Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Al Hart, gentleman

While summer cleaning, I unearthed my recording of the local TV stations' stories about longtime radio pro Al Hart's retirement ten years ago.

Hart was a fixture on San Francisco news radio station KCBS-AM for 34 years, holding down the morning drive-time (6-10 AM) slot for nearly twenty-five years of that run. That's rare in a business as volatile as radio. He could have kept his job even longer, but retired in order to spend time with his wife Sally, who suffered from ALS. (Sally passed away in 2002.)

Even rarer than his on-air longevity is the universal esteem in which he was (and is) held by his peers and by the public. In addition to being a pro's pro as a broadcaster -- his voice was warm, but his tone was brisk, as befitted a man delivering hard news -- Hart was (and is), by all accounts, an unpretentious and just plain nice man. He seemed genuinely moved, and a little overwhelmed, by the fuss made when he retired. Every local TV station sent a news crew; there were on-air tributes from current and former colleagues, and even by longtime competitors at other radio stations; Gov. Gray Davis declared the Friday that Hart retired, 2 June 2000, "Al Hart Day" throughout California; the San Francisco Board of Supervisors issued a similar proclamation for San Francisco, board president Barbara Kaufman wryly noting that the unanimous passing of the proclamation was a first in the board's history.

One of the last things Hart said on the air that day was that although he had received "a stack" of cards and letters wishing him well, he would reply to every single one of them. He kept his word: my summer cleaning also produced his handwritten note to me, not merely acknowledging that I had written, but replying specifically to a couple of remarks I had made. No form letters for Mr. Hart!

Though I wish he could have stayed on the air forever, I count myself lucky to have been part of his audience for most of his run in the mornings.

I can think of no higher praise than to borrow a phrase from Wodehouse: Al Hart is one of nature's gentlemen.

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