INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It’s hard to put into words the role David Barras has played in the Indianapolis media the past 37 years. It’s ironic, because words are what made his career.
“There are very few people in the world who have a dream and it comes true. It did for me.”
Sometimes solemn, sometimes urgent, and often funny, Dave talked his way into what would become a phenomenal career in central Indiana on July 21, 1980.
“When they talk about ‘Indian-no place,’ that was pretty much downtown Indianapolis when we got here,” said Dave.
Coming from Evansville, Indianapolis seemed like a booming metropolis to the young reporter and his wife.
“To see this now, 37 years ago, and to know that I reported stories about that through the whole thing, it’s just amazing to me,” he said.
What is now Georgia Street was nothing but boarded up, vacant buildings when Dave arrived, and he’s had a front row seat to the reinvention of the Circle City ever since.
“I was there when they built the old Hoosier Dome, I did stories about them building the Hoosier Dome,” Dave said. “I was there when they ripped it down.”
He was there when the first Colts plane touched down in Indy, before anyone even knew the team was relocating.
He was there the day after they closed the old airport terminal and watched the new one go up.
Hired as a reporter for nights and weekends, Dave first earned his chops on the streets of central Indiana. But it was an opportunity five years into his tenure that sent the then-bearded journalist on a road he never could’ve imagined.
“They had this morning spot open, and I’ll tell you I got the job because there wasn’t anybody else on staff who wanted to get up that early and do the job,” said Dave.
It was a fairly new concept: morning news. WISH-TV’s “Daybreak” was just a year old and one of three morning newscasts in the market.
“We were a very bad third place. I mean bad, barely on the ratings radar and we were there because the other stations were there and you had to do a morning newscast,” Dave said.
But sometimes obstacles are really opportunities, in disguise. The struggling Daybreak offered Dave and his partner, meteorologist Randy Ollis, a chance to just be themselves. No one was watching, after all.
“All they cared was that we were there and we started just doing stuff – shtick – and we started getting an audience,” Dave said.
Dave and Randy’s Daybreak was doing something it never set out to do: it was becoming a success.
“I knew where he was going, he knew where I was going and suddenly the crew got involved and we did a lot of crazy stuff and I have to say we spent a lot of time in the boss’s office,” said Dave. “The boss often called us in and said, ‘Funny is fine. Silly is not.’ And we’d nod and say, ‘Okay, and we’d go and do something silly.”
“Randy and I kind of gave everybody else permission to do that, along the way, and we saw it in our competition, eventually starting to adopt some of the things that we had in a sense pioneered.”
Things like birthday announcements, funny graphics and zany antics.
“We didn’t plan to do anything in the morning. We didn’t plan a bit and say ‘okay we’re going to come in and ask people whether they like thin crust pizza or thick crust pizza,'” Dave said. “We’re just sitting there one day and hey, I have a taste for pizza. I wonder do people like thin or do they like thick? And we would ask and we started doing stuff like that and people responded.”
For 20 years, the duo, that had become best of friends, took “Daybreak” on a ratings ride. But it wasn’t all good.
“We’ve had some layoffs along the way, those days are always tough and terrible. When we lost the CBS affiliate, that was a bad day. When we found out that Randy had cancer, that was a really tough day and for me, and this is really personal, is the day they told me I’d be leaving Daybreak; probably my worst day at WISH-TV,” he said.
Dave says he never got a good explanation, only that management at the time wanted to go in a different direction.
“It’s terrible, it’s humiliating. You know, what we do is public,” Dave said. “There was an article in the newspaper.”
He was moved to evenings. And although hurt, Dave chose not to let the decision determine his attitude.
“As things changed and evolved and they asked me to do this or that or another thing, I always wanted to do it the best I could, and I think that humor helps,” he said.
Turns out, humor can heal. Dave went on to anchor successful evening newscasts for 12 years before deciding it was time to turn off the mic for good and spend more time with a handful of viewers he calls family.
“I don’t want to get emotional but I love them,” Dave said. I can’t even put words about how much I love them.”
Dave says he’s looking forward to traveling and spending more time with his sons and grandchildren. But most of all, more time with the woman who has been at his side through it all, his wife Kathy.
“She heard a lot of things on certain days that nobody else would hear and took it all in stride and we’re just as crazy about each other today as we were 44 years ago when we first met and I’m really lucky for that,” Dave said.
Lucky. Maybe that’s a good word to sum up David Barras’ career. But then again, it seems like we’re the lucky ones; his co-workers, the viewers, anyone who’s been on the receiving end of one of his jokes told for the one-hundredth time.
“(I’m) thankful. I’m a kid who had a dream when I was a kid, I used to take my dad’s earmuffs and pretend I was doing the news, my brother and sister will tell you, I would pretend I was doing the news at home when I was 7, 8 years old. I wanted to do the news always. I wanted to tell stories, I wanted to report on what was going on. I always did. Well, there are very few people in the world who have a dream and it comes true. It did for me.”