Richard Hake, a beloved and trusted news host and reporter for WNYC since 1992, passed away on Friday. As his colleagues mourn this sudden and unexpected loss, we are sharing our best memories of Hake here and on the air. We will be adding to this tribute throughout the week, so check back for more later.
Andrea Bernstein, Editor & Co-Host of the Trump, Inc. Podcast:
“Beef cheeks are chic.”
I remember Richard Hake practicing this sentence in the railroad-flat of our old newsroom years ago, tucked into a corner of the 25th floor of the Municipal Building, where it was impossible not to hear what everyone was saying.
Beef cheeks are chic -- who’d have thunk? The sentence was pure Richard Hake, the delight of uncovering an avant-garde trend from some hidden corner of New York, and telling it to the whole city. Plus it was a sentence that was clever, and hard to say, requiring, as it were, cheek muscle. Richard delivered it flawlessly, wryly, as he always did.
When I began working at WNYC, back in the last century, Richard had already been there a good number of years, already an essential voice of New York. I’d no idea that when we met, he was barely out of college, because there was something about his voice, calm, reassuring, loving the whole city and whoever he was talking to at the moment. It seemed as it had always been thus.
In those days the newsroom was so small that Richard and Beth Fertig and Marianne McCune and the maybe half dozen or so of us that made up the WNYC news team could socialize on a Friday in someone’s small Greenwich Village apartment. We could raise our glasses to the energy and creativity and grief that pervaded our jobs and summon the resolve to do it all again the next week. And love each other for doing it.
Through three Mayors and five governors -- Cuomo, Pataki, Spitzer, Paterson, and another Cuomo. Through 9/11, and a blackout and 500-year storms, Richard was always fully present. But to say that he was there during emergencies wouldn’t do justice to the ways he was genuinely excited about the life of New York, its plays and music and nightlife. Everything that made New York, New York, Richard loved.
As happy as he was discussing the finer points of the Warhol exhibit at the Whitney, he was equally delighted to pick over the latest wrinkle in the latest corruption scandal I happened to be covering. A couple of years ago, he characteristically interjected (in a way that he was particularly good at on live radio) when he learned that an oligarch financially connected to former Trump attorney Michael Cohen was the owner of the world’s largest collection of Faberge eggs. “Faberge eggs,” he repeated. This was exactly the kind of detail Richard loved, one that encapsulated the absurd wonder and outrage and seriousness of the moment.
Some years ago, Richard became the full time host of Morning Edition on WNYC. Speaking to him live on air was like being held aloft by the most skilled and elegant dance partner. Or maybe it was like being gently caught mid-air, after taking a somersault on a flying trapeze. Richard was -- I am sorry for all the mixed metaphors here -- the beating heart of our morning programming. “Alive,” was the word I used to describe Richard. So alive.
The week before last -- was it only then? -- Richard and I were on a Zoom call with other WNYC hosts, and he spoke of the duress of waking up, and delivering the horrible news of the moment, alone from his apartment, near Mt. Sinai Hospital. Thirty-six times in a morning, he noted, he would open his mic, and speak to the city, and help us move out of our own grief. He was worried, he said, that the sirens he could hear were bleeding onto the air. I couldn’t hear them, I told him. If it was happening, it was so much part of the audioscape of the city that no one else would notice. I told him how immensely reassuring it was for me to turn on the radio and to hear his voice, balm in troubled times. “Thank you for your work,” I’m pretty sure I told him.
But did I tell him I loved him? I cannot remember.
I’m telling him now. And hoping, wherever he is, the beef cheeks are plentiful.
Listen to WNYC reporter Jim O'Grady's radio obituary for Richard Hake:
Shumita Basu, Host & Reporter:
I spent so many mornings learning radio from Richard Hake, while I was on the air with him every day from 2016 to 2018. He taught me how to smile on the radio, how to calm my nerves, how to emote while reading (his body would move up and down like a rollercoaster). He was a private person, which I really respected about him, but also very warm and generous as a colleague.
About a year ago, Richard trained me to fill in for him on Morning Edition. He was so excited for me to host the show -- and so encouraging. I asked if I could take a picture of him to tweet out, and I tried a few captions on him, like, “Learning from the master,” or “The boss!” And he offered: “My radio big brother.” I was so touched he saw it that way, and I feel so lucky for the time I spent learning from him. Sending cosmic love to you, radio big brother. I’ll think of you every time in that half-second before the On Air light turns on.
Listen to Shumita Basu, host Sean Carlson, and former WNYC Morning Edition host Soterios Johnson remember Richard Hake:
John Schaefer, Host of New Sounds and Soundcheck:
In 2012, Richard Hake took a cab ride with Harvey Fierstein. They were going to opening night of Fierstein's hit musical Newsies, and Richard had his tape machine rolling. It helped that Richard, always a newsman himself, loved the show Newsies. One of John Schaefer's favorite memories of Richard Hake was the informative and occasionally hilarious report on the musical that he brought to our Soundcheck program back in 2012. Just listen to Richard in full storytelling mode...
