Those are just some of the ways colleagues and friends remembered Richard Hake, who died of natural causes on Friday at his home in Manhattan at the age of 51.
Hake, a 1991 Fordham College at Rose Hill graduate and a member of the advisory board for Fordham’s master’s degree program in public media, worked at WNYC for nearly 30 years. He was the host of WNYC’s Morning Edition, as well as a reporter and producer, and his work was featured on both national and local NPR programs such as Weekend Edition and All Things Considered.
“This is a hard punch in the gut,” said Chuck Singleton, general manager of WFUV, Fordham’s public media station. “Rich was one of my early students in my first role as FUV news director [in the late 1980s]. … He walked in the door and instantly decided what he wanted to do with his life—become a public radio journalist.”
Hake did just that. A New Yorker through and through, he was born in the Bronx, where his father, Richard James Hake, was a New York City police detective; his mother, Joy Mekeland, was a clerical worker and secretary. He began working at WNYC even before he graduated from Fordham in 1991.
Once at WNYC, Hake became known for “neighborhood and people portraits” and taking “listeners to the places they normally wouldn’t visit,” according to his bio.
He received multiple awards from the Associated Press Broadcasters Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the New York Press Club, particularly for his feature and documentary work, including his 1997 piece Coney Island Cyclone Anniversary, which he recorded while riding the world-famous roller coaster, describing the panorama for listeners during the ascent—the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and the Manhattan skyline, the Atlantic Ocean and the D train—before letting out a joyful scream during the ride’s 85-foot drop.
John Schaefer, FCRH ’80, host of the WNYC shows Soundcheck and New Sounds, remembered Hake’s love of the theater by replaying a piece Hake recorded in 2012 with actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein during a cab ride to the opening night performance of Fierstein’s musical Newsies.
But arts and culture features weren’t Hake’s only specialty. He also excelled at bringing breaking news stories to listeners with accuracy, clarity, and equanimity—from the September 11 attacks to Superstorm Sandy to the coronavirus pandemic. He was known for putting reporters and others at ease to create easy-to-understand, in-depth interviews. And as morning show host, he liked to say that he “woke up New York.”
“In his bones and in his heart, Richard cared about serving the public good. … He cared about getting it right, and he loved what he did,” WNYC reporter Jim O’Grady, FCRH ’82, said in his radio obituary for Hake.
As recently as last Wednesday, Hake had been hosting Morning Edition from his apartment near Mount Sinai Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. He was no stranger to broadcasting in difficult times—when the WNYC generator failed during the 2003 blackout, he shared the news by telephone receiver and flashlight. But colleagues said he missed the camaraderie of the newsroom in recent weeks, as the coronavirus crisis has kept staff from their office.
“He was 28 years at the station and had the highest profile job in the building, but he talked to every newsroom intern, gave advice to new hires, and greeted guards in the lobby by name,” O’Grady said in the obituary, noting that Hake also served as a negotiator for the union representing WNYC employees. “His fellow workers often said, ‘He wanted you to know your worth.’”
The Humble Mentor
Julianne Welby, FCRH ’93, senior editor at WNYC, said that she attributes her career to Hake. She first crossed paths with him when she started working in the WFUV newsroom as a Fordham undergraduate. Chuck Singleton told her, “‘Go hang out with that guy, he’ll show you what to do,’ and it was Richard Hake,” she said, smiling. “[Hake] showed me how to write a newscast and he had to run back and forth because he was on the air.”
A few months after she started writing Hake’s newscasts, she got a call that changed her career path. Hake was sick, and she was asked to fill in for him on the air. “That was kind of an epiphany for me—I could be on the air. And so I say that Richard launched my career, because not only was he teaching me newscasting from that first day I was at WFUV, but he kind of inadvertently stepped aside and showed me the path for being a public media broadcaster,” Welby said.
Years later, Hake would help her launch the next phase in her career. “Richard was the one who opened the door for me at WNYC” when she joined the station in 2008, she said. “He lobbied really hard for me. I would not be in my job at WNYC without his advocacy.”
Annmarie Fertoli, FCRH ’06, now a digital audio journalist at The Wall Street Journal, worked alongside Hake during her time at WNYC from 2010 to 2017, and said he was always willing to help young journalists.
“Richard definitely was an enormous talent, but he didn’t come off that way,” she said. “He was an approachable person, he made himself accessible. … There were a lot of young producers who work on the Morning Edition team that he really looked out for.”
Welby said that Hake, with his humility, was the perfect mentor for young journalists.
“I’ve seen interns and young producers who just speak the world of Richard for making them feel so welcome,” she said.
A Man for Others
Beth Knobel, Ph.D., professor of communication and media studies at Fordham, recalled meeting Hake for the first time soon after she joined the Fordham faculty in 2007.
“If you were a public radio junkie, the way I am, and you get to meet someone like Richard Hake, it’s almost like a rock and roll fan getting to meet Mick Jagger,” she said.
Knobel said that Hake was a huge part of the Fordham community and “never said no” to volunteering to come speak to students or serve on a scholarship committee.
“When I saw the news about Richard on Saturday … I just burst out into tears because Richard was such a meaningful person for our journalism community at Fordham and for the New York, tri-state area,” she said.
George Bodarky, FCRH ’93, the news director at WFUV, remembered Hake as someone always willing to help out and mentor Fordham students.
“Richard was a consummate journalist and a kind and generous person. He never hesitated when asked to serve as a guest speaker in my journalism classes or to talk with the young journalists at WFUV,” Bodarky said. “I will sorely miss him and his trusted voice on the airwaves of WNYC.”
Jacqueline Reich, Ph.D., chair of the communication and media studies department, said that she’ll always think of him when she’s having her morning coffee and listening to the news.
“I’m going to miss him every morning, I’m going to miss him—sometimes he would inject these wry little comments when he would [read the news at]the top of the hour, and I would sometimes say to myself, ‘Oh Richard,’” she said with a smile.
A Voice for New Yorkers
Knobel said that Hake was someone who had a special connection with listeners.
“When people hear people on the radio and see people on television, they kind of feel like they know them,” she said. “Richard was someone who millions of New Yorkers felt that they knew, felt that he was a part of their daily routine, and he was so good at what he did—and I don’t think he understood how good he was. It came so naturally to him. He was just an incredible journalist.”
Singleton said that Hake was able to develop that relationship with listeners because he excelled both in narrative storytelling and breaking news.
“Rich had a huge appetite for the kind of sound-rich, narrative storytelling NPR is known for, and he was also fearless in front of a live mic,” he said. “Those two talents aren’t always found in the same body—honing a carefully produced piece and flying by the seat of your pants when the clock says you need to go back to network programming in three seconds.”
In a message to the WFUV team on Saturday, Singleton recalled a time when he invited Hake and other young journalists over for dinner, and Hake, who had an “enormous appetite for New York City history and culture,” parked himself “next to a bookcase full of New York classics” by Joseph Mitchell, Robert Caro, Jim Dwyer, FCRH ’79, and others.
“He said, ‘I want to move in and just live next to this bookcase for a while,’” Singleton said. “I think Rich climbed inside those covers and is still in there somewhere.”
Hake is survived by his parents and his stepfather; his brothers, Ryan and Jack; and a sister, Christine Hake.