He's not always on the Christmas-card list of his production staff. If something goes wrong on the air, he'll openly reference it.
For nearly a decade, Randy Garsee has called it as he sees it as the anchor on KOLD Channel 13's now top-rated 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts. Hired in March 1997, a month after KOLD acquired Kris Pickel, Garsee was part of the CBS affiliate's desire to pull itself out of ratings doldrums. It took some time, but eventually the move paid off, and KOLD has been the local news top dog for a few years.
KOLD's approach was to go younger, but Garsee's appeal spreads far beyond a youth-movement trend. An off-the-cuff personality is what separates him from other newsreaders.
"We're in an industry where reporters are expected to write a certain way and get the information out, and anchors are expected to do the same. I kind of run against that grain sometimes," Garsee said. "Everybody I sought advice from said: 'Be the straight and narrow. Do the news; have the chitchat with the weather guy. Go on.' It never set well with me.
"I always feel like people are inviting you into your living room. This is a job. People know it's a job; it's a career, but everybody likes to have a little fun on the job. Everybody does. That's something I took from the newsroom to the anchor desk. I try not to be too flip or too obnoxious, but my philosophy is to watch the newscast with the viewer, and if things go wrong, or if I do something stupid, which happens all the time, comment about it. Say something about it. I get more e-mail about those kinds of remarks--about referencing video, the jokes at the end of the show--more comments on that from viewers than anything else."
A product of Jasper County in southeast Texas, Garsee grew up poor, in an area where personal growth was not exactly promoted.
"I didn't have much direction. I went to one of those schools where they didn't say the C word: college," Garsee said. "I was always very curious and knew at some point I had to get out of this little town. Everybody where I grew up ended up graduating from high school, getting married, working at the paper mill and dying. That's usually how life runs down there. I decided that's not for me. I was working as a bouncer at a nightclub, and my dad, who passed away last year, pulled me aside and said, 'Boy, you're going down a bad road. You might want to think about the military.' It's the only piece of advice he ever gave me, and the only piece of advice I ever took."
Garsee's stubborn nature played a major role in guiding his future toward the Navy. Instead of accepting what his recruiter pitched, Garsee pushed for a journalism position in the service, and had the wherewithal to wait nine months until an appropriate opening became available. During his three-year active-duty stint, Garsee was given the opportunity to pursue broadcasting--but the Texas twang had to go.
"They had a voice and diction course there. It was supposed to be one of the top voice and diction courses in the world, according to them," Garsee said. "They sent me through it twice."
In the private sector, Garsee took control of his fate as well. He was working in production as a master control operator at a television station in Beaumont, Texas; after considering the news product on the air, he felt he could do better. After the general manager got a hold of Garsee's audition tape, a transition to the newsroom followed.
Since Garsee's way seemed to be working, he wasn't about to change philosophies in his news delivery. Hence the humor. However, upon his arrival in Tucson, he had to coax Pickel to take the jump.
"One of the things humor does in a newscast is it brings out the personalities of the people around you," Garsee said. "Everybody thought Kris Pickel and I were a great team, but when she first started, she said, 'I don't want to laugh on the air.' I said, 'Why not?' 'I sound ridiculous when I laugh.' 'No you don't. Everyone sounds natural when they laugh.'
"Eventually, she loosened up, and once that happened, people started calling us a great team. They said, 'You guys act like you really like each other.' Well, we do like each other. Any time you can joke with someone, you obviously like them."
Now Tucson's top news team--which presided over the Best of TucsonTM Best Local Newscast--is no more. Pickel recently accepted an anchor position in Sacramento, Calif., and as a result, Garsee has been part of a musical-chairs anchor situation until KOLD finds a replacement. The candidates have been whittled down to three, and could be decided by mid-October.
"Personally, I think Kris and I took two or three years before we finally got to that point where we knew what the other was going to do. We even stopped consulting with each other at one point and just started playing off each other," Garsee said. "That kind of chemistry, if it isn't there early, then sometimes it can take a while to develop, so let's hope that whoever the new person is, (it) is somebody who enjoys the job, enjoys being on the air and enjoys bringing the personalities out of everyone around them."