Fox 7 promotes from within to fill ‘Good Day’ anchor slot

Tania Ortega (Fox 7 photo)

Reporter Tania Ortega, a regular presence on Fox 7’s morning newscasts for almost five years now, is taking over as anchor of the weekend editions of “Good Day Austin.”

Ortega replaces Ann Wyatt Little, who recently left to work as an anchor/reporter at sister Fox station WJZY in Charlotte, N.C.

“Tania has covered everything from hurricanes and tornadoes to features for ‘Good Day Austin,’ ” Fox 7 vice president and news director Pam Vaught said. “Because she is tuned in to the city of Austin and the interests of its people, Tania is the ideal person to take over this anchor position.”

Ortega arrived in Austin after holding a variety of positions at two separate TV stations in Waco. She’s a graduate of San Diego State University.

“After four and a half years of reporting on location for ‘Good Day Austin,’ I’m excited to provide viewers with the news of the day and the human interest stories they love, all from the anchor desk,” Ortega said.

The weekend edition of “Good Day Austin” airs from 6 to 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Fox 7 news team training pup to help disabled vets

Tommy (Jennifer Kendall photo/Fox 7)
Tommy (Jennifer Kendall photo/Fox 7)

The newest addition to the Fox 7 news team is a playful puppy named Tommy.

Station employees are working to socialize the black lab as part of the Patriot PAWS program, which provides service dogs for veterans.

Tommy spends his days in the newsroom, where there’s no shortage of head pats and belly rubs, then heads home each night with one of a handful of specially trained handlers, vice president and news director Pam Vaught said.

“It’s a great project,” she said. “Corporate was very excited about it when we first approached them. Everybody loves it. Everybody wants to participate and help out in some way.”

Tommy is being featured in stories airing Tuesdays during the Fox 7 newscasts at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m., during anchor Ann Wyatt Little’s Sunday morning newscast and during chief meteorologist Scott Fisher’s weathercasts weeknights at 9 p.m. The station even has a live webcam at fox7austin.com where viewers can keep an eye on the pup.

Already, he’s become a celebrity around town, Vaught said.

“We ran the first story Sept. 2,” she said. “The very next morning, I was at PetSmart and a woman recognized him. It was awesome.”

Fox 7 will have Tommy for about four months, then he’ll go off to a women’s prison in North Texas to continue his training, according to Vaught.

“We’re going to miss him when he’s gone,” Vaught said. “He’s a big, goofy puppy that’s highly intelligent. I think everybody’s blood pressure has gone down since he arrived.”

Training Tommy is just the latest in a long line of projects the station has undertaken in recent years to help area veterans. Earlier this year, anchor Rebecca Thomas intervened when a local veteran in need of an organ transplant was getting the run-around from doctors. The station plans to continue that advocacy, Vaught said.

“When our general manager Michael Lewis arrived, he felt this was a great niche for us to focus on,” she said. “It’s just grown from there.”

Former UT football player joins Fox 7 morning team

A former University of Texas football player is joining the Fox 7 morning team.

Linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in 2012, will appear on “Good Day Austin” each Monday this football season.

Emmanuel Acho (Rodolfo Gonzalez photo /American-Statesman)
Emmanuel Acho (Rodolfo Gonzalez photo /American-Statesman)

“After spending a few minutes with Emmanuel, you cannot help but feel energized,” Fox 7 vice president and news director Pam Vaught said. “He’s intelligent, quick-witted and ready to tackle live TV.”

Look for Acho, who is currently a free agent, to pop up during the 9 a.m. hour of “Good Day Austin.”

In addition to the Fox 7 gig, Acho also appears on the Longhorn Network’s “Texas Game Day” program.

“It’s always given me great pride to have the support of my Texas family, especially while in the NFL,” he said. “Coming back home was a dream of mine and joining Fox is an exciting opportunity to broaden my skills as a television personality and bring unique stories to the audience.”

