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Bob Butler, Jr.

Broadcast journalist Bob Butler was born on June 5, 1953 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Butler grew up in a Navy family, and, as a child, he travelled throughout the United States. Butler attended St. Joseph-Notre Dame High School in Alameda, California, where he graduated in 1971. Before graduation he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served in Guantanamo Bay and Newport, Rhode Island before receiving an honorable discharge in Philadelphia in 1974.

In 1974, Butler moved to Washington, D.C. and then Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he worked for Bell Telephone as a directory assistance operator while moonlighting as a disco deejay. In 1977, Butler returned to Hayward, California and studied at Chabot College where he also filled hourly newscasts at the campus station. Upon graduating from Chabot College in 1979, he briefly worked at Soulbeat Television; and, in 1980, was hired as a general assignment reporter at KDIA radio in Oakland, California.

Butler transferred to San Francisco State University and interned at KCBS radio in 1981. Shortly after, he was brought on as a desk assistant and then was hired on staff in 1982. Butler worked at the editor’s desk and became a fill-in reporter during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake where he covered a wide range of topics throughout the United States, including local and national politics, natural disasters, and general news.

Butler became the weekend morning reporter in September of 1999 and covered international stories in Brazil, Europe, and countries in Africa such as Namibia, Tanzania, and Senegal. In 2005, Butler was promoted to diversity director for CBS Corp. where he recruited diverse candidates for positions with the company’s radio and television stations. He left full-time employment at CBS in 2006, and was a lead reporter on the Chauncey Baily Project as an investigative reporter from 2007 to 2011.

Butler’s career includes leadership roles in various professional organizations. In 2000, Butler became a member for the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and began mentoring college students on the radio projects in 2002. He was elected president of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association (BABJA) in 2004, where he served for five years. In 2007 Butler was elected as NABJ’s regional director. He was promoted to vice-president of broadcast in 2009, and was elected the 20th President on August 2, 2013.

Butler joined the San Francisco board of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) in 1999. He became a member of the inaugural national board when AFTRA and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) merged in 2012, creating SAG-AFTRA.

Butler lives with his wife, Lois Butler, in the San Francisco Bay Area. They have one son, Robert Butler, III.

Bob Butler was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 6, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.303

Sex

Male

Interview Date

11/6/2013

Last Name

Butler

Maker Category
Middle Name

Henry

Schools

San Francisco State University

Chabot College

St. Joseph Notre Dame High School

St Joseph School

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Bob

Birth City, State, Country

Chelsea

HM ID

BUT06

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Massachusetts

Favorite Vacation Destination

Brazil

Favorite Quote

Hard Work, Low Pay or Hard Work, No Pay

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

California

Interview Description
Birth Date

6/5/1953

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Bay Area/Oakland

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Gumbo

Short Description

Television news reporter Bob Butler, Jr. (1953 - ) served as 20th president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) from 2013 to 2015, and as president of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association (BABJA) from 2004 to 2009.

Employment

Chauncey Bailey Project

KCBC Radio

KCBS Radio

KDIA Radio

SoulBeat Television

AT&T

United States Navy

CBS

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Bob Butler, Jr.'s interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Bob Butler, Jr. lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about moving during his childhood and teenage years

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes his parents' personalities and who he takes after

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Bob Butler, Jr. recalls attending his paternal grandfather's funeral in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about moving and his childhood interests

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes the various houses he lived in as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his early experiences with media and watching HistoryMaker Belva Davis on television

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about being an altar boy

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his high school sports experiences

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes his decision to enroll in the U.S. Navy in 1971

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Bob Butler, Jr. recalls the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy and civil unrest in California

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes experiencing racial discrimination as a child

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about the history of racial discrimination in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his parents' generation's attitude towards race relations

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his responsibilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Bob Butler, Jr. remembers working with Cubans on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in the early 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Bob Butler, Jr. recalls a defense training exercise at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes DJing parties in high school and in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about drinking and smoking during his service in the U.S. Navy

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes various jobs he held after being discharged from the U.S. Navy

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about working for Bell Telephone Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about DJing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the San Francisco Bay area in the late 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his decision to enroll at Chabot College in Hayward, California

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes his first newscasts at Chabot College in Hayward, California

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about working at Soul Beat in Oakland, California

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about black media figures in the late 1970s

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about the origins and growth of the National Association of Black Journalists

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Bob Butler, Jr. explains his reasons for leaving Soul Beat in 1979

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes Soul Beat's coverage of the Dr. Yusuf Bey case in Oakland, California

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about Yusuf Bey's Your Black Muslim Bakery

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about the death of Chauncey Bailey and the reporting on the story

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about Chauncey Bailey

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about reporting on Chauncey Bailey's 2007 murder in Oakland, California

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Bob Butler, Jr. recalls attending college part-time at San Francisco State University while working full-time at KCBS

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about stories he reported on at KCBS and the awards the station won

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about the unpredictable nature of news reporting

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about mentoring aspiring black journalists and becoming president of the National Association of Black Journalists in 2013

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Bob Butler, Jr. recalls joining the National Association of Black Journalists and attending his first conference in 2000

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about becoming a mentor for aspiring black journalists

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about becoming diversity director for CBS in 2005

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Bob Butler, Jr. recalls the death of a student journalist at the 2005 National Association of Black Journalists Convention

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about visiting Africa in 2005

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about the raid on Your Black Muslim Bakery following the 2007 murder of Chauncey Bailey

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Bob Butler, Jr. recalls the 2008 election of HistoryMaker Barack Obama

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his post-CBS projects

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about becoming a regional director for the National Association of Black Journalists board in 2007

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his role as vice president of broadcast for the National Association of Black Journalists

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes his 2013 campaign for president of National Association of Black Journalists

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes new programs and his vision for the National Association of Black Journalists

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Bob Butler, Jr. reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes a 2012 story he wrote about forced mortgage payoffs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, pt. 1

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes a 2012 story he wrote about forced mortgage payoffs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, pt. 2

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his family

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Bob Butler, Jr. recalls seeking treatment for his drug addiction

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Bob Butler, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Bob Butler, Jr. narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

