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Billy Porterfield, Longtime Texas Journalist and KERA Producer, Dies At 81


Billy Porterfield, a longtime Texas journalist and author, died Sunday. He spent several years at KERA-TV.

Porterfield of Wimberley was 81.He had Alzheimer’s disease, according to a message on his website.

In 1969, Porterfield joined KERA as a commentator on “Newsroom,” the station’s nightly news program. He worked with Jim Lehrer, who was the program’s original host. After Lehrer joined PBS, Porterfield became executive producer. He also produced public television documentaries. (Scroll down for video of Porterfield on a 1974 edition of “Newsroom.”)

In 1978, Porterfield joined the Dallas Times Herald as a columnist. In 1985, he worked for the Austin American-Statesman as a columnist.

His worked appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and Texas Monthly, among other publications. He also taught at Southern Methodist University.

His books included LBJ Country, A Loose Herd of Texans and The Greatest Honky-Tonks in Texas.

His website states:

In 2010, Porterfield donated his archives to the Southwestern Writers Collection, a part of the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University.  The cataloged Porterfield archives comprise approximately 35 boxes and include clippings, correspondence, and manuscripts for all of his major books, numerous photographs, and other memorabilia.    Porterfield described the decision to turn over his archives to the Wittliff Collections as a homecoming of sorts, noting that he and his brother Bobby went to San Marcos in 1952 to attend what was then Southwest Texas Teachers College (Texas State University). His first job in journalism was as a staff writer at the College Star.

Porterfield was "very Texan"

Porterfield loved the West and country living. He dressed in western clothes, often wore a hat and had an impressive horseshoe mustache.

Lee Cullum worked with Porterfeld on “Newsroom.”

“He never was a city guy,” Cullum told KERA. “He really was very Texan and Texan in a way that lives in the imagination of Texas.”

Cullum described Porterfield as a brilliant writer and something of a philosopher.

“So whatever he wrote and then said on the air was very, very thoughtful,” she said. “When something happened like the release of the Nixon tapes or the death of LBJ, he’s the one we would turn to immediately to write a commentary that would really bring some thought and consideration to what had happened.”

During one 1974 program, Porterfield responded to Cullum’s question about President Nixon’s decision to release controversial White House tapes.

“Well I think it’s the only thing the president could have done to get the heat of impeachment off,” Porterfield told Cullum. “And I think he’ll do that. That this will cool the moves in the house. I think some people will go ahead with him, but I think if he hadn’t done this, impeachment wouldn’t have come about. There would have been strong moves, but now I don’t think there’s much of a point.”

"He always hit home runs"

In August of that year, Nixon resigned. Porterfield was just getting started. He produced TV documentaries, became a newspaper columnist, taught at SMU and wrote several books.

Whether he was producing TV documentaries, writing newspaper columns or books, or teaching, he was a character, Cullum said.

“When Jim Lehrer was running the program, he would get impatient with Billy because he wanted more work out of him and Billy would say ‘I hit home runs’ and that’s the truth, he always hit home runs,” Cullum said.

Survivors include his wife, Diane Barnard Porterfield; children Erin Porterfield of Tyler; Winton Porterfield of San Marcos; Oren Porterfield of Austin; Meredith Roach of Austin and Nashu Barnard of Haslet.

A memorial service has been scheduled for July 27 from 2-6 p.m. at the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos.

Explore Porterfield’s career and work at his website.

Watch Porterfield in this 1974 edition of KERA’s “Newsroom” with Lee Cullum:

Here's Porterfield's obituary on, via the Austin American-Statesman.

Read Porterfield's obituary on his website.

Read Porterfield'sobituary in the Austin American-Statesman(registration required).

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.