An Interview With . . .Community NewsFeaturesTelevision

Frank Billingsley Reflects on Nearly 30 Years at KPRC 2

He plans to explore writing and consulting opportunities in his next chapter.

Frank Billingsley (Photo by Ashkan Roayaee)

After nearly 30 years on the airwaves, KPRC 2’s chief meteorologist Frank Billingsley is signing off. The famed weatherman will leave KPRC 2 on June 28, marking the end of his stint that began in February 1995.

OutSmart spoke with Billinglsey and asked about his legacy, the most memorable moments of his career, and what he has planned for retirement.

OutSmart: After nearly 30 years with KPRC 2, you are currently the longest-running TV meteorologist in Houston. As you approach retirement, what does that feel like?

Frank Billingsley: Weathered! Counting my stint at ABC13 (KTRK), I’ve been here since 1989. I remember visiting in April 1987 and eating at Butera’s in Montrose and then going to Rich’s that night. I met all these really nice and handsome guys, like John Tucker, Gilbert Perez, and the late Dan Meador, who was the KHOU weekend weatherman. I thought to myself, “I need to make Houston my home. This is the Emerald City!” Somehow, I found the yellow-brick road, and I will forever be grateful to this city.

What legacy do you feel like you’re leaving behind? What do you hope people take away from watching your career?

That you can get through anything—and I mean anything. From biblical flooding to hurricanes from hell, we’ve been through it all, and we continue to survive like Cher. And that’s just weather. If you are dealing with more substantial life changes—coming out, fighting illness, finding a new road, whatever it is—I hope I’ve been a public example that the best way “out” is always “through,” as Robert Frost said. Hold your head high right next to your dignity, and own it. Never be afraid of life.

What are some of the most memorable or striking memories that you have from your time with KPRC 2? Hurricane Harvey is one, I’m sure.

My first year here in 1989 was remarkable: Our first Tropical Storm Allison, Hurricanes Chantal and Jerry, then 7 degrees in December! I thought, “This is not gay brunch at Butera’s anymore!” Then our 2001 Tropical Storm Allison, the Hurricane Rita traffic, Hurricane Ike, the 2011 drought and heat, Hurricane Harvey—all of them will forever be remembered. My helicopter flyovers to Galveston’s West End after Ike in 2008 are still talked about, and I have people still thanking me for that. That was true reality television: Here’s your house after a hurricane, good or bad. That was being there for people, and it was riveting.​

What has been the most surprising part about being a weatherman in your career? What advice would you give to others who want to follow in your footsteps or pursue a career in broadcast journalism or meteorology?

Honestly, the most surprising part to me was how important it has become. We’ve always known that weather affects everyone and most people watch the news to see the weather, if nothing else. But now with social media and instant cell-phone video, we are living weather as it happens every day. And we are still fascinated by it. My advice is that there is no longer such a thing as “broadcast journalism/meteorology.” You’ll need a degree in digital, social, writing, editing, podcasting, blogging. We used to choose careers in newspapers or radio or TV, but now you better know it all and love it all because you’ll now be a media center. Period. That is the future. And I have no idea what artificial intelligence (AI) is going to bring to the equation, but as meteorologist Tim Heller told me, “AI will not replace you, but the guy who understands AI will replace you!”

Many people are likely wondering what you have planned next. Do you have any goals or aspirations for this next chapter of your life? Another book?

I love to write, and I have a few ideas, But I’ve also known a lot of writers who are writing “the book that never gets written,” so I am not promising anything. And then there is consulting, which is appealing because you can be remote. It’s something that everyone who isn’t tied to a live newscast five days a week is able to do. That might be nice. Honestly, I’m open to Steven Spielberg calling. We’ll just see, but I’m really looking forward to waking up to no obligations for a bit. My first real job was when I was 15 years old at Chick-Fil-A in Birmingham, Alabama—the second one in the country—which means I was their first gay employee but they just didn’t know it! And the guy who owns it and hired me, Morris Jackson, is still working!

September 2017 cover
September 2017 cover

You’ve gone beyond just weather to publicly talk about adoption, being gay, and having cancer over the decades. What has the city’s support been like? What does Houston and its people mean to you?

I never came here thinking I’d have a public microphone for more important issues than weather. I was just enthralled with Rich’s, to be honest. But as I grew older and wiser, I realized that if one has that platform and doesn’t use it, then that’s a big waste of a life. When Kevin and I got married, a lot of people heard about that on the 10 p.m. news, and more than a few of them spilled their wine. Some because they didn’t know I was gay, and others who just were so happy to hear it publicly. I won’t pretend that there wasn’t criticism, but at the end of the day, we helped people understand themselves, their friends, and their families better. As to the cancer, I had a guy leave me a message from his doctor’s office thanking me for saving his life. He went for a prostate check because of my experience and was told that if he had not come in, he would have been dead in two years. He is a big, burly Harley-riding lawyer. He was in tears. And he’s alive. That matters.​

Will you and Kevin remain involved in city organizations and events? Will your annual Golf Classic event continue?

Our Golf Classic raised $416,000 last year for Legacy Community Health, and we are slated for this October 21 on two courses, so we’re shooting for half a million! I can’t imagine being in the most philanthropic city in the world and not being a part of giving back. Plus, the happiest people are the ones who help others. Period. And anyone who knows me knows I love a good party!

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Connor Behrens

Connor Behrens is a communications graduate from the University of Houston. He has written for the Washington Post, Community Impact Newspaper and the Galveston County Daily News (the oldest newspaper in Texas). When he's not writing stories, he is likely watching the latest new release at the movie theater.
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