Al Macias worked in television newsrooms when some of the biggest stories broke in the Valley.
Those stories included the Phoenix Suns reaching the 1975–76 NBA finals; the deadly attack of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles; the murder of “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane; the Valley’s the first population boom in 1979; and when Sandra Day O’Connor, an Arizona Court of Appeals judge, was appointed by then-President Ronald Reagan to the United States Supreme Court.
“I literally covered all of those stories,” Macias said. “We didn’t always appreciate the impact of those stories because we were scrambling from one story to the next. I didn’t appreciate some of the national and global impacts of some of those things. This was simply part of the job of being a reporter.”
Macias is in a reflective mood these days. He will be inducted into the Arizona Media Association Hall of Fame on Friday, and the memories have him thinking about his five-decade career in journalism.
“The award recognizes my time here in Arizona, and I’m proud and honored because I’m a homeboy — born, raised, grew up, and went to high school and college here,” Macias said, who graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 1975. “This award also validates my work because my wife and daughters, to a certain degree, are tired of hearing some of my old stories.”
Macias might be sharing one or two of those stories during the Jan. 26 awards luncheon at the Scottsdale J.W. Marriot Camelback Inn. Macias will be one of five journalists inducted this year.
Macias certainly has earned the right to be in the hall of fame according to Christopher W. Kline, president of the Arizona Media Association.
“Al has a nearly 50-year career in Arizona. He has spent time in television news. He has spent time in radio news. He has helped start a TV station newsroom from scratch. He’s helped to build a nonprofit radio newsroom into an amazing and recognized brand,” said Kline, who added that membership in the Arizona Media Association Hall of Fame is arguably the highest honor an Arizona broadcaster can receive.
“He has also helped launch the Arizona Latino Media Association, and he’s been a mentor to more students at ASU’s Cronkite School than I can count,” Kline said. “So, when Al Macias was on our list of candidates for membership to the hall of fame, it was a resounding yes.”
After graduating from ASU with a degree in broadcast communications, Macias contemplated studying Spanish in Mexico to land a job with the U.S. Department of State. He opted to pursue a career as a general assignment reporter with KTVK (3TV). His first day on the job was April Fools’ Day, 1975.
“Bill Mosely and I started on the same day,” Macias said. “Between the two of us, we had zero experience between us. I can guarantee you that wouldn’t happen today. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”
But Macias was diligent and had good mentors.
“Jack Frazier was a producer/writer at the station, and some people would have called him arrogant,” Macias said. “I remember I did a story about a strike in Tucson, and he told me what I wrote wasn’t wrong, but told me, ‘You’re better than this.’ That always stuck with me.”
Macias said Frazier also taught him another valuable lesson that he now passes down to his students at the Cronkite School, where he’s been an adjunct professor since 2012.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t write for yourself — write for the reader, the listener or the viewer,’” said Macias, who is also a Rocky Mountain Emmy Award-winning journalist. “Don’t give them just facts. Make it compelling.”
Another mentor was Jaime Ontiveros, a veteran cameraman at KTVK.
“He (Ontiveros) carried my water during the first year on my job,” Macias said. “He was a UPI photographer and knew everybody in the fire and police department, and other agencies. He’d walk onto a scene and say, ‘This is my friend, Al, our new reporter.’ He opened a lot of doors for me.”
Macias says with the help of other veterans in the newsroom he became a solid reporter. One of the more memorable stories he covered was in the summer of 1978 when Gary Tison and Randy Greenawalt broke out of the Arizona State Prison in Florence with the help of Tison’s three sons — Raymond, Ricky and Donald. Macias covered the 11-day manhunt.
“We had heard on the radio that the Tison gang had been spotted as we were going eastbound on Interstate 10,” Macias recalled. “We saw a convoy of cop cars following a car, and we drove across the median and now we’re in the middle of it. The car was pulled over, guns were drawn and as it turned out, it wasn’t them. It was a carload of landscapers.”
