CHERYL GERBER PHOTOGRAPH
Chasing down Bill Capo for an interview is hard because, well, he’s busy chasing somebody else down for an interview. It is his job as WWL-TV/Channel 4 Eyewitness News Action Reporter to cut through bureaucratic red tape (a particular peeve of his), expose fraud and right wronged New Orleanians to the best of his ability; to make sure those who are being taken advantage of and those who are taking the advantage get their just rewards. For some, it’s as simple as getting electricity on in their FEMA trailer after Hurricane Katrina, or keeping BP officials on their toes after the oil incident in the Gulf of Mexico. As he says, “BP already doesn’t like me.”
But for those who know and work with Capo – he’s been at WWL for 30 years – his dogged determination to get the story is no surprise. Capo has been a newshound since he was 7 years old, when he started hanging out at the WDSU studios, which were then located in the French Quarter. He worked his way up, learning all aspects of the business. He’s been in broadcast news ever since.
He landed at WWL in 1980 when the legendary Phil Johnson hired him. Capo was working then for WVUE (he had been hired by another New Orleans broadcasting legend, Alec Gifford). There was a bit of drama with the interview, which was fitting for a future investigative reporter: It was conducted in Johnson’s large gold car with a white vinyl top in a parking lot off of the Interstate 10 Service Road because Johnson didn’t want WVUE to know.
Capo’s love of broadcast news also led to the love of his life: He met his wife Leslie, to whom he’s been married for almost 34 years (they wed in October 1976), while they were students at University of New Orleans, and transferred together to Loyola University to study communications.
They are both rooted to the city (they even honeymooned here) – and Capo truly loves what he does – so no worries about him leaving New Orleans. Good news for us, not so good for the bad guys.
Profession: WWL-TV/Channel 4 Eyewitness News Action Reporter Age: 57 Born and Raised: New Orleans (I was born in Baptist Hospital) Resides: Metairie Family: Wife, Leslie; two daughters, Lissa and Ashlan. Two dogs, Zeke and Stella Education: Isidore Newman School for grade school; Sewanee Military Academy for high school; two years of undergraduate work at University of New Orleans; bachelor of arts in Communications from Loyola University Favorite book: I read constantly… all kinds of stuff. I like old time science fiction, such as books by Isaac Asimov. Mysteries, like those by Dick Francis. My absolute favorite is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The first time I read it was in military school. [Ed. Note: For more reading favorites, jump to the end of the article to check out his “True Confession.”] Favorite movie: I like old movies, White Christmas and Father Goose. But I also really enjoyed Avatar. And, since I live in a house of women, I find myself watching the occasional chick flick.
Favorite food: My mother’s curry, but it has nothing to do with real curry. It has chicken, curry powder, chopped peanuts and eggs. Leslie’s lasagna – she’s a really good cook. Favorite restaurants: We have such incredible choices here in New Orleans. We like to go to Deanie’s, Royal China and Shogun. My wife and I have such crazy schedules that we sometimes get take-out to bring home. Favorite music: I listen to all kinds of music: Dr. Michael White, Glen David Andrews, the Woodstock album. It needs to have a good rhythm, be symphonic. And it depends on what mood I’m in. Favorite vacation spot: Orange Beach, Ala. Hobby: Reading
You are a lifelong New Orleanian. Tell me about your family background. I grew up at a family compound on the edge of Audubon Park. I was one of three children, and my uncle lived next door, and he had four children. So there were seven of us [children] who used to play in the park and go to the zoo. We then moved to the area around where the State Police, Troop B, used to be.
Capo is a Spanish name, and I’m fifth generation on my father’s side. My great-great grandfather came here from the town of Mahon on the Isle of Minorca, just off the coast of Spain. Both him and my great-grandfather were cops in the French Quarter. My mother’s side of the family is from Pennsylvania. They were German immigrants.
And you went to a military school for high school. It was the best thing my father ever did for me. I was totally directionless, and it gave me the foundation for everything else.
Father’s Day is June 20; tell me what it’s like being a father? There is no formula [for fatherhood]. Every day is a new day. From the time I fed my daughters with their bottles to starting their careers – and every stage in between – it really is fulfilling. Even going through their teenage years.
How did you know that you wanted to be involved in television news? I decided when I was 7 years old. I went to Channel 6 with my dad and walked around the studio. That was it. I would take the streetcar down to the studio and I basically lived there. I watched Terry Flettrich, Bob and Jan [Carr] and Mel Leavitt work. I had all access to everything … I hung around and they couldn’t get rid of me.
Tell me about some of your other early broadcast experiences. When I was a senior in college I did a 13-week series called “Pulse: New Orleans” for Channel 12. We did vignettes about oyster harvesting, Fat City – back in the day.
For WWOM – Wonderful World of Movies, now Channel 26 – I was a go-fer at 17. One of my favorite memories was filming live a bunch of gymnasts and Ruthie the Duck Girl was watching. Ruthie was so inspired that she decided to do a cartwheel. Except Ruthie wasn’t wearing any underwear, as we found out.
What was your first job out of college? I went to Mobile, Ala. to work at WALA-TV as a producer director. I did everything there: I wrote, edited film, directed. Leslie followed three months later as a director. She was so much better than me and the other newscast director, I was able to move into news reporting.
Tell me about working at WWL. It’s been the best experience. It was a little bit of broadcast heaven when I joined, and it still is.
We chronicle daily history … we go everywhere and see everyone. I’ve met so many people. I have so many memories … I was there when Sheriff Harry Lee was elected the first time, and we were on live TV and he read his horoscope, “You will find success in political endeavors.”
How have your stories as the Eyewitness News Action Reporter made an impact? I do hundreds of stories in a year, but I’m not your typical reporter. Most look for the facts. I do things for people, get things changed. I have had stories picked up by CNN and other national news, which gets the word out even more.
I’m very people-oriented, so when I do my stories, I’m looking at their lives. And I get to meet amazing people.
[On the other hand,] I am not pleasant to those who are not helping those in need. I was once FEMA’s most hated man.
How many phone calls does the Action Report Line get? We get about 25 phone calls a day, 35 over a weekend. After Hurricane Katrina, we got 200 a day. There was such incredible need and it was so heartbreaking. We’re still dealing with a lot of Katrina-related problems.
True confession: I like the occasional romance novel. I like Metsy Hingle, who became a friend after I had her on for “12 for the Road.” [Ed. Note: Capo’s series where he has guests create non-alcoholic holiday drinks.] She grew up in St. Elizabeth’s Orphanage in New Orleans. I also read books by Hailey North and Erica Spindler, who has also been on “12 for the Road.”