Bill Hudson, the WCCO reporter who circled the globe to bring international stories a little closer to home, is setting aside his suitcase.
The Elk River native will officially sign off Friday, wrapping up more than three decades at the station of his childhood dreams.
“I’ve had a wonderful career with incredible opportunities to meet people, tell their stories and see the world. But you know when the time has come and the time has come,” the 64-year-old said by phone on Saturday. “I didn’t feel like I was contributing the way I wanted to anymore. I’m not a social-media type and that’s kind of the direction the business is taking. The gas tank is empty. It’s time to pull over and let the faster cars by.”
Hudson’s role at the CBS affiliate went beyond filing stories locally and from the road. Colleagues praised his role as a mentor, helping to set policy as a union steward and offering advice to colleagues between broadcasts.
Angela Davis, who worked at the station for a dozen years before getting her own talk show on Minnesota Public Radio, called him the “newsroom dad.”
“He was one of the most sought-after people in the newsroom when a tough decision needed to be made, whether is was about a story or about a personal crisis,” Davis said. “I think just about everyone there has shed a tear in his presence. I know I did.”
At one point, Hudson co-anchored the WCCO’s morning news program with Davis. But being stuck behind a desk was never his style. He returned to full-time reporting after four years.
His assignments included visiting the Minnesota National Guard on a peace-keeping mission to Bosnia, accompanying battle-worn soldiers as they returned home from Saudi Arabia and surveying the damage caused by Hurricane Andrew.
But Hudson also made his mark on stories closer to home.
His voice broke as he recalled the interview he did from a trailer-park home in Northome with a father who had just lost a son in the Iraq War.
“Bill really does represent a kind of reporting we don’t see on local TV much anymore — authentic, unassuming, honest and enterprising,” said former WCCO news director Scott Libin, who currently teaches at the University of Minnesota. “To me, his work always showed respect for the subjects of his stories and for the audience.”
Peers also praised Hudson’s writing, a skill that’s often under-appreciated in TV journalism.
“Bill is not only a gifted reporter, but a mighty fine fisherman as well,” said Tom Lindner, a former executive producer at WCCO. “He uses words like bait to lure you into his stories and leave you wiser. Being a nice guy in a business that often isn’t is a testament to his character and craftsmanship.”
Hudson grew up aspiring to follow in the footsteps of WCCO legends like Dave Moore and Susan Spencer. He moved one step closer to reaching his goals by getting an interning at WCCO in 1980, shortly after graduating from St. Cloud State University. But a short meeting with local media mogul Stan Hubbard convinced him to delay his plans.
“After 15 minutes, Stan said to me, ‘The best thing you can do is go on the road and get some experience,’” Hudson said. “It’s the best career advice I’ve ever gotten.”
For most of the 80s, he worked in Eau Claire and Milwaukee, returning to WCCO in 1989.
Budget cuts in recent years has meant limited travel for TV journalists, a factor in Hudson’s decision to leave. But the current pandemic played a bigger role.
“I’m scared to death of this virus,” he said. “I’ve got two grandsons. I can’t be out in the community and come home at night to hold a baby. A couple weeks ago, I decided it was time to draw the line.”
Leaving during the pandemic means there won’t be a traditional farewell, although the station plans to air a retrospective tribute on Friday. Hudson can do without cake and punch.
“Everyone likes to be acknowledged and everything, but you need to put everything in perspective,” said Hudson, who plans to spend a good chunk of his retirement years doubling down on his woodworking hobby and doing volunteer work. “There are people with dying members of their family in the hospital and they can’t hold hands. So I won’t have a big party. Big deal. We’ll do it next summer.”