Keeping it Country

Some Advice from the Back Roads of Texas

Bob and Kelli Phillips

In 1972, when Bob Phillips was a reporter for then-CBS-affiliate KDFW in Dallas, he created 4 Country Reporter — an uplifting half-hour weekly show inspired by Charles Kuralt’s On the Road franchise on The CBS Evening News. Decades later, with a new title and distribution strategy, Texas Country Reporter is still rolling along. It’s now a syndicated show with a streaming channel, produced and hosted by Bob Phillips and his wife Kelli, who believe the nearly fifty-year-old concept has some useful lessons for TV news today.

Bob and Kelli travel around the state in a van with the Texas flag painted on its side, searching for feel-good, positive stories: from a poets’ society that insists on using typewriters, to a local “piano man” who has memorized over 5,000 songs, to the region’s best crawfish shack. Bob says Texas Country Reporter exists because local news is missing something very important: “[making] people feel good about life…We find so many people who told us we don’t watch news anymore…because they don’t want to hear the negativity that’s going on.”

Bob and Kelli say Texas Country Reporter is journalism designed to run parallel to hard news coverage, not replace it — to provide a healthy counterpoint.

“If you watch the news, everything seems to be extremely negative and controversial,” Kelli said. “What we find in our travels is: the world isn’t coming to an end. There are good people out there that are doing good things, and that’s what we concentrate on.”

The show has hit some bumps along the way. Back in 1986, KDFW cancelled 4 Country Reporter and replaced it with a sports show. Bob, who was the sole host back then, negotiated to obtain the copyright and took the show into regional syndication. He was promptly offered a slot on the ABC-affiliate, WFAA (Channel 8, then owned by Belo), where the program’s local title changed to — wait for it — 8 Country Reporter.

“My agreement with [WFAA] was that we would start our own production company, [Phillips Productions] so that we could syndicate the show,” Bob said. “We didn’t want a repeat of what we had just gone through.”

Texas Country Reporter is now in its 48th season and airs across 19 Texas markets and on the cable and satellite channel RFD-TV — short for Rural Free Delivery. The show has also had a YouTube channel since 2006, now with nearly 50,000 subscribers. Some of the older videos have viewership in the millions. Bob says he and Kelli have been recognized as far away as The Netherlands.

“We don’t do stories on places, and we don’t do stories on events, we only do stories about people,” Bob said. “The most often asked question in any interview is not ‘What are you doing?’ but ‘Why are you doing it?’”

Bob and Kelli produce 72 evergreen stories every year, which they then package into three-segment episodes and play seasonally, between September and May. Sponsors help pay the freight: the longest-running, Capital Farm Credit, has been with Texas Country Reporter for 20 years.

Bob and Kelli believe local stations could offer the kind of journalism Texas Country Reporter does to bring back viewers who’ve been driven away by the relentless drumbeat of bad news. “News is a completely different thing because what they’re doing is not storytelling,” Bob said. [But storytelling is] the way you can get audiences attracted back to local news.”

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