DALLAS — For the last couple of months -- ever since his retirement was announced to the newsroom on November 10, 2022 -- WFAA Chief Editor Brian Hardcastle has been cracking the same joke over and over to his colleagues.
It goes something like this: "I can't wait until the first big breaking news event after I retire. I'll be sitting at home, laughing and thinking of you all running around here like your heads are falling off."
Well, the day has finally come: On Friday, Jan. 27, the 63-year-old Hardcastle will clock in for the last time at WFAA.
And, probably within hours after he walks out the door for the last time, some big story will break, and Hardcastle will burst out cackling his uniquely abrasive Hardcastle laugh.
He'll have earned that privilege.
Friday marks the close of a TV news career that spans more than 35 years, dating back to his first gig in the medium at KGBT-TV in Harlingen, Texas. After a few years working as everything from an editor to a photographer to a marketer at his hometown station, Hardcastle lost that initial news gig to an economic downtown after the first Gulf War.
That station's loss, however, was WFAA and its sister station KHOU in Houston's gain.
It was 30 years ago this week, in fact, that Hardcastle was hired at KHOU, where he'd rise up the ranks to become Chief Editor at that station before moving up Interstate 45 to accept the same position at WFAA in 2005 -- a role he'd firmly hold onto for 18 years.
The list of historic events he's worked over the course of his career is boundless.
He covered three NBA basketball championships -- two in the '90s in Houston and one with the Mavs in 2011.
He covered two of the most infamous Super Bowls of all time between the Houston-hosted game in 2004, at which Janet Jackson performed the halftime show, and the 2011 one in Arlington, where an ice storm almost completely halted the festivities.
He worked as an on-site editor at the 1996 GOP convention and the 2000 Democratic convention.
He looks back on 2001 as the busiest year he ever worked in news. That year, KHOU's station was flooded in six inches of Tropical Storm Allison rainwater -- and even that would've seemed monumental were it not for the events that arose in the following weeks and months. Just days after that event, he helped the station cover the saga of Andrea Yates, the Houston-area mother who drowned her five children. And then, of course, there were the terrorist attacks that came on Sept. 11.
Ask him the biggest news story he remembers covering, though, and he'll draw a blank.
"Y'know, I used to save almost every story I did that I was proud of," Hardcastle says. "And then it got to be so many it was just unwieldy. And once I became Chief Editor, my responsibilities increased tenfold. And, you know, it just kind of fell by the wayside. I doubt I'll look back at many of the stories I've done before. I've done so much! I can look back at stories and go, 'I have no idea or no memory of doing that.'"
He remembers the loudest story, though. It happened a few years into his time at WFAA. It was 2007, and he was carpooling into the office at 606 Young Street with the late WFAA Operations Manager Danny Manley when they heard a series of loud noises while pulling into the office. At first, they assumed it was two freight cars crashing into one another on the nearby train tracks. Then they saw three photographers sprinting out the back door, their gear in tow.
"We're like, 'Holy crap -- something bad's happening,'" Hardcastle recalls. "So we haul ass upstairs and we get up here. The windows are shaking. It was like 'Boom! Boom!' and just, like... crazy. And we're looking outside. And we could see acetylene tanks flying up into the horizon. I mean, I'm surprised they didn't hit any cars. They landed on the Houston Street [Viaduct]. I think a few landed on I-35. I mean, they were going everywhere and shooting, y'know, 500 feet in the air -- on fire and spinning. It was crazy!"
Then, he remembers, his mind quickly turned to the job at hand.
"Let's find the wide, medium and close-up [shots]," Hardcastle says his goal was that day. "Let's find the money shots and the close-ups, and highlight them if we can. And there was one great shot that I'll never forget: From a tower cam, we got zoomed into the acetylene tank farm where there's like, y'know, dozens, maybe even hundreds of these tanks -- and a few of them on fire. And here's a guy like 30 or 40 feet from the fire with a garden hose. Like, what? Get the heck out of there, man! What are you thinking? So yeah: Highlight those shots: 'See the guy down there? With the garden hose? That's the one.'"
On the technical side of things, Hardcastle oversaw four server upgrades and four editing system changes since 2003 alone. Throughout the years, he's edited on many generations of formats -- from 3/4" tape to Betacam to modern digital editing software.
And, for being what WFAA news director Leslie McCardel calls the "glue of the newsroom," Hardcastle was named WFAA employee of the year in 2015.
It's the stuff the viewer never sees that he'll miss the most: Digging through the station archives to satisfy his history fandom and serve the shows; sifting through mountains of raw video to find visually compelling shots; and doing what he describes as "illustrating" the reporters and producers' stories for the screen.
The ultimate goal? Getting the viewer to sit up and take notice of something special.
"That is a job well done," Hardcastle says. "It's when somebody looks up from their phone and goes, 'Wow.' Because you know how it is: You get home, you're tired, you're watching a newscast and you're like, 'I'm not really that interested in that story.' So you kind of tune out for two minutes and think about something else. You're looking at the newspaper, or your phone these days. But our job is to keep it rolling and keep it visually appealing -- and attention spans are far shorter now."
Hardcastle says he's watched firsthand the effect that shorter attention spans have had on the industry over the years -- namely how more and more stories are now expected to be told in shorter and shorter chunks -- and he's not shy about saying he thinks it's changed the medium for the worse.
He wishes stories had more room to breathe in the shows these days. He's quick to point out, though, that he's glad platforms like WFAA Originals still exist to keep that old-school, extended storytelling format alive.
He's proud, too, of the way he and his team of editors have shaped the way today's modern WFAA news broadcasts look. He's also pleased with how he's been able to steward a team through so many industry changes over such an extended period of time.
But, ultimately, after more than three decades in the game, he's ready to embark on a new chapter.
Hardcastle says he's 75% happy about diving into retirement, and 25% anxious.
He's a little worried, he admits, about the "honey-do" list his wife has lined up for him at home.
"It's about a half-a-mile long," he says with a laugh. "It's like the CVS receipt from hell."
After some time away, he says he hopes he'll eventually find some freelance editing work to fill his days along with the requisite daily time spent dedicated to his cherished pastime of listening to his favorite rock bands of the '70s.
He'd like to edit some documentaries if given the chance.
In a perfect world, maybe -- just maybe -- someone will unearth some old footage of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, with whom he served as a merch guy for a six-week touring run back in his younger years. And maybe -- just maybe -- that person will tap on Hardcastle to edit that footage into a rock documentary.
He laughs, content at the thought.
"Yeah," he says, reflecting one last time on a career that's seen him do... well, most everything else.
"That's the dream."