Thomas Drayton: Life in the Television Fast Lane
He bears no resemblance to Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Kyle Busch. But Thomas Drayton, the debonair anchor of Fox-TV29 in Philadelphia, takes a back seat to no one when it comes to acceleration.
While attending Marcus Newcomb Middle School in Pemberton (his father was stationed at Fort Dix), Drayton realized his calling. But even he has a hard time believing it has all happened so quickly for him. His passion was, and is, for telling a good story. And that motivated him to take part in a special program where he took high school and college courses simultaneously, graduating with his associate’s degree at the same time he received his high school diploma.
He then graduated from Pepperdine University and began a fast track to success.
His journalistic career has taken him from newspaper delivery boy, to working the master control board at a local station in Colorado Springs (he was no good at it, he fell asleep on duty), to pleading his way with the station manager to become a sixteen year old correspondent for a community affairs show named “21 on the Go.” And he quickly (of course) became the host of it.
After taking a short sabbatical, he worked for a radio program called “Family News and Focus.” Missing the broader medium of television, he sent out demo tapes to stations around the country. He got one positive response… from Casper, Wyoming. Drayton became the weekend anchor in this smallest of markets commuting every weekend while continuing his weekday radio duties at Family News and Focus in Colorado Springs. “Obviously,” Drayton says, “I was determined.”
Casper did not have much racial diversity at that time, so Drayton and the station were taking a gamble. The GM there warned him that he might experience some problems. “For the most part, the community accepted me, but there were incidents, including death threats,” Drayton said. “We actually had a ‘code black’ that we had in place in case anyone came into the station who was considered suspicious. It was really the first time I realized that race was an issue.”
After several stops in other markets, Drayton landed in Philadelphia. He is convinced this will always be his home. “I always thought when I got to a major market, the job might be easier,” he says. “But I get to the station at 10 or 11a.m., and sometimes don’t leave until after midnight. I anchor three shows… a lot of writing, a lot of proofing, and a lot of looking at videos. And then there is the community involvement.”
Drayton devotes time to many local charities, and attends regular prayer breakfasts — before his 14 hour day begins. “I’m happy to have the opportunity to do it, and I’m blessed to be able to do what I do.” The money is good. “Certainly six figures,” he admits. “We have contract cycles every two to three years, but this is a very subjective business. I know there are twenty people behind me that want my position, and it allows me to work harder and energizes me on a daily basis.”
Drayton claims no particular political persuasion him. When asked about the perception of Fox News, he claims he has never been pushed in any political direction, nor has he felt any pressure. He respects Bill O’Reilly for the level he has achieved in the biz, although there is an underlying tone that he doesn’t always agree with what O’Reilly says.
His emotions run deep, and Drayton expresses no regret about a visceral reaction to a heartbreaking news story. “I remember I was once covering a hit and run accident, and the family was holding a roadside vigil. I stood by my photographer bawling, because I could relate to that family. I think I approach every story with an emotional attachment.”
His most interesting interview? Former President Bill Clinton. “He was such a powerful and captivating individual.” But Drayton admits it is human nature when you interview someone who was President of the United States that it is a challenge to keep your emotions under control. His toughest interview was and continues to be any comedian. “They mask most of who they really are,” he says.
Although he’d love to have the anchor chair here for his entire career, his dream job would be working and helping with families in need. “It’s always been in my heart,” he says.
So Thomas Drayton’s career success continues to race forward at a breakneck pace. And for him there seems to be no limits — speed or otherwise.