Legendary Waco broadcaster and KWTX-TV founder M.N. “Buddy” Bostick raised the blinds in his fifth-floor apartment atop the American Plaza building near the intersection of Highways 84 and 6 to reveal a stunning landscape spanning Richland Mall and Providence Health Center. “That’s a nice world, isn’t it!” he declared.
It has been to him. At age 94, Bostick has been on top of the world as successful media and business personalities in Waco go.
And he earned every bit.
He’s a cotton-picking farmer’s son who worked his way through Baylor University. Afterward, he ran a string of TV and radio stations in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma from the middle of the last century until the turn of the millennium. He managed hundreds of employees by flying his P-51 Mustang from station to station and made history when his Waco TV station became the first in the nation to broadcast a courtroom trial live in 1955.
Somehow, he also found the time to take up banking and for 30 years served as chairman of American Bank, eventually building the plaza office building where he currently lives.
A building at Vanguard College Preparatory School is named after him. His grandson, attorney Kyle Deaver, was appointed to the Waco City Council in June. His family is well-known and respected.
At the height of his operations he oversaw a $370 million empire.
“It’s hard to believe that I could live in a four-room shack in Moody, Texas, and put together a multimillion-dollar operation. That’s a tribute to the possibilities in America,” he said with a smile while seated at one of six tables in his octagonal apartment adorned with awards and tributes given to him over the years. “I knew there was a better way of life and I wouldn’t have to work so hard, and so I sought that way of life.”
Bostick has lived in the expansive three-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment since 1986 with his wife of 73 years, Virginia. They own homes near Lake Waco and in Colorado, but it’s from atop this perch next to his beloved KWTX-TV station, from which he retired in 1999, that he seems to enjoy life most.
The apartment was built especially for the Bosticks and they are the only private tenants in what many probably think is a commercial-only building. Amid real estate offices, accountants and title companies, their unassuming private entranceway probably goes unnoticed by the hundreds who come to bank or conduct business there on a daily basis.
How he straddled the spectrum from newsman to banking guru is a tale of persistence, discipline and risk-taking. He eagerly shared it with Waco Today while interjecting several life lessons and political warnings. He is a believer in frugality and urges taxpayers not to expect government handouts in order to get through life. Work hard and success will come your way, he says.
“Buddy,” as he is known to most, was born in 1918 and grew up on a 55-acre farm three miles outside of Moody. His parents, Seth and Veda Bostick, worked the hard soil planting vegetables, cotton and oats. They raised pigs for meat and cows for milk for him and his elder sister, Mildred.
His sister, Mildred Brinegar, is 100 years old and also lives in Waco.
Despite the family’s best efforts, “it was impossible to make a living off of 55 acres,” he said. Nevertheless, year after year, they tried to get as much from that small plot of land as possible. And it was while picking cotton and feeling the pangs of hunger that Bostick realized he wanted more out of life and set his sights high.
“He’s very focused and he knew what he wanted to do,” said his eldest daughter, Ellen Deaver, 72, who lives in Waco.
David G. Hicks, president and CEO of American Bank, worked with Bostick during his last years as chairman of the bank. “I’ve observed him and I’ve learned pretty important things from him,” he said. “Buddy focuses and works on things to last.”
That’s not to say that every venture he tried has gone off flawlessly. But it was from his humble beginnings that he realized he wanted more.
When he was about 8, his father bought him a guitar from Sears & Roebuck. “It wasn’t tuned, so I found a boy in the country who could tune it and he showed me a few chords and I learned to play the guitar and sing and yodel. And so I was an entertainer,” he said.
From age 10 to 17 he was the in-between act, yodeling and strumming, whenever Harley Sadler’s tent theater came to town. Once he hit puberty, however, his yodeling days were over.
“So that ended my yodeling, but look at all the experience as a young kid performing in entertainment that gave me,” he said.
After Buddy graduated from high school, his father drove him to the Baylor campus and talked to then-president (and later Texas governor) Pat Neff about the possibility of Buddy attending school there.
“He told him everything good he could,” Bostick said. He also told Neff that the family couldn’t afford the tuition. “But that was not unusual for that time. (Neff) promised I could sign up as a freshman and that he would provide me with enough work to pay for my tuition.”
He was assigned as a typist for the speech department, which he called “like putting the bunny in the briar house.” He already was taking every speech class available — since there was no broadcast degree at the time. Working there augmented his skills and honed his broadcast delivery and technique.
His second year at Baylor, Buddy exhibited one of his most courageous and defining moments. He wheeled and dealed with Neff and got his last two years of school tuition, fees, books and boarding for free in exchange for offering to host a statewide radio program featuring the musical and artistic talents at Baylor. He told Neff that he also could go on-air to tout the attributes of attending Baylor.