Fox 7 story on veteran’s plight catches attention of 2 U.S. senators

Rebecca Thomas
Rebecca Thomas

A series of reports that aired recently on Fox 7 caught the attention of a pair of U.S. senators, prompting them to introduce new legislation.

Rebecca Thomas, who anchors the station’s 5 p.m., 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, introduced viewers to Charles Nelson, a veteran from Leander in need of a kidney transplant.

It’s a story that was personal for Thomas, who donated one of her kidneys to her mom last year.

Nelson’s son, Coty, was a match and ready to donate – but there was a problem. The U.S. Veterans Administration said that, because Nelson’s son wasn’t a veteran, the procedure wouldn’t be covered under its “Choice” program.

Ultimately, Charles had to qualify for Medicare and rely on that program to pay for the life-saving surgery instead.

“When his wife first contacted the station, this sounded like such an injustice,” Thomas said. “Being a living kidney donor, I know what’s involved and how tough it is. This was an undue burden for them.”

Thomas did some digging and found that the VA didn’t appear to be interpreting the rules for the Choice program as lawmakers had intended.

In a statement provided to Fox 7, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said the VA had “created a technicality that doesn’t exist, as basic common sense dictates that in cases of transplants, the donor’s medical care is an essential part of the procedure.”

Not long after that, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) introduced the Veterans Transplant Coverage Act, which seeks to clarify the Choice program’s rules.

“Our veterans who have sacrificed so much for our nation deserve the best possible health care we can give them, but unfortunately, the VA bureaucracy is not doing everything they can to help those who need life-saving transplant procedures,” Sen. Cornyn said. “I thank Sen. Kirk for his leadership on this issue, and I hope we can pass this bill to help veterans in Texas and across the nation cut through the red tape and receive quality, life-changing care.”

The goal, Thomas said, is to keep other veterans from facing similar obstacles.

“The family is very happy a fix is coming down the line,” she said. “Advocacy journalism is wonderful. How many other veterans are there who don’t have someone advocating for them? It’s scary. Being able to expose a wrong and see some action is incredibly gratifying.”

As for Thomas and her mom, they’re both doing well, post-surgery. Thomas was back on air just a couple weeks after the procedure, and her mom is showing no signs of rejecting the donated kidney.

“It’s almost like it never happened,” she said.

Fox 7 anchor back on air after donating kidney to her mom

Rebecca Thomas (Fox 7 photo)
Rebecca Thomas (Fox 7 photo)

Fox 7 anchor Rebecca Thomas returns to the air Wednesday night, just a couple weeks after she donated a kidney to her mother.

Initially, Thomas will only work part-time, anchoring the station’s 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

She’ll return to full-time status on Dec. 21, a Fox 7 spokesperson said, reappearing on the station’s 5 p.m. broadcast.

Thomas flew to California last month so doctors could remove one of her kidneys to give to her mother, who was on dialysis.

The surgery went well for both mom and daughter, according to Thomas’ posts on social media.

Ann Wyatt Little takes over as Fox 7 weekend morning anchor

Ann Wyatt Little (Fox 7 photo)
Ann Wyatt Little (Fox 7 photo)

Ann Wyatt Little will take over as anchor of the weekend editions of KTBC’s “Good Day Austin” starting this Saturday.

A reporter at Fox 7 for the past four years, Little replaces Scarlett Greyson, who is leaving the station.

“Ann Wyatt is one of the most dedicated, hardworking and thorough reporters out there,” Fox 7 vice president and news director Pam Vaught said. “We look forward to seeing her energy on the weekends.”

Prior to arriving in Austin, Little worked as a reporter and anchor at the NBC station in Lubbock. She is a graduate of Southern Methodist University.

At Fox 7, she started on the morning shift before moving to evenings.

“I’m excited to move into this new role in a city that I love,” Little said. “After spending two years waking up with Austinites as they got ready for work, I am looking forward to helping our viewers ease into Saturday and Sunday on the weekend edition of ‘Good Day Austin.’ ”

The weekend edition of “Good Day Austin” airs from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday.