These Three Local Celebs are Parents On-the-Go
By Joan Tupponce
We see them on TV, hear them on the radio, and keep up with them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The RVA broadcast scene has proven to be a stepping stone for many media personalities, but we’re thankful for the ones who brighten our days and call Richmond home!
Reba Hollingsworth starts her day at one in the morning. She’s at work by two-thirty, and on-air at WTVR as morning anchor by four-thirty, before sunrise. In between those hours, she cuts scripts for WTVR’s sister station DCW50 in Washington, DC, and also for radio spots on several Summit radio stations. And whew! – that’s just the first part of her day.
This crazy schedule isn’t for everyone, but it’s something Reba, in her forties, has dreamed about since she was growing up in Texas. “I was seven years old, and I remember wanting to have my own television show,” says the Dallas native who liked to watch talk show host Phil Donahue. “I would interview my dolls. I had a Mr. Microphone, and I even had music as an intro for my show.”
Her strength throughout school was writing. “I knew my profession would involve more writing than anything,” she says, noting that she majored in broadcast journalism at Texas State University in San Marcus, Texas. “I was a DJ at the radio station for the school. The school had its own TV station, and did newscasts as part of the curriculum.”
It took Hollingsworth about eighteen months to land her first job in television after sending out resume tapes and asking for advice from a few television anchors in Houston. “One told me to just leave my comfort zone and get out and drive. I visited stations across Texas and in Louisiana,” Reba says. “From a news director’s point of view, they are slammed with tapes. I had to separate myself from the piles of tapes. From one of those meetings, I got my first job in Victoria, Texas.”
From there, she went to ABC affiliate KTXS in Abilene, Texas and stayed for five years, working up to evening co-anchor. During that time, she met her husband, John, who was stationed at the Air Force base in Abilene. “He had an interest in going to law school, and he had family in North Carolina and Virginia,” she says. “We came to Richmond, and I set up two meetings with stations here.” One of those was WTVR. She met with the station in 2000, and got the job as a reporter. In 2005, she left to become a freelance reporter in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore for different bureaus, and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. She also worked with Fox 5 in Washington, DC, and WBAL, an NBC affiliate in Baltimore. When her daughter, Jillian, was born in 2009, she and her husband started thinking about moving back to Richmond. “We had such a good support system here, and it was easier to live here,” Reba says, validating her decision. “It became more about quality of life and not about climbing markets.”She returned to WTVR that same year in the morning anchor spot. But this time it was different for her. “Now you are taking care of a little human being,” she says. She spent the first two years trying to juggle everything, but like many parents, became frustrated with what is often called “work-life balance.” She talked with her boss and told him how much she loved her work, but that she was willing to give it up. “It was too much,” she says. “Raising my daughter was the most important thing.”
That’s when the station suggested switching to part-time, an option that never entered her mind. “Part-time is unheard of in this business,” she says.
Instead of working from three in the morning to twelve-thirty in the afternoon, a regular shift, she now works three to eight in the morning. “Now, there are a lot of female employees at the station facing the same situation and doing the same thing,” she says. She still does about three speaking engagements a month for work, posts on social media to communicate with viewers, and also teaches a broadcast writing class at VCU two days a week. “When I was seven years old, I also played school teacher,” she says, remembering those days of imaginative play when she was a kid in Houston.
Even though she and her husband are on different work schedules, she says her schedule has its benefits. “The best part of this job is that I am home when my daughter gets off the bus.” The two can do everything from homework and Girl Scouts, to errands and eating out.
At nights, the family eats around five, and Reba heads to bed two to three hours later. Most nights she and her daughter will lie in bed and read books. “My daughter tucks me in because her bedtime is later than mine,” she says. “Last night, she read me a bedtime story, and kissed me on the cheek goodnight. She is so understanding.”
Weekends at the family’s home in the Short Pump area are dedicated to family time – movies, bowling, fun at Jumpology, and the family’s favorite activity, visiting the park. “I have now learned the power of saying no,” she says of taking on extra work or social activities. “I try to do as much as I can, but if I can’t do it, I can’t.”
While she might not grow up to be a newscaster, Reba’s daughter is a born entertainer, Reba says. “I think she may be a Broadway kid. She’s been doing SPARC for several years.”
Reba’s schedule does have an extra silver lining. She gets to be an in-room mom at her daughter’s school, do lunch duty, and go with the kids on field trips. “I am doing a job I love, and I’m being present in my daughter’s life… any parent dreams of that,” she says.
During the nineties, Billy Surf Martin went by Billy Surf on Richmond radio, and his identity was tied up in being a DJ for Q94. Today, the father and family man – who you can hear on Mix 98.1 – has a different outlook. “I don’t think of myself as Billy Surf now. I think of myself as Billy Surf Martin,” he says. “I try to model everything I do on the air after Mr. Rogers because he was such a good man. I want to encourage people to get along.”
Before debuting in Richmond, Billy’s first professional radio job was in Manassas. He also appeared on public access television in Washington, DC. Billy hit the airwaves in Richmond in 1991 when he took on the seven-to-midnight show on Q94. He was tweny-one at the time, but his passion for broadcast surfaced when he was thirteen. “As a kid, I had a Donnie and Marie microphone that I had tricked out with a double nine-volt battery. I got some coat hangers and put them in the backyard with aluminum foil. I did broadcasts in my neighborhood in Vienna,” he says.
Billy moved from Richmond to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1997 to become a program director. He later went to a station in Charleston, South Carolina, and then to Birmingham, Alabama. He was working in Alabama when Q94 reached out to him once again in 2002 to take on the job of program director and afternoon radio personality. He switched to mornings when Jeff Wicker (they both work at Mix 98.1 now) left.
After a few years, he decided he wasn’t “feeling radio as much,” so he not only left the Richmond market, but also the broadcast industry. “I had always wanted to be a voice actor. For a long time, that meant you needed a deep voice – and I don’t have that – but that world was changing.”
He moved back to Richmond in 2007, and now has a state-of-the-art studio set-up in his Henrico home. About 90 percent of his work involves commercials and promotions. “I do national commercials as well as PBS work such as Wild Krats promos and Curious George,” he says. His voice can also be heard locally on commercials for Saxon Shoes and Haynes.
In January 2016, Billy started at Mix 98.1 and does the Billy Surf on the Drive Home show. “They did some research and found that people were looking for familiar voices from the past like Jeff Wicker, Jackie Cunningham, and me,” he says. He enjoys being back on the air for a few hours each day. “During breaks [from the music] we can talk about what we want,” he says. “Years ago, it was all about entertainment. Now I am more conscious of what I talk about. Because I have a voice, I can use that voice to help people and serve.”
Billy and his wife, Jen, met in Richmond when Billy was working for Q94. They have been married twelve years and have three children: Ellie, eleven, Finn, ten, and Deacon, seven. Billy also has an 18-year-old daughter, Carrington, from a previous marriage. “I love these kids. It’s a love that is indescribable,” he says. “I love how they are all so very different. They all have really unique personalities.” His daughter Ellie is a giver. “She’s an instant mom,” he says. His son Finn is shy. “He’s opposite from the other three,” Billy says. “He’s quiet, smart, and observant. He does voice acting, and he’s a natural at it.”
His youngest son, Deacon, is “full steam ahead,” he says. “He’s loving and sweet. He keeps us on our toes.” A dancer, Carrington is now studying ballet at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. “To see her grow into a young woman has been amazing,” says this proud dad. For Billy, one of the challenges of being a voice actor is being tethered to the studio. “I have to be available. I have to be near the studio, but I just got some software that connects anywhere as long as the time zone works out,” he says.
Billy likes that his kids are always nearby; his wife homeschools them. “That’s always been the way we designed our life, around the kids,” he says. “When the time came to put them on the bus, we thought, we can’t put them on the bus. We want to be around them, and we wanted to have a little more control of what they learn.” When he’s not working, the family likes to travel around the country. They’ve also visited London and Paris. For the past five years, he and his wife have led a trip with doctors and teachers to Haiti for one week in the summer. “As soon as the kids get older, they can go,” he says. The family recently purchased a converted Greyhound bus – think celebrity tour bus – so they can travel from place to place and Billy can still work. “I’m putting in a studio,” he says.
Back at home, the family has weekly traditions that include game night and putting puzzles together. “It’s almost, what don’t we do together,” Surf says. “We try to hold on as much as we can because they really do grow fast.”
