Colleagues and friends remembered Bob Heater Saturday as a reporter who knew St. Joseph and served as a cheerleader for his news comrades.
Heater, the senior anchor for the News-Press NOW stable of television stations, died Saturday at age 63.
David Bradley, St. Joseph News-Press CEO, expressed the company’s deep sadness at the death.
“He felt and knew the heartbeat of the community, which was seen through his reporting,” Bradley said. “His informal, often cheerful style made viewers believe in the news he announced. His credibility was beyond reproach.”
Heater’s television career came after he established himself as one of the most familiar voices in St. Joseph, working in local radio for 26 years.
Jackie Heater, his wife of 26 years, said Saturday evening that she became accustomed to sharing her husband with the community.
On Friday night, she said, they had gone to a local restaurant after Heater had broadcast the news from the Red Rally in Downtown St. Joseph.
“As we walked in, there was a table of two older couples sitting there, and I heard one of them as we passed say, ‘That’s Bob Heater.’ That was kind of our life,” she said.
Such encounters happened often, Mrs. Heater said, as people identified with a man with whom they felt a kinship, if only through the television.
“It could be the 16-year-old kid that was waiting on our table to the 75-year-old grandma that would come up to him and say, ‘Hey, you’re the guy on the news,’” she said. “It was such a broad demographic.”
He accepted a job as a News-Press NOW anchor in 2007, part of a founding crew of television workers in the evolving news operation.
A colleague from those early television days, and a friend before that, Julie Love said Heater proved a good teacher in the broadcasting arts.
“As a mentor, he gave me a piece of advice that I use with my students now,” said Love, an assistant professor now in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department at Benedictine College. “When you’re sitting at the desk talking, you’re just talking to someone across the kitchen table. That’s the kind of guy he was.”
As co-anchors, she said their chemistry clicked because of their friendship. And she quality-checked her work by asking Heater what his mother, Opal, thought of her on-air delivery.
“He loved his mom so much, and I always asked to make sure that Opal could understand what I was saying,” Love said. “If Opal could hear my words, I knew I was talking clearly enough.”
Heater’s father, also named Robert, died in 1970, when Bob was a teenager. The couple’s only child, Bob, remained close to his mother until her death in 2014.
Greg Miller, now an anchor and reporter for KAKE News in Wichita, worked alongside Heater for four years and remembered him as being a cheerleader for all his colleagues.
“He was positive, supportive, funny,” he said. “Every time you had a good story, he’d send you a text or he’d tell you afterwards. He wanted everyone to do well.”
From a professional standpoint, Miller said his first impression of Heater came from his booming voice, one honed during a radio career that began at KKJO while a senior at Benton High School.
He adopted the persona of Dave Knight, a deejay spinning Top 40 records.
“After you got to know him and work with him, you realize he was a down-to-earth person,” Miller said. “He believed in news, he believed in presentation, he believed in storytelling. And he genuinely liked watching people grow.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.