Bob Heater used to start off a Friday evening newscast with the declaration: “It’s Friday, and a weekend!”
It seemed to sum up the feelings of those watching the newscasts that Heater anchored for News-Press NOW stations. Everyone, from doctors to plumbers, should feel a sense of accomplishment at working hard, making it through another week and looking forward to a few days of relaxation.
Heater, who died Saturday after a long and distinguished career in local broadcasting, spoke to those people with both authority and familiarity. His loss leaves a void in our own newsroom and in living rooms across the community.
His passing also comes at a time when trust in institutions, including the media, has declined in recent years.
Some of that public skepticism is earned, but a good portion of this trust deficit is based on an abstract and distant concept of a particular institution. People will hate the hospital but adore their nurses and doctor, or express disgust in the school system but admiration and respect for their children’s teacher or principal.
So it was with Bob. You could say you dislike the media or even this specific company. There was nothing abstract about Heater, whose presence over the decades allowed him to build an unparalleled degree of rapport with his audience, dating from his career in radio in the 1970s to his tenure at News-Press NOW stations starting in 2007.
He was not just present, he was accessible. His wife, Jackie, told an interviewer about the countless interactions her husband had with the public at restaurants or community events. Like an athlete who pauses to sign an autograph, these encounters may have been brief, but they left each person feeling valued in a way that creates a lasting impact.
That became evident when St. Joseph learned of his passing. Social media is a hive of nastiness, but nothing but goodwill was posted when news of Heater’s death came to light. “Kind,” “good-hearted” and “open” were adjectives that jumped off the screen.
Throughout his career, Heater managed to exude gravity without being morose and optimism without sounding like Pollyanna. He was a man with passionate political beliefs, yet his private conversations and social media posts always tended to build up rather than tear down.
In a 2002 article after a radio personnel shake-up left him as the odd man out, Heater refused to engage in negativity. “I have to respect that,” he said at the time. “It was an opportunity for me to further my career in another field.”
We’re certainly glad his career path led Heater to News-Press NOW. In the coming weeks, the silence will be deafening, an absence soothed only by the belief that the Voice of St. Joseph is enjoying an eternal weekend.