Ryan Houston has been working in broadcast journalism for more than a decade and has reported in multiple media markets around the country. His time at Pittsburgh’s WPXI-TV, however, has been a completely unique experience due to the passion yinzers are never afraid to display for their local broadcasters.
“It’s really humbling to go to the grocery store and people will come up to you and say, ‘I love that tie you had on the other day,'” Houston told the Union Progress. “Or I’m in the gym and they say, ‘Great job on that story, but what about this?’ Just to have that camaraderie with the viewers and people of Pittsburgh, I haven’t seen anything like that in any other city I’ve been in.”
He has been serving as a Channel 11 reporter and weekend anchor since he arrived here in January 2020. Houston won’t quite make it to his three-year anniversary in Pittsburgh, though. His last day on air at WPXI is set for Nov. 28.
The Pine Bluff, Ark., native will soon head back to his home state, specifically its capital city of Little Rock. Houston’s stepfather has colon cancer. As the oldest of four siblings, he felt it was his responsibility to physically be present for both his parents. He’ll still be working in television news, though he wasn’t ready to reveal which Arkansas station he will be appearing on yet.
“I just need to be closer to be there for family for whatever they need done,” he said.
He majored in broadcast journalism and minored in theater during his days at the University of Central Arkansas. Two weeks after graduation, he officially kicked off his local reporting career at WALB-TV in Albany, Ga. The next nine years included stints at WRDW-TV in Augusta, Ga.; WAPT-TV in Jackson, Miss.; and WCPO-TV in Cincinnati before joining WPXI.
His only connection to Pittsburgh prior to moving here was his Uncle Leon, who happened to be a huge Steelers fan. Houston was looking forward to experiencing a bustling Downtown and all the city’s cultural offerings come spring and summer, but those plans were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. He never really got to know “what Pittsburgh was truly like before the pandemic,” but he still got a good sense of what makes this area tick.
“Pittsburgh reminded me a lot of Cincinnati, being a river city,” Houston said. “The weather is similar. The people of Pittsburgh are a little nicer in the beginning to newbies versus other places I’ve been.”
When he wasn’t anchoring, he was using his reporting skills to provide Pittsburghers in need with tangible assistance. That included everything from helping to speed up the demolition of a dilapidated Sheraden house in danger of collapsing onto another home to almost single-handedly getting money back for a Westmoreland County woman who was scammed.
“Stories like that where we can actually solve a problem for a viewer and be an advocate, those are the ones I live for,” he said.
As far as he is concerned, WPXI is the best station he’s worked at so far “in terms of the quality of the news product.” He’s learned a lot from his time there, like the value of sharing his storytelling and news-gathering processes with viewers and how important it is to “treat every line with compassion and grace” while telling a person’s story on live TV.
He said he felt the city “really welcomed me with open arms” and that he felt plenty of the hospitality he became familiar with during his Southern childhood. He’ll miss priceless interactions such as folks honking their car horns at him as he biked or jogged on the North Side and yelling out their windows, “Hey, Mr. Newsman!”
Earlier this month, WPXI Westmoreland County bureau chief Melanie Gillespie left Channel 11 to become the new spokesperson for Westmoreland County District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli. Like Gillespie, Houston knows his WPXI colleagues will continue to “recognize the honor and the privilege it is to tell the stories of the hardworking people of Pittsburgh.”
And his parting message for Channel 11 viewers: “Thank you for giving me a chance and sticking with me, especially learning the different names of the towns and streets. They’ll never understand what that means to a Southern guy like myself.”