Bud Foster can thank a bank robber for where he is today. In the 1970s, as a fledgling behind-the-scenes producer at a Phoenix TV station, Foster, who at the time looked more like Grizzly Adams than a newsman, was stuck in a Valley Bank branch at 27th and Camelback while it was being robbed. It was a flamboyant robbery, too, not one of those quiet pass-the-note jobs.
"He said, 'Get your hands in the air, don't rattle keys, I've got a bomb in the box. I'm going to die. You're all going to die,'" Foster recalled. "He gets his money from the tellers, leaves in a white pickup truck, so they locked the doors and I'm inside. I walk outside when they finally opened the door and there's the Channel 12 news crew. They started talking to me about it. They get on their radio saying Foster was in there. It's not very often you get to do a first person story. Somewhere there's film of this kid with long hair and a beard talking about what it was like being inside a bank while it was being robbed. The news director said, 'That wasn't bad; you want to do that again?' I said sure. I had to clean up a bit, but I've been on the air ever since."
For 30-plus years he's been an anchor and reporter, most of that time in Tucson, the last 15 years at KOLD, an opportunity that arose after the only time in his career he was let go.
"The old saying is you're nobody in television news unless you've been fired at least once. I was fired once," Foster said. "As long as you've been hired one time more than you've been fired, you're OK. You never take it personally. When I was fired, we were the No. 1 rated newscast with ratings higher than the other two stations combined, and I asked why am I being fired, and the man said, 'Bud, you've lost that gleam in your eye.' I guess it was the lighting or something. Very early on I learned you can never take it personally. It's not a reflection of your work and how you do your job. It's a reflection of someone else's personal preferences. Once you're able to deal with that and come to terms with that, it allows you to stay in the business and move on and not take it personally."
What Foster does take personally is performance. The reasons for his induction at the 20th annual Arizona Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame luncheon—the other three members of the class are iconic Phoenix television news anchor Kent Dana and Valley radio legends W. Steven Martin and Dave Pratt—run deeper than just longevity. When KOLD moved Foster from the morning anchor desk into the field as its political correspondent, it made the CBS affiliate the local TV news destination for information related to political occurrences in Southern Arizona and throughout the state.
"Every news organization has to have its institution. You need someone with an institutional memory," Foster said. "Other newsrooms don't have the luxury of having someone who can talk about (the history of Arizona politics). You have to have that. It gives us a huge advantage and it helps us a lot. I am a staunch advocate of local news coverage, and local political news coverage. I don't know if the other stations have made that commitment. I am fortunate our management has made that commitment. There are a number of times where I was the only reporter sitting in on a zoning meeting. Why would a TV station show up for a zoning issue on the northwest side? I do that. We do that, and the other stations don't have that kind of commitment.
"If you look at the latest ratings book, content is exceedingly important. You can have a beautiful and great anchor team, but if you don't have content, it ain't gonna work. You can have an average anchor team, and if you have great content it will work. Content is the most important thing you can have, and the most important thing you can sell. That's one of the reasons I think they've seen fit to put me in the Hall of Fame, because I've always been about content."
Given Tucson's screwy political climate, Foster isn't at a loss for material, and even though his responsibility is reporting the news, he loves to engage in lively conversation about the issues and problems facing the area, from what he sees as a flawed city charter to inconsistencies in downtown redevelopment contracts to the negative effects of term limits for representatives at the state level.
"It's more entertaining now than it ever has been. Tucson has this system that doesn't work, and it's obvious," Foster said. "You have to have a strong mayor. Lew Murphy thought he was a strong mayor, even in this weak mayor system. He'd tell (city councilmember) Tom Volgy to sit down and shut up. (Current mayor Bob) Walkup won't do that. He has six people all moving in different directions and there's nothing he can do about it. It's brutally awful for the people in Tucson. It's dysfunctional. Right now is the worst I've seen. They need to get their act together because we're seeing some really hard times. They need to rewrite the charter, rewrite the code, rewrite the development agreements, and as long as they don't do that it's entertainment at its finest. But everybody in Tucson gets hurt by that."
Foster's Hall of Fame induction is not his swan song. Far from it. He recently inked a three-year contract extension with KOLD.
"By the time that's out I'll have almost 40 years in this business," said Foster, who is just two years removed from quintuple bypass heart surgery, which in and of itself has given him something of a lighter outlook on the future. "I'm going to die at my desk, but at least I'll have a nice suit on."