A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Guy With A Heart

This is a bittersweet day for Al Hart fans.
On the upside, it's his 81st birthday.
On the downside, he's decided to call it a career after more than four decades as the voice of KCBS. Your last chance to hear him will be next Wednesday morning, when he and John Madden do their final shmooze-fest.
His biggest fans are his peers at other radio and TV stations, who understand how hard it is to do what he makes look so easy.
"He's the gold standard in our profession," says Tom Newton, assignment manager at KRON. "All our star reporters are huge Al Hart fans. And it's not just here; people feel this way about him in newsrooms all over town. He's the guy we all want to be."
It's so rare to find someone who is not only the very best at what he does but also one of the kindest, sweetest, most decent people you'll ever meet.
People ask me if anyone can possibly be as nice as Al comes across on the radio. And the answer is no.
In real life, he's even nicer.
We've all had the unhappy experience of working with people who could be described as "kiss-up, kick-down guys." Al is the exact opposite. Longtime KCBS engineer Andy Ellis calls him "the anti-prima dona."
Kitty Rea, who was one of KCBS's first female engineers back in the 1970s, remembers most men at the station treating her like a second-class citizen, assuming she'd gotten the job only because she was a woman. But not Al.
"He never acted that way towards me or any of the other women," she says. "Here was this broadcasting legend treating me not as a lowly little girl tech who was supposed to make him look good, but as an equal. And this was way before it was fashionable or required to treat women like that in the workplace."
The women who have worked at KCBS over the years invariable call him "an old-fashioned gentleman," and it's a perfect description. He treats women with respect because he treats with respect.
Al was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he learned the values of decency and tolerance common to that area. His early career included stints in Rhinelander, Wisconsin ("WOBT, home of the Ho-Dads") and Shreveport, Louisiana ("KTBS, in the heart of the Ark-La-Tex"), where he was billed as "Your pal, Al, the guy with a heart."
In Shreveport he launched a second career as a pop singer for Mercury Records. His biggest hit was "Tears Are Only Rain To Make Love Grow."
In 1966 he moved to San Francisco and went to work at KCBS as producer of Dave McElhatton's morning drive show.
It was an inspired pairing. Al invented a host of colorful characters - including Charlie the Checker and Larry Fatooker, coach of the Milpitas Mud Hens - and pretended to call in, and McElhatton pretended to interview them. The audience loved being in on the joke and ate it up.
When McElhatton moved over to Channel 5 to anchor its nightly news, Al gracefully - that's the only way he knows how to do anything - moved into his slot. And he became a Bay Area institution.
In 2000 he retired from his daily morning show to take care of his wife, Sally, who was dying from Lou Gehrig's Disease. After Sally's death KCBS coaxed him back to shoot the breeze with Madden (another big fan of his) on Wednesday mornings.
He's won every award in the book, including being in the first group to be inducted into the Bay Area Broadcasting Hall Of Fame. But more important than any award is his place in the hearts of everyone who has ever known him.
I've known him for more than 30 years. And one of the biggest honors of my life is that this great and good man thinks of me as his friend.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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