Last Friday was about the most idyllic goodbye you could ask for with a longtime co-worker, even if we both didn’t know it.
Bob Heater flashed his signature smile as he, along with the News-Press NOW crew, finished a series of live broadcasts in our parking lot. He had a good reason to smile as he looked out at a bustling, crowded Felix Street Square, awash in red jerseys for the Kansas City Chiefs’ Red Rally.
In his 12 years working for News-Press NOW, Heater watched Downtown St. Joseph morph from a depressed place to a lively, renovated center of the city. With every broadcast he hosted on the evening news, he narrated that transformation. With that Red Rally broadcast being his final time on air, as he unexpectedly passed away on July 27, Heater got to see his city at its best.
I’m sure Heater loved watching that shift because he loved St. Joseph. You heard it in his voice, a mixture of the command of old-time broadcasters like Walter Cronkite with the friendliness of your next-door neighbor. You saw it when he went out into the city, whether it was emceeing an event or covering a story. You knew it when he talked about the city, with a mixture of sarcasm, brotherly jabs and genuine affection.
While Heater enjoyed informing St. Joseph about the local news, he loved entertaining people. He could talk endlessly about his 27 years as DJ Dave Knight at KKJO. If you mentioned the time he shared a mic and car ride with the late DJ Wolfman Jack, he’d outline each crude detail with joy.
Working at the radio station in its prime, Heater became known as “The Voice of St. Joseph,” and rightfully so.
“If there ever was a guy who loved and lived radio, it was Bob,” Dick Sipe, Heater’s general manager at KKJO said in a News-Press interview in 2005. “He had a good career in all facets of radio.”
He continued that in 2007 when he took over as lead anchor at News-Press NOW. On the air and in the field, he was friendly and approachable. Behind the scenes, he helped foster young talent in the newsroom, giving tips on what to improve and making people feel welcome to the team.
In 2009, as a young, shy journalist, I was nervous to approach a woman I was doing a story on who had stolen another person’s identity. Not one to miss a big scoop, Heater said “Why don’t we take this on together?” We went to her house and confronted her, microphone in the face and all those cliches that rarely happen in anything besides the movies or TV shows. He beamed with pride after we walked away. I was thankful she didn’t do something like send a dog after us.
Heater loved a big show, whether it was taking the stage in a Robidoux Resident Theatre production like “Annie,” which he was part of in 1987 and 2017, or a special broadcast, like our “Eclipse” episode of the news or the aforementioned Red Rally. When those big things happened, he showcased a child-like giddiness that’s often absent in broadcasters who have spent decades in an often depressing, cynical industry.
As I write this, it doesn’t feel like Heater is gone. He had such a big presence on the news and in our community that it was assumed he’d be welcoming viewers to the evening news for decades to come.
Bob was a fantastic broadcaster, a great co-worker and a wonderful cheerleader for all of us in the office who are now working in his absence. He will be missed.
— ANDREW GAUG | ST. JOE LIVE