Tom McNamara spent nearly 18 years as the familiar face of KVOA TV’s evening newscast. It’s remarkable stability in a business known for being anything but, yet it was that aspect about Tucson and the market that lured McNamara to the Old Pueblo in the first place.
“I learned about Tucson when I lived in Phoenix,” said McNamara. “I’d come down with a bunch of guys on weekends and play 36 holes of golf in the heat and stay in the resorts, and go out at night. I really liked the place. I eventually left the state to take a main anchor gig in Oklahoma City, but missed Arizona and always wanted to come back, even after a couple other media stops.”
McNamara knew the KVOA news director well, and kept hounding him about potential opportunities. When Joe Donlon left for Portland in 1997, McNamara’s efforts had paid off.
“I had just gotten married, my wife and I had a lot of life experience, and we were looking not for the picket fence, but the stucco wall to settle down and start a family and dial in, and we had every intention to stay because this is where we decided we wanted to live. We’re still here and we’re staying,” said McNamara. “You can climb markets, and that’s all well and good, but the higher you go the more precipitous it is. You can get those big market jobs, but you have to decide whether it’s worth upping and going for what might be a two-year gig, and then you roll down the hill. If that’s your choice, that’s great. We were at a time in life where we put a priority on stability. I’m very big on quality of life, continuity, and that’s why we chose to come here and stay here. It was time to dig in chill out.”
So he knows the market. He likes the town. He values Tucson’s amenities. As a result, McNamara decided to swap his spot behind the anchor desk for one in front of prospective homebuyers as a member of the Keller-Williams real estate group.
“When you turn 50 or so, every time your contract comes up you sort of bat (the prospect of pursuing a new profession) around a little bit, and this time I was talking with a friend of mine in real estate who knew what I had been thinking and he said if you don’t do this now you’re not going to do it, and he’s right,” said McNamara, now 59. “I’ve always wanted to be part of the entrepreneurial self-directed part of life. It’s now or never. I paid off my mortgage. Thinking through the process, let’s pull the trigger. It’s time.”
The decision brings an end to a 36-year broadcast career that includes a stint as a reporter for 80s news show PM Magazine. And a multitude of memories and unique experiences along the way.
“It’s been very exciting and a real privilege,” McNamara said. “I’ve gone places and done things I never would have had I not gotten into media years ago. It’s steered me in so many cool directions. Among the highlights, I spent three days at Muhammad Ali’s training camp in Pennsylvania, really with him when he was training for his comeback. I came into the business at a good time. I would not have experienced these things or done these things if I hadn’t have chosen a media career way back when.
“The experiences I’ve had, the people I’ve met from around the world, I’ll borrow a page from Charles Kuralt: ‘you meet a lot of athletes and celebrities and that sort of thing, but the people who always got to me were the regular folks doing extraordinary, cool things.’ Those are the people I remember the most.”
McNamara has also been behind the desk, and in the field, for some of Tucson’s highest profile stories.
“Jan. 8,” said McNamara. “That changed the whole color and texture of life for us. Being in the media, you’re naturally so immersed in the story. And then you start meeting the relatives and the survivors and it really has an effect. Now though, it has a more positive effect in the way we’ve changed focus and effort since after Jan. 8. A lot of good things and great efforts came out of that.
“The UA nursing school shooting was upsetting. I remember doing numerous live shots out at the scene and thinking, ‘this is Tucson, this is not supposed to happen here.’
“The Aspen and Rodeo/Chedeski fires. So many people here have connections to the White Mountains. I remember going there the first time they let the media in, and it looked like we were the first people on a strange, charred planet. It was bizarre and upsetting. That’s going to stick with us for a couple generations.”
Behind the scenes, McNamara watched first-hand as arguably Tucson’s most noteworthy news anchor vs. management spat unfolded on a seemingly nightly basis across the KVOA airwaves. When beloved former KVOA news anchor Patty Weiss was ousted, she made it a point not to leave quietly, and the conflict between anchor and station became its own media circus for weeks.
McNamara wisely stayed out of the line of fire.
“I loved working with Patty. We got along famously,” McNamara said. “When all of that was going on I was more an observer than participant. With all the fallout, it really didn’t affect me. I felt bad. You never want to see trauma or upheaval in your own backyard, but it happens, but I was way off to the side when that happened.”
McNamara, meanwhile, says his relationship with the station has always been excellent.
“It’s definitely the coolest station,” McNamara said. “They’ve been so good to me. It’s just a great company and I love the folks I’ve been around all these years, some long gone and some still there. It’s just been a great fit. The station and company are dynamite. It’s a smaller company, they’ve been very focused and very good to us. This has been a terrific fit.”
McNamara will maintain his role as anchor for the revamped Arizona Illustrated on KUAT TV 6.
Meanwhile, it didn’t take KVOA long to name his replacement. Steve Ryan now sits alongside Kristi Tedesco in the primetime weeknight newscasts. Ryan most recently served a reporter/anchor stint with KTVK TV in Phoenix. He was also a reporter/anchor in Las Vegas and has experience in a television reporter capacity in Fort Myers, Fla., Albany, NY, and Wilmington, N.C.