Born in Tennessee, after a stint in the U.S. Marines Howser worked in television, first at WSM in Nashville, where he produced “human interest” stories for the station. He later moved to Los Angeles, where he was a newscaster. But he preferred the human interest features, so he moved to the local PBS station to do them full time. For 19 years, his show California’s Gold highlighted his adopted state, featuring small towns, landmarks, events or people he found interesting. (I happened to watch his piece on the Yosemite firefall — which I can remember seeing live — just last week on Youtube).
His Tennessee drawl and “that’s AMAZING!” demeanor (he once parodied himself on The Simpsons) was no act: that’s how he was off-camera too. “Sometimes, people say, ‘Are you putting that on?’” he once said. “That’s kind of a sad commentary, don’t you think? Like there’s got to be something wrong with someone who’s enthusiastic and happy like that. Do I have bad days? Yes. Do I get depressed? Yes. Am I concerned about the state of the California economy and budget? I’m not some Pollyanna who doesn’t recognize that there’s hunger and poverty and racism in the world.” But he worked to fix it: he owned the rights to his shows, and made plenty selling DVDs. In 2011 he announced he was donating all of his shows to Chapman University, a private Christian college in Southern California, so the school could digitize them and make them available to a wider audience — and then donated his $750,000 home to the university to help fund the effort. Howser retired November 27 amid rumors he was ill. He died at his home January 7 at 67.