Justin McKee has always been interested in how movies are made. It’s the magic of how it all comes together that he finds particularly inspiring. “The roles of all the [cast and crew, with] so many different voices and fields of expertise—it’s a marvel to me that any movie or TV show actually gets made.”
McKee had always dreamed of being a movie director himself, even though in high school he loved acting in the school plays. “But given the choice, I felt that I would enjoy the top behind-the-scenes role the most—executing a collaborative vision, leading and inspiring people, organizing complex processes to achieve a common goal. While I may not have realized it then, that’s what a director does. But at the time, I just wanted to make things that people thought looked cool.”
McKee is currently working his behind-the-scenes creative magic as the director of creative services for Houston Public Media on the University of Houston campus. “My team’s ultimate responsibility is building, maintaining, and promoting the visual brand of Houston Public Media and its products and platforms, including promotion and marketing.”
Houston Public Media is the city’s PBS and NPR affiliate that has become a large digital- and broadcast-media platform encompassing social media as well. It’s also a member of The Texas Newsroom, a National Public Radio journalism collaboration. Every year, more than three million people engage with Houston Public Media, which is a service of the University of Houston made possible by donors, foundations, legacy gifts, and sponsors. Their mission is “to inform and inspire—transforming ourselves, our community and our world.”
McKee, 39, holds a bachelor’s degree in radio and television from Sam Houston State University, which he completed after his freshman year at the University of Texas in Austin. During those college years, he also worked as a master control operator at KBTX-TV in Bryan/College Station. The Bryan native then moved on to newscast production before eventually becoming the station’s primary newscast director. In 2009, he moved to Houston for a technical-director position at KHOU-TV. “Eventually, I became the director of their morning talk show, Great Day Houston,” McKee says.
All the while, he was also freelancing for a music production company called XI Media Productions. “I mostly served as director for the livestreams.”
In 2013, he moved to New York City to continue directing live music in addition to working on various reality shows, including National Geographic’s Drugs, Inc. But Houston called him back to Texas in 2014, when he started at Houston Public Media as a senior producer in the creative-services department. He became that team’s manager in 2018, before moving up to his current position last year.
McKee loves the expression, communication, understanding, freedom, and discovery that working in a creative profession brings. He also loves uncovering art in the most unexpected formats. He always felt like there was something different about him as a teen. “But I didn’t realize it was because I was gay until a close friend of mine came out to me my senior year. Then everything just clicked. Turns out that my obsession with Rocky in 3 Ninjas was because I had a crush on him,” he recalls.
Last year, Houston Public Media launched a Pride Month website page highlighting their national and local programming that focuses on important LGBTQ issues. “Our three talk shows, Houston Matters with Craig Cohen, Town Square with Ernie Manouse, and I SEE U with Eddie Robinson, regularly cover these issues and invite diverse voices from the LGBTQ+ community,” he says. “Pride, to me, means the freedom to express yourself any way you want. It means you can be your authentic self, free from judgment or persecution. There is no right or wrong way to celebrate Pride.”
Because Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America, McKee hopes that we as a city continue to reach out to all of our communities and find new and better ways to highlight the issues that affect them. “I’d love to see us active and present in those communities [by doing things] like remote broadcasts for our daily talk shows,” he says.
Although McKee is quite comfortable leading a team and speaking to large groups, people might be surprised to learn that he’s actually an introvert. “Alone time playing video games, or going on a walk while listening to a podcast, is where I find my energy.” He’s also a certified CrossFit trainer and coaches a few classes each week at Texas Athletic Club in Montrose.
McKee sums up his love for Houston by describing it as “a sprawling, diverse collection of communities with amazing food and friendly people.”
Keep up with Justin McKee at houstonpublicmedia.org/staff/justin-mckee.
This article appears in the July 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.