“I assured him I could make such an event happen,” he laughed, recalling his gall.
Baylor did not have a radio station, but the school was able to set up remote broadcasts inexpensively by installing a telephone line from the Baylor campus to the ALICO Building, where Waco’s only 100-watt radio station operated and had an antenna on the roof.
Making such early and important connections and getting hands-on experience in the growing and expanding radio industry proved fruitful for his later career.
After graduating from Baylor in 1939 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, he began working as a radio announcer in Little Rock, Ark. Unfortunately, the Ethiopian War (which lasted from 1935 to 1941) was under way and Bostick’s Texas twang tripped him up when he tried to pronounce foreign names. Eventually, he was fired from his first real job. Virginia was pregnant with their first daughter and times looked bleak.
Bostick, however, wasn’t one to mope or fret. He called that merely a “bump in the road.”
“Mother says he would stand in front of the mirror and practice saying words so he wouldn’t have that Texas twang,” his daughter Ellen said.
Her father wrote to every radio contact he knew and one day drove to WREC radio in Memphis and talked the station’s manager into hiring him. The station didn’t need another announcer for a few months until it moved into a new facility. “But I talked him into hiring me that day at $25 a week, working seven days a week,” he said.
Looking back on it, even he wonders where he got the tenacity and arrogance to tell his superiors what to do.
This wasn’t the first time in his life he would do that, and it certainly wasn’t the last.
He convinced that particular manager that if he was proficient at the station, then when it went on air from its new facilities in the Peabody Hotel, he would be ready to go from Day 1.
“I think he was a little cocky,” Ellen said.
His crisp and clear voice and intriguing news stories earned him a reputation. Within a few years, a station manager at KLRA radio in Little Rock, Ark., asked him to be their program manager. That was his break into management.
His next job offer came at his sister Mildred’s urging. She called KRLD Radio officials in Dallas and told them they needed to hire her brother. And they did.
“That’s pretty gaudy, aint it?” he admitted.
Head in the clouds
Then World War II struck, and like many young men, Bostick volunteered for the Army Air Corps. He was sent to Arizona for fighter pilot training.
Although he never went overseas, his flying skills proved useful. He kept one foot on the ground and one in the air, and was often seen flying his P-51 Mustang over Central Texas.
In fact, No. 29 on a 2007 Waco History Project website list reads “You’re ‘Old Waco’ if ‘You can remember Buddy Bostick’s Mustang.’ ”
An oil painting of his P-51 still hangs above the computer desk in his apartment next to a bookshelf filled with favorite selections.
He flew a King Air until four years ago when, at age 90, he finally gave up the reins.
His feisty and adventurous spirit is still evident. For years he was a bowhunter and fly-fisherman. He has slowed down some but still bass fishes, always looking to catch the “big one,” Ellen said.
In a side room, he has a stuffed bobcat that he shot with an arrow as it readied to attack him from a rock wall. “It was either him or me. Only one of us was going to make it out,” he said — an apt metaphor for his life in which he was the top dog at several TV and radio stations.
Deadly tornado coverage
Throughout the war, Bostick wrote to request a government license to start a radio station in Waco. In 1946, it was granted and KWTX had a permit. Bostick began work as station manager, a position he held when the skies over Waco turned black on May 11, 1953, and one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history killed 114 people in a swath through downtown.
He was in the radio station’s offices on the fifth floor of the ALICO Building when the twister hit. After the noise subsided, he ran outside to see brick and debris, and the sign for the R.T. Dennis Building, site of the largest concentration of tornado deaths, in the middle of Austin Avenue.
He ran to a phone and called a Dallas radio station to report what happened. Then he convinced the airport tower to let him fly his Bonanza aircraft above Waco and broadcast live on KWTX Radio, describing the destruction he could see from on high.
“He was a broadcast visionary in the true sense of the word,” said his son-in-law Ray Deaver, Ellen’s husband, and later KWTX-TV station manager. “He got with his chief engineer and figured out how to rig up the airplane so he could broadcast as he flew over the path the tornado took.”
Deaver credits his father-in-law’s creativity with giving the radio station a leg up in weather coverage that KWTX Radio and TV still boast today.
For several days following the tornado, KWTX Radio canceled all commercial broadcasts “and on a 24/7 basis broadcast emergency messages for families seeking loved ones and family members,” Bostick said.
“Opportunity often presents itself to you and it depends upon how you can apply it and what skills you have that can help you,” he said.
Dawn of TV era
In 1955, he convinced KWTX Broadcasting Co. shareholders to start a TV station in Waco.
And shortly after KWTX-TV went on the air, the new station made national history. It became the first TV station to broadcast a U.S. trial live.
