When Texas Monthly bought the beloved Texas Country Reporter TV series two years ago, my colleagues and I were excited and also worried. We knew the popularity of the show, which tells engaging stories about folks along the back roads of Texas, was based in large part on the appeal of its cohosts, Bob Phillips and his wife, Kelli, who had decided they wanted to take on new adventures fifty years after Bob founded TCR. Luckily, the Phillipses agreed to continue to host the show for two more years while we sought someone to fill their Texas-size boots.
Leading that search was Melissa Reese, Texas Monthly’s director of video and events, who oversees TCR and is the best-organized visual artist I’ve ever worked with. After months of interviewing candidates and traveling around the state with them to produce “mock” video stories, Melissa, in consultation with the talented TCR crew, identified several promising potential hosts. One of them, J. B. Sauceda, stood out even before we took him on the road for a test run.
Raised in La Porte, just southeast of Houston, J.B. is, at age 38, an accomplished video host, photographer, and entrepreneur. He has fronted segments for the travel show YOLO TX, which, like TCR, is distributed through broadcast TV stations all over Texas and on YouTube. He was interviewed for a documentary collaboration between National Geographic and Travel Texas, the state agency that promotes tourism.
J.B. launched the popular social media account Texas Humor in 2011, and in 2016 he published Y’all: The Definitive Guide to Being a Texan. He is a licensed pilot; longtime readers of Texas Monthly might recognize him for his aerial photography that was featured in the magazine in 2017 and became the basis for his second book, A Mile Above Texas. “J.B. is a gifted multimedia storyteller,” Melissa says, “but he’s especially appealing on camera, as a host and interviewer. He’s curious, warm, and genuine. The J.B. you see on the air is the same guy you’ll see if you run into him at H-E-B.” Bob Phillips, who knows J.B.’s work, welcomed him warmly, saying, “You are about to start what will be the best part of your life. There are still lots of stories to tell in this great state.”
Before seeking the host position, J.B. consulted closely with his wife, Priscilla, and their two children, ages four and eight. “We’re all fans of Texas Country Reporter,” J.B. says, “and as someone who loves Texas, I can’t wait to get out around the state with the TCR crew.” J.B. will appear as host for the show’s fifty-third season, which will begin airing in September. Until then, fans can continue watching Bob and Kelli during season 52.
We’ve recently redesigned the TCR website, where viewers can see all of the episodes from the previous two seasons and find local broadcast showtimes. New and archived episodes will be added over time, with tags that will make it easy to find your favorite story about that maker of intricate dollhouses or the creator of the Black Cowboy Museum.
Managing all of these dynamics would be a full-time job for anyone else, but it’s not for Melissa, who also leads Texas Monthly’s live events. This year three of the biggest annual shindigs fell on successive weekends in October and November. After the TCR Festival in Waxahachie, about thirty miles south of Dallas, Melissa oversaw the Texas Monthly BBQ Festival, in Lockhart, sixty miles northeast of San Antonio, and coordinated TM’s active participation in the Texas Book Festival, in Austin.
The barbecue event, held in glorious (finally!) weather, attracted about 12,000 lovers of smoked meats. They were able to sample the wares of forty of the top fifty joints in Texas Monthly’s quadrennial ranking and hear some terrific live music. Melissa gets a bit of a break until April 13, when TM writers and editors will serve as moderators during the annual San Antonio Book Festival. Please jot that down on your calendar. We hope to see you there!