Macias said he and his videographer were detained, nearly arrested and temporarily had their press passes pulled.
“So, a word of advice,” Macias quipped. “Don’t ever get involved in a police chase with a marked television car.”
From player to coach
Macias said the high-profile stories he worked on from the mid-1970s to the beginning of the 1980s helped prepare him for the role of news desk editor, where he has mentored countless journalists at KTVK, KPNX (12 News) and KNXV (ABC15).
Whether mentoring people in the newsroom or students, he compares it to baseball.
“Players nowadays have all these great tools at their disposal. They have analytics, they have video … but they still have to possess the basics,” said Macias, who started working as a news manager in 1981, overseeing assignments for a 60-person newsroom. “They have to know how to hit a ball. They have to know how to position themselves to catch a ground ball, know how to hit the cutoff man.
“In journalism, they still have to know how to write a lead. How to write a complete sentence. How to write interesting copy.”
One of the people Macias taught and mentored is journalism student Marielle Rua, who took his news writing and reporting class in fall 2022.
“Al’s decades of knowledge and experience as a seasoned journalist were really apparent and appreciated. I felt so prepared for the rest of my studies coming out of his class,” said Rua, who will be graduating in May with a degree in journalism and mass communication and is an intern with the Arizona Latino Media Association, which Macias co-founded in 1997 and currently serves as its president.
“Within the classroom setting, he treated us like we were all journalists. It was definitely a connection that I’ve never had with my other instructors,” Rua said.
Macias put baseball metaphors to use in his own career, becoming a utility player in several types of newsrooms and related settings. In addition to television, he has worked in local and regional newsrooms in radio, print and the internet, helping them to garner regional and national journalism awards. He has also worked in communications, holding positions at the Maricopa County Office of Management and Budget and the U.S. Census Bureau.
Chad Snow worked with Macias starting in 2016 when Macias was the news director at KJZZ, an award-winning National Public Radio member station in Phoenix.
“What distinguishes Al is his personality because he is paternal in all the best ways, machine-gunning dad jokes all throughout the day,” said Snow, who is the current news director at KJZZ. “Between the business side of things and the lighter side of things, there was never a tough day because Al kept things so light. He was always a reassuring presence.”
Snow wasn’t the only recipient of dad jokes. Macias’ daughter, Nicole, who also teaches at the Cronkite School, said she heard plenty of them as a kid. And she didn’t always find them funny.
“Dad, can you drive me and April to the movies, please?”
“April and WHO?”
“Can you drive April and ME to the movies, please?”
Nicole Macias said growing up with a “live-in editor” had its perks but could be annoying at times.
“Not just for me but for the entire family,” she said. “However, as we have grown up, it’s easy to see the positive impact those AP corrections at the dinner table had on our lives.”
Twenty-years later, her live-in editor is now her colleague. Since spring 2023, Nicole Macias has served as the director and professor of practice for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Communications Initiative for the Cronkite Agency, a communications agency where students serve real clients with public relations, digital marketing, brand content and bilingual campaigns.
She said one of her proudest teaching moments was an informal ice-breaking session with students, asking them to share who their favorite professor at the Cronkite School was so far.
“I had to hold back tears when two of them said Al Macias,” said Nicole, who is also an ASU alum. “The pride I felt in that moment has now become a core memory. What an amazing feeling to get to share this great person whom I am blessed to call my father with this new generation of journalists.”
Her father also feels blessed.
“I’ve had some great experiences and some not so great, but I’ve managed to survive and had a long career,” Macias said. “I’m hoping that somewhere along the way I managed to pay it back.”
Anita Luera, who had a 27-year career in broadcast journalism and currently serves as the Arizona Latino Media Association’s treasurer, said Macias has paid it back — in full and with interest.
“Mentoring reflects what most of us believe is so important in journalism,” said Luera, who has known Macias since the 1970s. “It is not about us; it is how we can make a difference for others.”