Monday, July 15, 2024

Retired journalist swapped news desk for a golf club

Looking at Jeff Klotzman now, people would never know what he did for a living.

His long, gray hair is quite the opposite of how he looked in television news until 2019 or with the Lubbock Independent School District into 2021.

Since February 2023, he has been happily retired in Robson Ranch where he is the Tuesday host of the University of North Texas Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) program. This included several evenings this fall pointing attendees to the refreshments during the OLLI JFK60 series.

“I’ll go back to Lubbock and people will say ‘didn’t you used to be a TV guy,’” he said. “They’ll say, ‘man, what happened.’ The day after I retired from the school district, I began growing my hair out.”

Ironically, it was President John F. Kennedy’s assassination two days before his 10th birthday that prompted Klotzman to pursue journalism as a career.

“I was actually home sick that day. I remember it vividly,” he said. “My dad was home and my mother always watched “As the World Turns.” I was glued to the television for the next four days. It was a terrible story, and I was old enough to understand what this was all about.

“I still go back to YouTube and watch that stuff. It was remarkable what they were able to do at that time. They didn’t have live trucks and satellite trucks, and everything was over some cable somewhere and some guy was flipping a switch and praying it worked. It was amazing to watch.”

Jeff Klotzman

Klotzman started his career not in television, but radio and newspapers. He served as sports editor of the student newspaper at Texas Tech University and on the graveyard shift of a Lubbock radio station while still in school.

“I never thought I’d be on television. I thought I’d be in print. All my training was in print,” he said. “Then I started doing radio on a lark. The TV aspect of it came after working in radio for a couple of months after graduation.

“The ABC affiliate had an opening for a producer because their 10 o’clock person was leaving town to go to Dallas-Fort Worth. The producer was (former CBS Evening News anchor) Scott Pelley. I replaced Scott. Our careers went in very different directions.”

At the time, newscasts only aired on weekdays. Then one Friday afternoon, Klotzman was asked to fill in for the sports director beginning that Monday night. When the sports director never returned from what was thought to be a vacation, the job was his.

That was the summer of 1976 and Klotzman thought his West Texas accent didn’t translate well on-air.

“I was always pretty terrible but had a lot of good people who helped me refine my presentation,” Klotzman said. “I did sports. I did weather. I did a little bit of everything.”

In 1983, his news director went to New York to work on computer-delivered news for Time, Inc. and convinced Klotzman to join him. After a year there he returned to Lubbock to manage a news department and anchor until 1989 when he went to Madison, Wisconsin, followed by Austin, San Diego, and Phoenix as a news director.

When he was let go from his Arizona job, he decided to stop dragging his family around the country and returned to Lubbock in 1992, earned his master’s degree and began teaching broadcast television and the law of the press classes at Texas Tech.

“It’s funny because people asked me what were broadcast classes like for you and I said I had never taken any,” he said. “I taught several but never took a broadcast class.”

While teaching he also returned to radio for a short while. Then the Fox television affiliate owner asked if he’d like to start a newscast, build a studio, and hire a staff.

“It was something I’d never done – start a news department from scratch – and I did it for 19 years.”

He retired in 2019, then spent 2½ years as executive communications director for the Lubbock ISD.

“I enjoyed that as much as anything I’d done in my career,” he said. “It was a unique and different experience.”

Initially, he and wife Kim split time between Lubbock and a condominium in Santa Fe, New Mexico. When they learned Kim’s friends were building a house in Robson Ranch to be near their grandchildren, the Klotzman’s followed suit though they still have a place in Lubbock.

“When we retired, we spent a lot of time there,” said Jeff, who has a sister in Fort Worth. “Then we thought ‘maybe we just ought to move here and get a bigger place.’

“We just love it. Everything is wonderful. It’s like living on a cruise ship that doesn’t sail. It’s been a great, great decision for us. We love all the fun stuff here.”

In addition to helping the OLLI program, the Klotzman’s stay active by playing golf, pickleball, and bocce plus visiting with friends in the area.

Klotzman covered many interesting stories including the Branch Davidians in Waco, a guy who stole a tank in San Diego, and the O.J. Simpson case. He also interviewed celebrities like President George H.W. Bush and sports coaches Bum Phillips and Bill Parcells and Lou Holtz. Yet he doesn’t miss television news at all.

“I feel sorry for those in it now because there’s so much distrust of the media,” he said. “You could feel that happening the last five years of my career. People got confused on what journalism is and what is opinion. There’s a big difference between them but people don’t see that. It’s really difficult for me to watch.”

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