Stephen Nessen, Reporter:
As a reporter when I used to show up at the scene of a fire, murder, or something less dreadful, like the opening of a new busway (it happened once), and would have to go live on the radio minutes after arriving, I was never nervous when Richard was the host. People always ask me, “Isn’t it nerve-racking to be live?” And honestly, it is sometimes, but when Richard was the host, it was just like talking with a pal. He was your curious friend who just wants to know what it’s like, what are people saying, what is the impact going to be. While I may have been talking to thousands of listeners, in my head, it was just me and Richard.
He knew enough about the city, history, politics, culture that we were never fronting on the radio. I felt like a radio superhero when I was on with Richard, smarter and more knowledgeable than I probably am in real life. That was his gift.
Richard kept several three ring binders somewhere on his desk. Massive volumes of paper, as thick as an encyclopedia. Every once in awhile he’d pull one out and show me a few pages. Back not that long ago, when everyone communicated over email, there were occasionally very funny, grumpy, or long-winded rants someone would send reply all. He’d save those. The hilarious and weird personal things people emailed about misplacing, he saved those. A kind of accidental history of WNYC no one was supposed to remember. And of course, there was the infamous "who stole my Kombucha" email that became the subject of a Gawker article. When the internet dies, the original email will be preserved in Richard’s binders. Sometimes he’d hear or read something that reminded him of a message in his collection and he’d throw open the binder and read it out loud, tossing his head back and letting loose a glorious laugh over the absurdity of it all. He always joked that one day he’d publish a book of the best reply alls.
When my job shifted, and I had kids, I was able to hear him live in the mornings at home, rather than being in the field. The first voice my son recognized on the radio even before mine was Richard’s. He’d give me messages to pass along to Richard like, “Ask Richard when the rain will stop,” or, “Why isn’t it snowing today?” or “The A train is delayed again? What’s going on with the A?”
When I tried to clean up my language and switched from saying, “What the hell,” to “What the heck” my son noticed, and would make fun of me saying, “You mean, what-the-Richard Hake!?”
Richard loved it too. And he’d send messages back to my son and questions for him as well. He was a teacher, who explained to us what it meant to live in a city every morning. And we were always pleasantly startled when he broke the fourth wall and reacted in real time to a piece of sound on the radio as if, like us, he was hearing it for the first time. We knew there was a real human behind the microphone.
Rebeca Ibarra, Reporter/Producer:
Richard Hake was a rookie producer's dream. A champion of the little guy. A delightful gossip. He was an unflappable anchor and a goof off mic. Endearingly and perplexingly self-conscious for someone with such a beautiful face and voice.
He wasn't precious about his work, but he was so proud of WNYC, of his colleagues and his union. And he was good, so good at his job.
This is an indescribable loss for our station, for the people who loved him most, and for New York.
This city's already in a gloomy pause, less shimmery and warm -- what a gut punch that on top of that, it's lost one of its liveliest sons.
Jessica Gould, Reporter
In radio we have hosts rather than anchors. But anchor seems like such an apt description for Richard. He was so steady, reliable, and grounding.
Live radio can be intimidating, but Richard made every conversation feel light, easy, and genuine.
In these past few weeks, with the news grim and the future uncertain, talking to Richard on the radio was so comforting for me personally. I know countless New Yorkers felt the same way when they heard his voice every morning.
Richard made his work look effortless. But he was a tireless professional who cared so much about listeners. He wanted to do right by them, especially now. And it's clear from the outpouring of love and appreciation that he definitely did.
Beth Fertig, Senior Reporter:
I started freelancing for WNYC at the end of 1993. I had been a listener, and knew Richard Hake as a regular newscaster. I was in my late 20's and to me, he sounded like a middle aged guy in a suit. Then I met him at the radio station and was shocked to see he was younger than me and very handsome and lively. He also had a great sense of humor. Richard had a wonderful appreciation for the quirkiness of our little newsroom; it was like a dysfunctional sitcom in some ways. There was a news director, a few anchors and just 3 reporters back then, each in our own tiny closet-like offices with reel-to-reel tape machines and “carts” (8 track tapes) we used for newscast items that were under a minute long. The station was about to transition from city ownership to private non-profit status. It was a bare bones operation.
Richard thought it was hilarious that our news director would label every object in the newsroom because other people from our under-resourced station would constantly take our stuff. So each stapler, hole puncher, box, etc had a piece of masking tape on it labeled “news.” Richard joked about how it looked like the place was run by someone with OCD.He described his job of anchoring the news like this: “I talk to myself in a room with padded walls and no windows.”
We had a mouse problem in the Municipal Building and there were little green pellets left all over the floor to kill them. One time Richard thought a mouse ran over his foot as he was on the air and yelped. My full time hire date was in June of 1995, and I think Richard's was in August that year. So this year we'd each be celebrating our 25th anniversary at the station. I was looking forward to the annual holiday party where they give out those commemorative plaques to people who meet a milestone. I was thinking it would be fun to celebrate together and laugh about our old days at the Municipal Building and all the crazy stuff we've covered in our careers as journalists. I'm so sorry that won't happen but I will raise a glass to him anyway.