Andrew Freiden was intrigued by the weather when he was growing up in Reston, but he didn’t have his sights set on being a weatherman. “I was interested in outside stuff,” he says. “I played in the creek and the woods. When it rained heavily, I would lie down in the gutter and let the water wash over me. I just always wanted to be outside.”
He didn’t see being a television meteorologist as an obtainable goal when he was getting ready to graduate with his environmental sciences degree from University of Virginia, even though he knew that other meteorologists definitely wanted a TV gig.
He changed his mind after shadowing a television weatherman in Roanoke for two weeks. “I graduated in May 1995, and got a job at the TV station, WDBJ, a CBS affiliate in Roanoke, in the fall,” he says. “My job was to roll the teleprompter during the newscast and assist the producer. That’s when I caught the news and weather bug.”
He went on the air in 1997 when a weekend weather job opened up that also had him reporting the news three nights a week. After three years, he decided to look at other stations. His best friend’s wife, Leslie Troxell, called him and told him that NBC12 had an opening for a meteorologist. “I have her to thank for bringing me here,” he says. “The station liked my tape and the rest is history.”
Andrew started at NBC12 working the evening shift Monday through Friday and being Jim Duncan’s “little buddy,” he says. “We did team-weather for early segments. I also did the Fox News at ten and filled in for Jim.”
When the morning job opened up, he told the station he would like to switch to that time slot. “The move worked out well for me,” he says. “I was able to find my own little spot at Channel 12 in the mornings.”
Being on the morning show means a wake up time of two-twenty in the morning. “It takes me fifteen minutes to shower and dress with some preparation the night before,” he says. “I’m in the door at the station by three and on the air at four-thirty.”
He’s usually home around one in the afternoon and sleeps for about three hours in the afternoon before dinner. “I have always been gifted in that I can fall asleep immediately and get up immediately,” says Andrew, who is in bed each night by ten. “I’m one of the best nappers in North America.”
One of the things he likes best about his job is meeting students at local schools and talking to them about the weather. “I’ll go there when they are doing a weather unit or before SOLs to help them,” he says.
Social media takes part of his time as well. “It’s sort of a blessing and a curse. It connects you with viewers like never before. You can instantaneously communicate,” he says, adding, “There are challenges in being authentic and true to yourself while being successful on social media.”
His posts are usually driven by what viewers are seeing or asking. For example, the two nights during the space station flyover, he was live on Facebook. “It’s an amazing tool to be able to share and encourage people to go outside and see things,” he says of social media.
Andrew, now in his early forties, met his wife, Jaime, when he was single and living in the Fan with three other guys. She came to a Super Bowl party with two other girls (one was a blind date for Andrew). “We met on Super Bowl Sunday in 2001,” he says. “We were engaged seven months later.”
They live in Henrico and have two children: 9-year-old daughter, Helena, and son, Nathan, six. Andrew and his wife are protective of their children, especially with regard to how it relates to his public life in broadcast. “I don’t like to put them out there too much,” Andrew says.
One of their biggest tasks as parents is figuring out how to make parenting work with Andrew’s unusual schedule. “Jaime is a dental hygienist and works part-time, so that helps,” he says.
His parents look after the kids when she and Andrew are both working. “That’s been a huge help, he says. “I wish everybody had that luxury that we’ve had.”
On his days off, Andrew and his family head outdoors. Favorite activities include hiking and bike riding. “I like biking, so I push in that direction all the time,” he says.
They also enjoy traveling. “This year was the craziest,” he says. “We had a family wedding in Scotland and we took the kids. The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, we did a staycation here in Richmond.”
If the family has an official sport, it’s basketball. Andrew played basketball in high school and so did his wife. “It’s our thing,” he says about the sport. “When we bought our house, I told our realtor I wanted a flat driveway so I could have a basketball hoop. I feel like I have arrived, that my lifelong dream has been attained.”
Aside from the news, UVA basketball is his favorite television show – he just could be UVA’s most dedicated basketball fan. “I just enjoy it,” he says. “It helps keep me in touch with my college buddies. I try to take the kids to one UVA game a year and that makes it special for them. They are always excited and looking forward to it.”