More than six months after meteorologist Shawn Rutherford disappeared from KXAN's morning and midday newscasts, he remains on the minds of many Central Texans.
There's still a steady stream of questions from curious viewers landing in my inbox, and a post on my TV and Radio Blog announcing his exit after 13 years continues to rack up a significant number of page views.
Rutherford, too, said people still ask what happened when they run into him at places such as the supermarket.
The station's decision to not renew his contract wasn't a surprise, he told me. He'd suspected for almost a year that the ax was about to fall.
"I saw the writing on the wall and had prepped everyone," he said. "I fully expected it, so much so that I had already packed up everything at the office that I owned." The news came one morning in January. He got called into a meeting with station management and was gone less than 10 minutes later. It was a "business decision," he was told.
At the time, managers wouldn't discuss that decision with me.
"I went to the car, called my wife and told her I was coming home early," he said.
The atmosphere at KXAN had changed considerably since he was first hired, Rutherford said. What was once an "awesome" newsroom was beginning to feel more and more "corporate," and the morning newscast, which ranked No. 1 several times during Rutherford's tenure, was slowly being stripped of its personality, he said.
"I'm very honest," he said. "I told them they were killing the show."
That candor, he believes, may have been the beginning of the end.
A six-month no-compete clause has kept him off Austin's other TV stations. Instead, he's been working on a religion degree and spending more time with his family, having breakfast with his children and running them to school, among other things.
"For 13 years, I never saw my family in the morning," he said. "It has really been a lot of fun."
He even built an "over the top" clubhouse, complete with carpeting, air conditioning, lights and storm windows, for daughter Maya.
"Construction was my therapy," he said.
So what's next for Rutherford? He's not really sure. The role politics play in religion is an area of interest, but he's not sure he could make a career out of that.
"I can't think of anything that divides anyone more than religion and politics," he said. "Governments all over the world are so tied into religion. The two go hand in hand."
And, of course, a return to TV is always possible.
"I needed the break, but I do miss it," he said. "I miss communicating with people."
New boss at KXAN
Speaking of KXAN, Austin's NBC affiliate has a new news director.
Chad Cross, a University of Texas grad, will oversee the station's news team starting Aug. 13.
He arrives from KWCH, the CBS affiliate in Wichita, Kan.
"We are extremely excited to have Chad as part of the team," Eric Lassberg, president and general manager of KXAN and sister stations KBVO and KNVA, said. "He has a proven track record of journalistic excellence, integrity and leadership."
Cross worked at KWCH for a decade, serving as an anchor, assignment editor, producer and reporter, before becoming news director at KXAN.
"I know viewers can tell which stations have journalistic integrity and go the extra mile in their reporting," he said. "That's why I'm grateful to be leading the outstanding team at KXAN."
At KXAN, Cross will head a newsroom that has seen considerable change in recent months, culminating in the abrupt departure of former news director Michael Fabac in late May. Fabac's exit came at about the same time that the station was hit with a pair of lawsuits — one claiming a story was libelous, the other alleging racial discrimination.
Fabac, meanwhile, has landed a new gig in a bigger TV market.
He's been hired by WCMH, the NBC station in Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus is the nation's 32nd largest TV market, based on population, according to Nielsen. Austin comes in at No. 47.
Change at KEYE
Over at KEYE, news director Suzanne Black has decided to depart the station. She wrapped up a seven-year stint at the city's CBS affiliate this week.
"It's been a terrific ride," she told me. "The past six months alone have been so rewarding. We re-launched KEYE-TV Morning News, brought back the 5 p.m. newscast and took the 10 p.m. news to No. 1 for the first time in the station's history.
"What a true joy to come to work each morning and sit alongside caring, passionate journalists. Most importantly, I appreciate KEYE-TV viewers. It has been an honor to share stories that affect this community."
Channel surfing ...
Look for Austin's Thai Fresh restaurant on tonight's edition of "Good Food America with Nathan Lyon." The travel show, which focuses on healthy dining options in cities across the nation, airs at 9 p.m. on the Veria Living cable network. More details at verialiving.com. ... Read my blog at austin360.com/tvblog or follow @gdinges on Twitter for updates on TV and radio.
Contact Gary Dinges at email@example.com or 912-5987