10$8

DATitle
Bob Butler, Jr. talks about his responsibilities at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base
Bob Butler, Jr. talks about the unpredictable nature of news reporting
Transcript
So well, how did things go in the [U.S.] Navy? Now, you--which one of those options did you--$$I ended up becoming a storekeeper.$$Okay.$$You know, and my first duty station was down in Guantanamo Bay [Cuba], and, you know, I mean I worked at--the department I was in was port services. And these are the folks that drive the boats, you know, the ferries, the tugs. I was in that department. And because I was in that department, you know, I mean I was the--we had two storekeepers. There was the first class, and there was me. So I'm the, I was what they call a striker, when you're an enlisted man, and you're going for a rate, until you reach a certain level, you are called a striker. So I was striking to become a storekeeper, Seaman First Class, storekeeper. And so I'm learning from, you know, the E6, the First Class storekeeper, and, you know, that's what you do, you know. So my job was to issue spare parts and conduct inventories, and when I stood duty, I stood duty at the port patrol tower. There's a picture of me actually standing up there at the tower, overlooking the [Guantanamo] Bay, you know, at Guantanamo Bay, and then, you know, my job--I was up there at the port control tower where they still use semaphore [ph.], I mean the signal lights. And so the people that stood duty up there were signal men. So I'm trying to learn Morse code and learn how to do--maybe I can do this instead of being a storekeeper, you know. And then eventually, they, I was, I would go from standing duty up there and so they go to bed at midnight. And I had to stay up all night, you know. That was some hard stuff, especially with the stuff I was doing during the day (laughter). But, you know, there are times when I would fall asleep, you know. You're not supposed to fall asleep, but that's--it's hard to stay up all night long. But I did that, and then I became a boat coxswain, you know, driving the small boats, you know. And that was, that was kind of cool to be out there doing that.$Now, how do you approach ra- how is delivering radio news different from delivering news on television?$$Well, I always tell, when I talk to young people, I talk about the difference between what I do, what a television reporter does, what a print reporter does, and what a public radio reporter does, public radio. So we all come out of the same newscast--same news conference at 10:30 in the morning. The TV reporter is complaining because they, they've gotta be on the air at 5:00, and they only have, you know, five hours, six hours to put their story together. And they have to go and gather tape and, you know--the print reporter is complaining because their deadline is 7:00 that night, and they got a lot of people they gotta talk to, you know. The public radio reporter will go back to the station, you know, think about it, maybe have lunch, produce their story. And it might get on this afternoon or tomorrow morning. I walked out of the same news conference, dialing the phone, pulling the sound bite and going on the air. My story has to be just as accurate as those who are taking several different hours to put their story together--several additional hours to put their story together. But mine has to be just as accurate. Now, mine's not gonna be quite--mine is gonna be sixty seconds in length. So you can only get so much into that, information into that. So the other stories might have more information, but my story is going to have the essence of the story. That's the difference between what I do in commercial radio and what television does, what, you know, what print does and what, you know, other folks do.$$Okay, thank you. So in a given day, then what's the typical--what would be a typical day? I guess, it's probably--I don't know if there is a typical day, but is there, I mean what would be a typical day for you--(unclear) (simultaneous)--$$So a typical day, let's say you're working ten to six. You come to the station at ten o'clock. You get your assignment. You're, they want you on the air in the noon, so you've gotta be on. You know, you've got two hours now to get your story and get the pieces to your story you need to get before you get on the air in the noon hour.$$So when you show up, you have to hit the ground running, right?$$Oh, yeah.$$Okay.$$Oh, yeah, you know, like--just say yesterday. I came to work at three. We had an interview that had already been done with the police about a kid that lit somebody on fire on a bus. The guy that got lit on fire was in the hospital, stable condition. The kid was arrested yesterday. So the story was, they arrested somebody for allegedly lighting this guy on fire on the bus. So I got the tape, and I started at three o'clock, had to be on the air at four. So that's what I did. That's what you do. You, you have to be--it's a very short turnaround many times. Now, that's a typical day. You'd go in, you'd do--and I'd do, I would write three versions of that story. Do the first couple of versions live. And then, you know, record all of three of them, and then work on the story for the next day. So in this particular case, the story was, what's happening in the City of Oakland, City Council meeting. I go in there, sit through the meeting, grab all my tape, and then go back to the station and produce it, get off at eleven o'clock. Any time, you're doing that, give you another, give you an example. In 1991, you know, I play softball. So we had a softball championship game at our league in the next city down, San Leandro [California]. I need to have a morning story. And I'm thinking, look, let me call the [California] Department of Forestry and find out about fire season. It's, we're now in October. How was fire season, and I'm talking to the PI, the Public Information Officer. She says this has been the mildest fire season we've had in recent memory, okay. I start getting these phone calls. Now, mind you, the game starts at six and I'm supposed to get off at four. So I wanna get this story in the can and I'm gonna do something else, and then, you know, I'll be there to get, be there in time to play my game. Start getting these phone calls about a fire over in Oakland [California], and eventually, the editor said, "You'd better get over there." I says, "Okay." Well, I've already got this story in the can about this very mild fire season that can run tomorrow morning. So I'm cool. I can do a couple versions of this story, then come back, drop the car off and head to my game. I come off, get off the [San Francisco-Oakland] Bay Bridge and I see a blanket of smoke that reminded me of Pearl Harbor. And I realized that, I may not be going to the game. This was the Oakland-East Bay Hills fire that killed forty-some people, wiped out several thousand homes and burned for several days, you know. So, any day that you might have all, the best made--your best laid plans, could be knocked awry by something like this.$$Nature is unpredictable.$$Nature is unpredictable, but so is the news business, you know.