Pat Collins, 75, has been a fixture on TV in the region for 50 years, the last 36 on NBC4. The lovable reporter told us what the deal is behind the snow stick, what his epitaph will read, and if he’ll ever retire.
What was your first journalism job?
I started when I was 15 years old. My sister’s date saw a book report I was doing and asked, “How would you like to cover high school sports for the Washington Daily News?” It turns out, he was the sports columnist for the Daily News. I ended up my senior year editing three pages of high school sports and had a column there … Somewhere it’s written if your father’s a doctor, you’re destined to be a doctor. My father said reporters are nothing more than a bunch of drunks, drifters, and deadbeats. He said he knew because they were his patients.
When did you break into TV from print?
In 1973. On the first day at WDVM-TV [now WUSA-TV], the news director at 9 o’clock in the morning said, “We’re not going to put you on the air until you think you’re ready, and we think you’re ready.” Five o’clock that evening, they put me on the set to do a Q&A about some crime. It was awful.
What do you think is the key to your lasting success?
TV is a very personal business, it’s an intimate business, and if you’re on television long enough, people will pretty much have an X-ray into your soul. So I think of myself as sort of a neighbor, like I’m telling a story over the back fence. And some days it’s a sad story, and some days it’s not. But that’s how it sort of works for me.
For some reason the Pat Collins Snow Stick is a thing, isn’t it?
I do a lot of weather stories, and I noticed—it’s not rocket science—that in our area, parts get different quantities of snow every storm. So I’d go to Montgomery County and measure five inches and talk to some people about how it impacted their lives. Then I’d go to Alexandria and measure three inches and talk to some people. I’d talk about snow quantities to help people judge what was going on, and that really sort of caught on.
But not every story is as lighthearted, right?
My career has morphed into two things. You know, if they ever write something on that piece of marble wherever I end up, it’s going to say, “Pat Collins: He covered murders and he measured snow.”
I really like what I do. I enjoy it. The worst time for me was during the damn pandemic. You can’t be a street reporter from your study. Finally, they let me back out and it rejuvenated me. I like the street. I like the city. I still want to do it. The short answer is, I don’t know. Stay tuned.
This story originally appeared in the January issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.