2008. He said the biggest transition to the newsroom was relearning computer programs.
“When I was moved into the studio, the graphics took a quantum leap,” he said. “The ability to start putting sensors in the road, getting up-to-date information was changing, and I had to relearn a lot of stuff that was computer-related. It was a Who Moved My Cheese? moment.”
But Waggoner was at ease in front of a TV camera and credits his team behind the scenes for helping him perfect his on-air appearance. “I do a lot of hard work, but there are a lot of other people that are working just as hard,” he said. “It takes a village. It’s not about me, it’s about the team. Not only that, it’s not about me, it’s about the viewer.”
Waggoner shakes off the occasional miscues that happen on live TV and keeps going, his focus on the viewer. “The bottom line is this: If I’m thinking about you the viewer and putting you first in everything that I do, what I found is that everything else falls into place.”
Russ McCaskey: Conversation With the Audience
McCaskey, This Morning anchor for KTVT-TV (Channel 11), had to experiment with classes before he found his “path in life.”
McCaskey started as a radio/TV/film major but didn’t see himself following a movie director’s track. He switched to business and along the way stumbled into an introductory journalism class.
“I kind of started late into the journalism degree,” he said. “As a result, I was a little behind the ball. I learned quickly, and by the time I graduated I was very confident in my abilities. I knew that this was something I wanted to do, and I felt like I’d be pretty good at it.”
As a morning anchor, McCaskey is up before dawn and home by noon for a nap until 3 p.m. “There’s no such thing as a bad nap,” he said.
With a wife and two college-age children, he often spends time with family before he goes to bed at 9 p.m.
McCaskey, with the CBS affiliate for almost five years, said the best part of his shift is the 2 1/2-hour conversation he has with the audience on the station’s longest newscast of the day. The work schedule allows him time to cover more stories in depth, giving the audience a first look at what’s happening in the community.
“As local journalists, we’re able to help make a difference in people’s lives,” McCaskey said. “We’re able to put a spotlight on issues in our neighborhoods, our cities, our state and be more impactful than something that happens on a global scale.”
Marc Istook: Starting Viewers’ Day
After a 17-year hiatus from his hometown, Istook returned to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in July 2019 to join the morning news team at WFAA.
While at TCU, he had two internships with the ABC affiliate. But landing the first job after graduation was not immediate. He started at the Denison, Texas, NBC affiliate in summer 1999 as a sports reporter and weekend sports anchor.
“Oh, boy, I thought I would find my first job a lot sooner,” he said. “I don’t know that I ever would have thought of the career path plot of the course that I’ve taken, although it has been unbelievably rewarding and fulfilling.”
In 2001, Istook moved to California to pursue hosting jobs and ended up covering sports at a Santa Monica station. He then hosted red carpet festivities at award shows before eventually working for the NFL Network as a sports broadcaster.
A voracious consumer of news, media and information, Istook said the return to a local news desk allows him to do what he loves.
“I’m getting to help people get their day started,” he said. “I’m a part of people’s lives, getting invited into their home, helping them get ready for their commute to work and letting them know what happened last night when they were asleep.
“To be able to be part of that and a community that I care so much about is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Istook said.
He sees a broad role for strong journalism beyond local morning broadcasts, “whether it’s on the national or local level.”
“As we see sources of news proliferate, many of them questionable, I think people want to find outlets they can trust — a news source that cares about viewers and who viewers, in turn, can trust to look out for their interests and the interests of their community,” he said.
“As long as there are things happening in the world, there will be a need for solid journalism.”
Deborah Ferguson: People’s Stories
Ferguson, NBC 5 Today anchor and a first-generation college graduate, got her first job with TV Listing doing data entry after interning at KXAS-TV (Channel 5) and WBAP-AM (820).
“I got to read about programs, write about them and review them,” Ferguson said. She saw it as “OK, that’s using some of my writing and journalism skills,” she said. “[But] I realized I wasn’t going out and being a reporter. I was sitting at a desk, putting information into a computer, which I did not want to do.”
Months later, Ferguson received a call from the news director at WBAP with a job offer at the Fort Worth radio station. “It was bad hours, bad pay, it was great for me,” she said. “I was in the profession I wanted to be a part of.
“I was in the newsroom, I was part of the events of the day, I was learning how to do interviews, how to write for news and feeling the urgency and immediacy that comes with breaking news.”
All of the things Ferguson said she loves about journalism today were part of her WBAP job. In 1991, she returned to KXAS, where she uses those skills for her morning news job as well as in community involvement.
“Our job is to let people know what’s happening, what’s going on and what issues are affecting them,” she said. “If I’m not in the community, I don’t know the issues. I have to have conversations with people, see it, feel it, breathe it and ask the question ‘Why?’ to get the answers.”
Ferguson said her love for people’s stories and experiences taught her more about herself. “We have so much more in common than the things that separate us,” she said. “I think it’s true if we take the time to look past labels, judgment and get to know somebody and take a moment to be vulnerable and let someone get to know us, our world will be so much better.”