Listen to an archival recording of Richard Hake and Beth Fertig live on air using flashlights during the great northeast blackout on August 14, 2003:
Hear Jad Abumrad, Executive Producer and Creator of Radiolab, describing how he "experienced" the blackout with Richard Hake:
Brigid Bergin, Reporter:
I’ve been a reporter in the WNYC newsroom since 2013, but when I started out here, I was Richard Hake’s producer.
One week before WNYC launched its new morning show in 2008, The Takeaway, I got pulled into a studio with Richard. The clock of the show was built with cutaways, spots where a station could come on with its local news, it was launching in New York City, and there was no plan yet for how to fill that time. They turned to Richard, and in a story he often liked to tell me, he said they gave him a choice of two producers. “I picked the girl,” he’d say with a wry smile.
So we began, chopping up tape, writing for his voice. Making a new sounding newscast that was really all about him, his energy, his pace. And it really worked. Through those early morning hours, you bond with people. We just always clicked. Like Richard, I grew up Catholic and we shared a certain reverence for the mass, and skepticism of the institution. I once went with him to a banquet at Fordham University where we sat at the table with Father O’Hare, the late university president. He was so proud to be a Fordham grad and to have the connection to that place.
Back in those early mornings, I went through a phase where I was riding my bike to work, and one morning I overslept. Richard could have been very upset with me. Instead, he told me, that’s it, no more biking to work. He imagined something terrible had happened. That was it. (I think I did stop biking at that point.)
He was a mentor, friend, gossip, jokester, and absolute champion all rolled into one. I was looking back at emails from him over the years. There was a lot that made me laugh. And lots that made me smile. I found one note from two days before my wedding in 2015. It was in Albany and he had never been there before.
He wrote, “I'm getting so excited and just bought new Cole Haan shoes for the occasion. I will make sure all of our people are in the right place. My train arrives at 7pm...I want to walk everywhere. Isn't the church next to the Governor's mansion? I want to see that. Stay calm, good luck and see you soon.”
And he was always listening, even when he was off. The first time I filled in for our great Brian Lehrer was last summer. The moment the show ended, Richard was in my inbox, writing from a rainy Fire Island, giving me his review and letting me know he was proud of me.
He gave me -- and the station -- and our listeners so much. I pray he knows how much he was loved.
Aaron Cohen, Director of Programming Operations:
I was shocked and devastated to learn that my friend and colleague Richard Hake passed away suddenly on Friday. I worked with Richard for almost 20 years. He was a great journalist, a singular on-air radio presence, and an unflappable host, especially during breaking news situations. Richard and I discussed all the usual topics colleagues at a public radio station would be expected to discuss (the news, vacation plans, union issues, station gossip), but there was one topic that eclipsed all others.
Early on in my time working at WNYC, I was chatting with Richard and we stumbled across a mutual love of Barbra Streisand. From that point onward, Streisand was the centerpiece of our conversations. We’d both done extensive reading about Barbra, owned all her records, watched all her movies and television specials, but Richard had gone to further lengths to see her live. I was jealous he’d spent New Year’s Eve 2000 at her millennium concert in Las Vegas (a live album was made from this concert). Richard and I discussed the most minuscule details of Barbra’s songs, her performances, her interviews, her activism. And we discussed these details endlessly. It would not be an exaggeration to say that 50% of my conversations with Richard Hake over the past two decades have been about Barbra Streisand. When we saw each other, it was our first topic, often even before we asked “How are you?” I’ll always remember a moment several years ago when I read some breaking news about Barbra. I quickly copied the link and sent it off to Richard. Only after I hit send did I notice he’d emailed me the same link the exact same minute I’d sent it to him. (We laughed about this.)
For years Richard and I spoke about how much we’d love to do a radio story about Barbra. We just needed the right event. And then, in 2009, that event presented itself. Barbra announced an intimate show at the Village Vanguard to promote her new album at the time, Love is the Answer. Richard and I headed out to interview several people in Streisand’s inner circle. While we were disappointed we didn’t get to interview Barbra herself, we were like kids in a candy store, giddy to be working on such a story. When the piece aired on WNYC, we heard through our contacts that Barbra liked it, and the piece was quickly posted on the homepage of Barbra’s website. Richard was over the moon.
Here’s our labor of love.
Program Director Jacqueline Cincotta, Host Brian Lehrer, NPR/former WNYC reporter Laura Sydell, Reporter/Host Shumita Basu, Reporter/Producer Danny Lewis, WQXR Host Kerry Nolan remember Richard Hake:
Andrea Bernstein, Cindy Rodriguez, Rex Doane, Patricia Willens, Brigid Bergin, Kaari Pitkin remember Richard Hake:
Reporters Gwynne Hogan, Liz Weber, Sara Fishko, Jake Offenhartz share their memories of Richard Hake:
Listen to Jami Floyd's remembrance of Richard: