Editor's Note: With the heavy turnover in Austin television news, it is easy to forget that the sports directors have been here for many years. FOX 7’s Dave Cody has 27 years, KVUE’s Mike Barnes, 23, KXAN’s Roger Wallace, 17, YNN’s Ricky Doyle, six, and KEYE’s Bob Ballou, five.
In the last of a five part series, KEYE Sports Director Bob Ballou talks about his effort to put a smile on someone’s face each day.
Last week, Texas Coach Mack Brown interrupted his weekly news conference to playfully accuse KEYE Sports Director Bob Ballou of falling asleep while the coach was dispensing his pearls of wisdom. Ballou denies it and says he was checking something on his laptop.
Was Ballou embarrassed? Hardly! All you need to know about Bob Ballou and his sense of humor is that he put the clip on his Facebook page and called further attention to it with a Tweet. “I still don’t know why Mack thought I was asleep,” Ballou said. “This week, he thanked me for staying awake. Pretty funny.”
Ballou, 34, takes it as a compliment when someone calls him a funny guy.
“I love to put a smile on someone else’s face,” he said. “Everybody is going through something. I hope I can make it better.”
Ballou is the shortest-tenured Austin sports director, joining KEYE in 2007 from KENS, San Antonio, where he did weekend sports for three years. “I covered three San Antonio Spurs championships in three years and met some great people,” he reported.
Ballou grew up in Dallas and played every sport but football at J.J. Pearce High School. At 6’5” and 160, basketball was his best sport. “The team wasn’t very good, but I finished as the school’s 40th all-time leading scorer at that time,” Ballou laughed.
He says he knew he wouldn’t play in college so decided instead on a career in sports broadcasting. An early influence was famed WFAA sportscaster Dale Hansen, who helped break the SMU football cheating scandal in the 1980s.
“I watched him and admired him,” Ballou said. “In Dallas, you love him or hate him, but I loved his sarcasm. He’s a great writer.”
With two parents who bleed burnt orange, Ballou assumed he would go to UT, but then he discovered the outstanding journalism school at the University of Missouri where students gain experience by working at the school’s NBC affiliate television station, KOMU. He began as a production assistant on the Mizzou football show.
I wanted to learn what happened behind the scenes, so I would be better prepared when I got on the air.
He started reporting news his junior year, then moved over to sports. Four months before his December 2000 graduation, the station hired him full time, a job he kept until 2004. He did sports on both the 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts and also did a 30-minute sports show on Sunday nights. Part of the job was also to teach students, a duty Ballou enjoyed.
He credits KOMU Sports Director Chris Gervino, with whom he worked all four years, with teaching him how to be a professional.
“Chris had a profound impact on my life in this business,” Ballou said. “He was always giving a compliment and I’ve tried to copy that.”
In 2004, he moved to San Antonio with KENS. Then, KEYE beckoned in 2007 and he won the job here. “I love Austin, and the chance to be the main sports guy was important,” Ballou said.
Ballou does sports at 6 p.m. and 10 p.m., winning two Texas Associated Press Broadcasters awards for Best Sportscast along the way. He also delivers a 30-minute sports show on Sunday evenings after the late news. That program used to cover only the Texas Longhorns, but now covers all sports. Unlike his competitors, Ballou no longer does a Friday night high school football show. KEYE has opted for special news reports at 10:15 p.m. on Fridays.
It’s all part of a KEYE change in emphasis for Ballou, sports anchor/reporters Adam Winkler and newly-arrived Cassie Gallo, and longtime sports producer, Anthony Geronimo. They are focusing now on more long-form, in-depth sports stories on issues like concussions among football players at all levels, especially younger gridders.
“The concussion thing is becoming bigger and bigger,” Ballou said. “It’s a touchy subject. Dads want their kids to be tough, but where’s the balance? A lot of people don’t know how serious this is.”
Ballou says he and his colleagues are still working through the transition to the new format. He describes it as a “day-to-day process” of trying to figure out the bigger sports issues affecting Austin and the surrounding area.
“I’ve been through four different transitions in my time here,” Ballou said. “I’m proud of how all four of us have handled these latest changes as professionals. We’re pushing to make this the best sports that we can.”
Ballou says he is not concerned about cutbacks in sports at local news operations in other parts of the country.
I’ve been told about cutbacks since I got into this business 15 years ago. I just keep plugging away at what I’m doing and just keep bringing the best sports journalism I can to the viewer, with the emphasis on journalism. I believe in the ethics of journalism and the way you tell stories.
Ballou credits his religious faith with providing an antidote to any worries he might have.
“My faith as a Christian is the most important thing in my life,” he said. “I try to live the right way, but I’m not perfect. It’s a daily process of trying to follow God’s plan for me.”
Does that plan involve a move? The lure of a bigger market is apparently not there for Ballou, who says the opportunity would have to be just right to attract him away from his “dream job” here.
“I would never move to just be in a bigger market,” he said. “It’s more important to be happy.”