In more than 50 years of covering news on the radio in Detroit, Dick Haefner has reported on every possible type of story in what’s arguably the nation’s best all-around news market. But he has never been one to make the story about him.
That’s OK. Before he retires from full-time work, after serving as the news director of WJR-AM since 1989, on Friday, I’ll do the honors.
Dick would never lead with the fact that he helped inspire a career, but he did. I first met him as a wide-eyed 10 year old who loved radio, was fascinated by the news and thought seeing him covering election night with his recorder and microphone was the coolest thing anybody could have been doing on that Tuesday night almost 40 years ago. He was the Oakland County bureau reporter for all-news WWJ Radio (yes, radio stations had bureaus back then) and hearing his voice in person caused something of a star struck moment. Never mind my interest, though. He was on assignment and took an interest in me. That has never wavered.
In the years immediately following, as I got myself on the air at a community radio station, Dick became the sounding board for my tween efforts at professional development. I’d mail him cassettes of my broadcast for his critique, which I would receive quickly. On days off from school, I would watch him anchor and report before sunrise at WXYZ-AM (later WXYT-AM). He let me ask any question I wanted, satisfying every curiosity I had about how it all came together from story selection, to soundbite choice to tone and tempo. He introduced me to everyone, including to one of his managers who years later gave me my first paid job in broadcast news. Dick even took me out to lunch, in true radio style, in a station news car, on station trade. It was the greatest. He filled me with confidence, enthusiasm and encouragement.
While he has spent his entire career in Detroit, I firmly believe that Dick must rank in the top tier of his profession, nationally, in the history of radio. He is, in rare fashion, equal parts broadcaster and newsman, with a both superlative on-air delivery and award-winning news judgment. He is a gifted writer who has exemplified the power of precision broadcast copy. And he’s known in “The Business” as a motivating, example-setting leader. Most of all, and most meaningful to him I’m sure, is the fact he earned the trust of his listeners from decade to decade.
As his colleagues celebrate his time on the air, I will always be grateful that for the time that Dick Haefner invested in me at a formative age. I’m fortunate to have had him as my first role model in my communications career.
Thank You, Dick, and congratulations. Enjoy sleeping in more often. When this pandemic is over, I look forward to a long overdue meal. It doesn’t even have to be on station trade.