When Mike Snyder concludes his final newscast of the day on KXAS/Channel 5, he posts a note on his Twitter and Facebook pages:
"That's the news, and I am outta here."
This phrase, an echo of Dennis Miller's sign-off when he anchored "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live, will become all too true for Snyder on Thursday, when he will do his last newscast on KXAS after 18 years as a co-anchor and 30 years with the station. Snyder, who just turned 57, is retiring from the station, not completely by choice.
"They gave me the option of taking early retirement, or there was no more contract to be had," Snyder told the Star-Telegram this month, when he and the station announced his retirement.. "I more or less knew that this day was coming a year ago, when I was given a one-year contract at a reduced rate and was not doing the 10 o'clock news any longer."
Jane McGarry, who has co-anchored newscasts with Snyder since 1992 -- they're one of the longest-running anchor teams in Texas -- says that after Snyder made his announcement, she saw people at the station tear up.
"There's a genuine fondness for Mike," McGarry says. "He'll argue with you about stuff, but you know that Mike is arguing from his heart. I think a lot of people are going to miss him."
Snyder's retirement from Channel 5 may be the news, but Snyder is not outta here. Not if he has anything to do with it. He has big plans -- plans he's not ready to announce yet -- and says that leaving the station does not mean leaving journalism.
"There are a lot of stories to be told, a lot of places to go, a lot of adventures to see and do," Snyder says during an interview a couple of weeks after his retirement was announced. "I would love to do them for Channel 5, but I'm not going to get that opportunity. But hopefully I will be able to find a place to do that."
A self-professed gadget freak -- Snyder had the first computer at Channel 5, a Tandy TRS-80, as well as the first desktop computer there -- he has long been aware of the changes going on in his industry and how it has been affected by Internet competition and user-generated video. He's a proponent of using social media to push the station and using amateur video on the air when necessary, especially in these days of smaller staffs. He's willing to take another TV gig if it comes along, but that's not necessarily the direction that he is pointing himself in.
"I took the rearview mirrors off a long time ago, and I've got my eyes pasted down that road, and since I'm a gadget freak, why not," says Snyder. "I think I know a direction we need to be headed in, and I hope to get to participate in that adventure. I think I've got a lot more work to go in me. I'm not done yet."
First, a disc jockey
It's hard to imagine Mike Snyder being done with anything.
"Mike is a newsman," says McGarry, who has worked with him since she joined the station in 1983. "He really loves news. When he was a reporter, he would rush out, whether it was Delta 191 or the [Wedgwood Baptist] church shootings. So no, he's not ready to quit."
During a recent 6 p.m. newscast, Snyder and McGarry have a relaxed rhythm, chatting easily with a visitor when they're not on-air but switching back to TV mode when the cameras come back on. Snyder says that they have been doing this for so long that they can often tell what each other is thinking merely by looking at each other.
McGarry says that doing a newscast calls for complete focus, and that Snyder is a master at it.
"He will pick up details, sometimes, a lot of times, on stories that I don't," she says. "I think when he's talking, you feel like Mike knows what he's talking about."
This is, after all, a guy who has been in broadcasting since he was 16. His father had a roller-skating rink in Springfield, Mo., where Snyder grew up. Dad let Snyder, who hated the piped-in organ music, spin rock 'n' roll records Saturdays in the late 1960s. The manager of local radio station KTTS was at the rink one day for his daughter's skating party, heard Snyder, and offered him a job as a fill-in disc jockey. When the guy Snyder subbed for had a nervous breakdown, Snyder became the full-time afternoon-drive DJ.
He continued to make his breaks: When he wanted to switch to news and the station's news director told him he'd never make it, Snyder surreptitiously made a tape and applied for a job in his native Tulsa, where he knew there was an opening because a colleague also had applied there. He also got some breaks: He'd do stories that got noticed by people at stations in other markets, who would offer him positions with higher salaries.
As a rookie radio reporter and later a rookie TV reporter, he'd act on instinct, asking veteran reporters (sometimes from other stations) for help when he was still raw, sticking his mike where he wasn't supposed to because he hadn't learned police protocol or simply because he was going to get the story, no matter what. That got him tear-gassed once when he talked to inmates during an Oklahoma prison riot, but the TV coverage of the tear-gassing led to him being noticed and hired by a Denver station.
