It's another day ... and another departure for a friend of mine in West Texas television news. It's time to say good night and good luck, goodbye and God bless to Mike Barker.
I know, I know ... not exactly 'breaking news.' But sometimes the actual world will seriously disrupt our virtual routines ... and maybe it's provided me some time to find the appropriate words.
Mike anchored his final segment of the CBS7 Five O'clock News a few weeks back, and began the month of July in a new job, just across town from the KOSA studios, as General Manager of ECISDTV10, a small teaching and broadcasting television station owned by the Ector County Independent School District.
That's good news for the kids of Odessa's school system.
My acquaintance with Mike began 20+ years ago, when he was a news anchor and I was a writer and production assistant at KMID-TV, Big 2. It was the mid-80s, and KMID had just knocked-off the long-reigning champion - KOSA - for the top spot in the west Texas/southeast New Mexico television market. It was a heady time for the broadcast industry, and KMID led the way in every respect ... in technology, in initiative and creativity, and - most of all - in people ... people like Mike.
Mike was already a seasoned journalist by the time he sat down behind the anchor desk at KMID. He had years of experience in radio and television, in Midland/Odessa, in El Paso ... and even southeast Asia, sharpening his editorial skills during a tour of duty with the U.S. Armed Forces in the Vietnam War. That experience provided a valuable resource for the high ratio of youngsters in the newsroom - a fact-of-life in a small 'teaching' market such as ours.
In the course of his continuing career, Mike has covered some incredibly large stories, and some incredibly small ones, and plenty of stories of all shapes and sizes in between. His weekly "Around the Oil Patch" segment on Big 2 News remains local television's only serious foray into regular coverage of all facets of the oil-and-gas industry. "Conversations with Mike Barker," a weekly 30-minute news/public affairs program, brought thoughtful discussion of a wide variety of issues to local television sets. And there were the telethons, the broadcasts from the Permian Basin Fair, the inauguration of the 'summer tour' concept where a television news program would take its show on the road in live broadcasts from towns around the region, interviews with state and national leaders, and about 20-kajillion live appearances at events of every kind around the Permian Basin.
At the height of the Jessica McClure rescue in Midland, I was told, a local agency polled viewers and determined that 90%-or-more of them were watching live coverage of the rescue on Big 2 News, as reported by Mike Barker and Becky Neighbors (and Gayle Hill, Mike Monseur, Rodney Wunsch and just about everyone else at Big 2). I don't know if any other local news team has ever again reached such a large share of such a large audience.
And yet, there was a time when Mike stepped away from it all, and took a 'day job' at the University of Texas at the Permian Basin. It wasn't all that long after he and Shelley had their first baby, and he once told me that was a big part of it. Even those of you who 'know all about television news' may not realize that the top spots - the 6 and 10 anchor desks - come with hours that can take you out of a chunk of your kids' lives. I respected his decision then ... and I respected it even more when I left my own, lesser position with a television station, many years later.
Through the years, Mike and I have kept in touch, and chance encounters always seem to lead to extended discussion of the good ol' days, current events, our families, and the latest gossip. He has remained My Favorite Landman's favorite newsman, and the favorite of many in the Permian Basin whose viewing habits go back ten, fifteen, twenty years or more. Mike has always been a gentleman, a man of good manners and good work ethic - a journalist who writes what he reads, and knows what he writes, and treats every story and every subject with the respect it deserves ... really, not a bad choice to run the school district's TV station, training the next generation of media professionals.
A good man and a good friend ..... good night and good luck, Mike.