It's been nearly two months since Tammy Dombeck confirmed that she was leaving KXAS/Channel 5 after 12 years with the station, and it's been more than three weeks since her July 27 departure. Ever since the initial reports of her impending departure, our posts about her have been among the most-read stories on DFW.com.
"It's extremely flattering," says Dombeck, who was raised in Fort Worth. "I know you meet people here and they'll say, 'I feel like I already know you.' I've gone through a lot of years with a lot of viewers, and with a viewer/TV personality type of relationship. I don't know if that's what it is, but I don't feel like I was just a traffic reporter. I feel like I was an actual TV personality that could connect. And that's golden, if you can find a connection with your viewers."
We envision Dombeck, who was the station's morning-TV "Gridlock Buster," now hanging out in a robe and fuzzy slippers after years of getting up, as she puts it, when the moon was still out and before the sun rose. And she does say things are more relaxing these days.
"I've saved so much money on hair products and makeup and dry-cleaning in the past three weeks," Dombeck says with a laugh. "I don't have to get up and hit it every day in full wardrobe and makeup. It takes me back to my radio days, when all you had to do was put on a ballcap and brush your teeth and head for the studio."
Dombeck says she loved her job and misses the people she worked with, but she still stays in touch with friends there. But she says that after doing mornings for 12 years -- with the first four years also including an afternoon shift -- she's happy to have a break (a noncompete clause in her contract keeps her from joining another local station till next year).
"It's been a long time with grueling hours," she says. "And my father was hospitalized July 5. He'd had a really serious seizure and was in the hospital for a month. So it was difficult doing the morning shift, then visiting him in the hospital for a couple of hours, then going home to take a nap and then running back up to see him. So it was time for a break."
Still, with broadcast media suffering job cuts and with fewer openings out there, Dombeck's departure from a steady gig seems like a big risk. She left because she and station couldn't come to terms on a contract, and it was her choice to make an exit. One issue, she says, was that NBC's former owner, General Electric, offered allowances for hair, makeup and clothing, which new owner Comcast doesn't. When she asked for some sort of compensation for those items and was told that this was the best contract offer, she decided to walk.
Dombeck, who still lives in the Fort Worth area, says she would like to stay in the market, and she's been talking to a couple of stations. But she's exploring options outside the market as well. She's willing to return to traffic reporting, but she doesn't want to do just traffic.
"I felt pigeonholed," Dombeck says. "I did a little bit of entertainment [reporting] there a couple of years ago, and they'd send me to L.A. and I'd do the fall previews. So I got to do entertainment and morning-show stuff. And then when the economy went south, those trips went away and we just never revisited it. And I'm turning 40 in November, so I guess I felt like down the line there's not going to be job security for me."
Dombeck says her morning routine used to involve setting three alarms -- one at 2:45 a.m., one at 2:55 and one at 3:05 -- just to make sure she wouldn't oversleep. "Now I'm a lot more laid-back," she says. "I'm actually getting up when the sun is coming up, so it's been nice." She's also been doing some free-lance work, including an upcoming project for American Way magazine. "It's a much easier schedule, and I've been getting a lot more rest and a lot more workouts in and a lot more family time in."
If Dombeck has to leave the market to further her career, she knows it will be tough, not just because of her growing up here but because she'll have to develop a new audience. Even if she does leave, she hopes to develop more skills that would allow her to return to DFW.
"Viewers are very loyal to people that have been here and worked here," she says. "I think they know [my leaving NBC 5] was sincere, and it wasn't an easy move for me to make, and that I thought it was time. But I'd definitely love to stay here. If I have to make a move, then I will, but this is really where home is for me."