"I've been fortunate in my career to be in the right place at the right time for some major stories, which have helped my career immensely," Snyder says. "I count my lucky stars every day for my father giving me the command of the language that he gave me when I was much younger. My dad was an English professor, spoke six languages. ... The one thing he taught me was how to tell a story. He'd say, 'Remember, from the day that man first discovered fire and people sat around at night to eat, the historians, the storytellers, were the people who commanded the crowd.'"
Tale of two families
Snyder's work ethic could have a downside. During his reporting days at Channel 5, when he was the station's chief correspondent, he worked constantly and traveled frequently. He believes that that hurt his first marriage.
"I was not only reporting five days a week, I was doing the weekend news," he says. "So I was ending up working seven days a week. I was the main correspondent for the television station. I was between Austin and Washington, and sometimes I would not even stop between the two to see my wife and my children. There's no question in my mind that I stole time from them, and time that I wish that I had back that I can't."
Snyder says that he now has a good relationship with his three adult children and that when he married his second wife, Lyn, in 1996, he was determined not to make similar mistakes. One of the upsides of having his hours at Channel 5 cut last year, and of his leaving the station this week, is that he gets to spend more time with his and Lyn's daughters, nearly 11-year-old Madi and 8-year-old Gracie.
Snyder has been active in charity work even longer than he has been in broadcasting, holding backyard carnivals to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association when he was 14 years old. He has been the local face of the annual Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon, and that's just one of many charities to which he gives his time. He has used his charity work as a way of staying close to his young daughters.
"I take my children to board meetings all the time, every chance I get," he says. "If they see that I'm willing to engage and negotiate and talk with people and work through problems ... then they get a sense of empowerment that 'If I use my head, I can make things happen. If I use my emotions, allow myself to get carried away, things aren't going to happen.' I use it as a teaching tool for them. But I also use it because I don't want to be away from them."
A new focus on life
In September 2008, Snyder almost lost Lyn.
At 37 years old, she suffered a spontaneous arterial dissection, a tear in the left main branch artery of the heart that caused a near-fatal blood clot. She had to undergo double bypass surgery.
"She literally died on the scanning table at Harris H-E-B, and went through eight hours of open-heart surgery," Snyder says. "My mother-in-law was out in the lobby praying for a textbook operation, and Dr. Carter, who was the surgeon, came out. He says, 'Everything went fine. Better than expected.' She says, 'So it was a textbook operation?' He says, 'Ma'am, there is no textbook on this. This wasn't a common bypass. I had to completely replumb her heart.'"
Snyder says that if Lyn hadn't been young and in good shape, she would have died. "It plays on your emotions, your ability to deal with things, because I knew that I almost lost my wife that day," he says. "It refocuses your attention."
Snyder adds, however, that Lyn (who, at the time of his interview with the Star-Telegram, was with the girls at the Snyders' vacation home at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri) understands his restlessness. She comes from a political family -- her father was the regional director of the Department of Transportation, who had tipped Snyder to a big story about Braniff Airlines' bankruptcy years before Snyder and Lyn met, and even earlier had been impressed by the teenage Snyder's civic activities in Springfield (where Snyder and Lyn lived three miles apart without ever meeting) -- and has been involved in community activities herself. So Snyder devotes his time to his family and steals time for work and for his various causes, including Junior Achievement and the Salvation Army's Angel Tree Project, which provides Christmas gifts for children in need.
One of his favorite causes is the Fort Worth Airpower Foundation, a source of financial assistance for military families, especially National Guard and reserve personnel who often take pay cuts or even lose jobs when they are called to serve. Snyder is chairman of the annual Sky Ball, which raises money for the foundation.
"I don't sleep a lot," Snyder says, talking about one of the ways he finds time. "My mind seems to be always spinning on things. Sky Ball ... and all the other things the Fort Worth Airpower Foundation does [don't] happen because of me. They happen because I'm able to motivate a very talented and very dedicated group of volunteers. ... It's so funny because I'll get e-mails that say, 'I see that you sent this note at 3:45 in the morning. Are you going to bed today?'"
Leaving Channel 5 will allow Snyder to devote more time to charity work, more time to his own family. But there is a family that he will miss -- the one at the station.
"I'll never walk away from the relationship, but I will walk away from the job," he says. "I'll walk through that newsroom, and there isn't anybody I can't sit down with and sit there and just talk about whatever's going on on that day. And it's more than that. We care about each other, watch each other's backs, because there's not a whole lot of people there to watch each other's backs anymore. And walking away from that family after being there for three decades is hard."
ROBERT PHILPOT, 817-390-7872