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Valley newsman retires Adios, Rick Diaz

By G. Romeo Wendorf
Where does all the time go? Last time I checked, it was 1980. Hurricane Allen was hovering just east of Brownsville and it didn’t look good for pilots like me who had an airplane parked at the Brownsville Airport. Based on the size of the Category 5 monster storm, there weren’t too many pilots who were thinking of keeping their planes tied down along the Texas Gulf Coast. The hurricane landfall was still a few days away, but most people were glued to their TV sets to check the news reports.
Satellite shots showed the storm taking up almost the entire gulf. 
The man at the Channel 5 KRGV-TV anchor desk keeping viewers abreast of the news related to the storm was Rick Diaz, the newsman with the velvet voice and the friendly face and the down-home demeanor. Unique in an industry filled with too many plastic people.
It’s hard to believe now in the age of cable TV, but back in 1980, the Rio Grande Valley only had two TV stations on the dial: Channel 5 (KRGV) and Channel 4 (KGBT). The former carried shows from two networks – ABC and NBC – while the latter was and still is CBS.
Make a long story short, Rick was 35 in 1980 and I was 25. But to turn 60, and again I have to ask the question: where has all the time gone?
The question becomes more pertinent when news broke recently that Rick Diaz is retiring from his TV news anchor desk this week. In fact, Friday’s 6 p.m. news slot will be his last show.
With more than 48 years in the TV news business, I spoke with him over the phone this week. I figured readers might be interested in catching a glimpse of his long career and how the news business has changed so much since he first took the job with the TV station in 1967 as a young news camera photographer fresh out of the UT-Pan Am journalism department.
For starters, Rick Diaz grew up in McAllen but graduated from PSJA in 1963. In fact, he was on the Bears team that played in the state football championship game. He was going to be an electrical engineer but switched to journalism, married his high school sweetheart, Rosie, had a daughter, and like he says, “I DIAZ... Continued from page 1 soon found out that I needed a job.” So, when he saw that KRGV was looking for a news cameraman in 1967, he leaped at the opportunity. He wasn’t finished with college, but the job at 5 was working nights, so he figured he could make it work. He’d finish class, race to Weslaco and begin the 4 o’clock shift. And 48 years later, here we are:
So you started out on the night beat? Diaz: “We were shooting black-and-white (16 millimeter) film, and you went and shot it, came back ... You processed your own film, and you wrote your story but there were no, what we call now, reporter packages. Back then the anchors read everything.”
And the size of the cameras in those days that you hauled around ... they were monsters, weren’t they? Diaz: “Most of the cameras were hand-held cameras, but they didn’t have any sound. We had one sound camera, and we all used to joke about it, because that the darn thing used to weigh 600 pounds. It was humongous.”
So you worked the camera for how many years before actually going on the air? Diaz: “Well, actually in about a year or so they switched me over to daytime. Actually at one time, I switched stations and I went to work for Channel 4. And then (after about a year) Channel 5 called me back, and they said ‘Hey, do you want to come back and anchor the weekend news?’ And I said, Oh, I'd like to do that.”
So then you were a weekend anchor for a few years, and then in the early 70's you switched to the nighttime? Diaz: “Yeah, early 70's. Then the news director left, so they offered me the job of news director, so I said, okay. But by that time, I was already doing the 6 o' clock. So they said, ‘We want you to be news director, but we also want you to continue doing the 6 o' clock.’ So I said, 'Okay. That's fine.'”
You went through a health scare a few years back, didn’t you? Diaz: “I had an aneurysm, and it was in 1990. I was having some headaches and stuff. So Rosie said, ‘You need to go see a doctor.’ (So after a lot of procrastinating), I went, and at first they did think it was tumor. And then when I was in the hospital, they sent me to a neurologist in Harlingen, and while they were prepping me and putting that iodine in your blood to find out where your veins are, they saw this thing grow. And so they shut it down, and they said, ‘Oh, it's not a tumor. It’s an aneurysm.’ And they said it was too big, nobody here could handle it. One of the doctors there said, ‘Well, I have a friend at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who handles only the worst of the worst (cases).’ And I said, ‘Oh, that makes me feel good.’ So that's where they sent me off to.” Ed. note: And approximately three months later, he was back at work.
Yeah, well lucky for you that you listened to your wife because you know how men are—we’re our worst enemy. Diaz: “Yeah! Not only that, but she kept telling me ‘Go!’ And I kept saying, ‘Yeah. I'll go next week.’ Then it started bothering me because it was like everyday ... And it was always like 4 o' clock, right before the 6 o' clock news.” And now you’re set to retire. Except you’ll still be doing Con mi Gente (popular weekly show that features everyday people).
But that retirement must seem a little bittersweet to you? Diaz: “Yeah. It's ... you look forward to it, but then at the same time you go, ‘Ah. Am I doing the right thing?’ But I think I am. I think it's time. I’ve been tossing the idea around for about a year, and then about six months ago, I talked to the people at the station and I said, ‘I'm really looking at this.’ And even a couple of weeks ago, they told me, ‘You know you can still change your mind!’ And that’s somewhat a credit to the station, because unfortunately, I think, American culture somewhat fails to appreciate the older generation. Somehow we've gotten so much into the youth generation, which is fine, but if you look at so many of the TV shows as opposed to, let's say, the BBC shows out of England-- those shows feature a lot more older people. But American TV, including news programming, it features mostly young people. So I think it's a credit to KRGV that they appreciated your experience and the loyalty you built among your fan base and so forth.
And they didn't try and move you out for some younger anchor, so to speak. Diaz: “I agree. It’s been funny, though, looking back, because in '67 when I joined the station, I joined it in June when I first went to work for them. And then a couple of months later in September came Hurricane Beulah. So, a little baptism (in the news business there).”
Other then Beulah, what other major events come to mind over your long career? Diaz: “Well, actually, I was invited to the White House three different times. Two by President Regan and one by President Clinton. Which is kind of neat. But some of the most fun stories that I covered was covering the (national) political conventions. The Republican and Democratic National Conventions. It was just fun to be in the middle of all that (along with UT-Pan Am Political Science Professor Jerry Polinard). And I’ve loved doing Con mi Gente because it gets me out of the office, and I get to visit with people from all across the Valley. “But in the end, it’s all about the viewers. Without them, I wouldn’t have lasted. That, plus the love and support from my wife, two daughters (and family).”
So this Friday night is it? Diaz: “Yeah, Friday. This Friday night from 6 to 7. It's been a great ride. It's just time to slow it down a little bit, but I'm still going to be here.”

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