This was a risky maneuver, and costly. From Dec. 6 to 9, 1955, the station broadcast continually the murder trial of Harry Leonard Washburn at the McLennan County Courthouse. The Houston man was accused of killing his former mother-in-law, Helen Harris Weaver, 51, in San Angelo with a car bomb.
Excessive media attention in San Angelo moved the trial to Waco and under the watchful eyes of Bostick. He broadcast from the balcony of the 54th State District Court with 100-watt light bulbs and microphones hidden at the witness stand, judge’s bench and prosecutor’s table.
How did he get such a gig?
“We asked for it,” he said matter-of-factly, slapping one of the tables in his apartment. “It was not feasible for them to go to the expense of broadcasting a murder trial, but I thought it was of enough personal significance that I decided we dedicate the cost of doing that and we went on the air.”
From jury selection through closing statements, KWTX-TV broadcast gavel-to-gavel coverage unedited and commercial-free for four days. Newspaper reports from the time said one could have “shot a cannon down Austin Avenue and not hurt a soul because the normally frenzied Christmas shoppers were all inside watching the trial” on TV.
It became a civic lesson for school classes and it garnered the fledgling station headlines in newspapers from New York City to London, he said. “It was all over the nation: Station in Waco, Texas, broadcasts the first murder trial!”
Broadcasting the trial cost about $10,000 (equivalent to $80,000 today), but Bostick said it was worth it. The publicity immediately made the station a name for itself.
And what if it hadn’t worked?
“It had to work because if we couldn’t recognize a marvelous opportunity to let the people know that KWTX-TV would bring them outstanding television, then we’d missed the boat,” he said.
Ray Deaver said his father-in-law required what he called the “two A’s” from prospective employees: attitude and ability. “It’s teamwork. You can’t have somebody out on the island saying, ‘I’m going to do it my way.’ His attitude and ability were big factors throughout his tenure at the station,” said Deaver, who retired in 2001.
Bostick said it was important to treat his workers fairly.
“I had a goal that I made with myself that I would treat all of the employees fairly and when we part company they will say ‘he was fair to me,’ ” he said.
Managing an empire
In 1957, Bostick expanded his television operations with a new station, KBTX-TV in Bryan. Shortly thereafter, he purchased a TV station in Ardmore, Okla., renaming it KXII-TV. He later moved its main studios to Sherman, Texas. In 1965, his broadcasting group added KLFY-TV in Lafayette, La.
At one point he oversaw four TV stations and a few radio stations simultaneously. He flew to meetings in his P-51 Mustang or other aircraft, which he convinced shareholders to purchase.
But his daughter says he wasn’t a workaholic. She says he paced himself and put key people in important management roles.
Ray Deaver says Bostick was instrumental in updating local TV coverage by flying to Japan in 1975 and purchasing two Ikegami HL-33 portable color cameras (early mini-cameras) for on-scene shots.
“This was very new technology and ABC and CBS networks had them, but most TV stations did not,” Deaver said. “KWTX and the Lafayette station were the first in the nation to have this, even a year before any Dallas or Houston stations had them.”
Under Bostick’s leadership, KWTX-TV in 1962 built a 1,080-foot high tower in Lorena and in 1979 built a 1,679-foot tower in his hometown of Moody — the highest tower in Texas at the time. Installation of that tower gave the station regional broadcast coverage as it expanded to serve Temple and Killeen.
In 1999, Bostick retired as chairman of the board of KWTX Broadcasting Co.
“He became more focused on the bank,” Ellen said. “He wasn’t working any less. He was just differently focused.”
Local bank leader
While building his broadcasting empire, he and financial partner W.W. Callan bought Bellmead State Bank on May 19, 1976. In addition, they chartered the American National Bank in December 1982 with Bostick named chairman of the board. In November 1987, the banks merged to become American Bank, NA (National Association) with Bostick serving as chairman.
“Building an institution that will last multiple generations is much more of a priority for him than the profit mode,” American Bank CEO Hicks said. “He’s really in tune with the customer experience and he somehow rationalizes that if you have a strong foundation and focus on customers’ experience, then the profit will take care of itself.”
When Bostick stepped down as board chairman in April, the bank’s assets totaled $370 million, Hicks said.
Bostick still serves as chairman emeritus and said he is proud of his bank’s 60 years of success.
On the 65th anniversary of KWTX-TV, a proclamation was issued declaring April 29, 2011, as “M.N. Buddy Bostick Day” in Waco by then-Mayor Jim Bush.
And what about his initials M.N.? Well, they stand for Milford Nelson. But nobody calls him that “unless they want a fight,” he said.
And at age 94, he has a lot of fight still in him.