Friday is the journalist's last day.
Journalist. Host. Newscaster. Editor. Juggler. Leader. Mentor. Friend. Gracious. Witty. Humble. Nurturing. Patient. Unflappable. Words that describe Bill Raack from those who have worked with him over 23 years at St. Louis Public Radio.
Raack’s departure from St. Louis Public Radio has hit his co-workers hard. Morning Newscaster and Journalist Wayne Pratt, whom Raack hired four years ago, said, “For many in the public radio system, Bill Raack IS St. Louis Public Radio/KWMU. His impact over the years is immeasurable.” Marketing Director Phil Donato, who’s been with the station for 14 years, noted that this loss is hitting him particularly hard. “He is a true professional and a true friend. This is a big loss for our station, and Friday will be a sad day for me.”
Raack came to love radio as a youth, growing up in St. Louis. His family always played the radio, and by the time he went to college, he knew he wanted to be a radio journalist. Nearly all of Raack’s 34-year career has been in public radio.
As a senior at the University of Kansas, he interned at the public radio station there. After a couple of stops in commercial radio, he headed to WILL-AM-FM in Champaign-Urbana in 1990, where he was “immediately struck by the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the other reporters, editors and hosts.”
He also enjoyed the opportunities that public radio still affords its reporters. “I was given the time to explore stories and issues that I hadn’t before. The ability to add context and historical perspective to my work was extremely satisfying,” said Raack.
Though digital platforms greatly changed how listeners access public radio, Raack said the medium is "still about telling stories; it’s still about compelling voices and audio; it’s still about journalism that matters. Public radio has the opportunity to position itself as one of the few places that news consumers can go for undiluted, impartial coverage of the issues that affect them on a daily basis.”
Raack joined St. Louis Public Radio in 1995. At that time, the station known as KWMU was operated by a much smaller staff. “Everyone pitched in to do everything because well, you had to,” recalled Raack. “There was a feeling of excitement and exhaustion then that led to many happy hours, KWMU sports teams and staff get-togethers. Lots of work but also lots of fun.”
Executive Producer Mary Edwards, who’s worked at the station for 43 years, remembered those early days. “From the time Bill first became news director, I was the engineer as he hosted the station's election coverage. Bill had to make quick on-air decisions about how to cut into NPR’s coverage with news from our field reporters. He was unflappable despite the many curve balls thrown his way."
Raack has hired, trained or mentored dozens of reporters. Brett Blume, Kevin Lavery, Tom Weber, Matt Sepic, Adam Allington, Rob Frederick, and Joseph Leahy are still in radio or journalism in some capacity. Several of Raack’s hires remain at St. Louis Public Radio: Executive Editor Shula Neuman, Morning Newscaster and Business Reporter Wayne Pratt, Innovation Reporter Maria Altman, Justice Reporter Rachel Lippmann, and We Live Here Co-Producer Tim Lloyd.
When asked to reflect on Raack’s influence, his co-workers focused not so much on the roles he’s filled but the qualities that made him an excellent journalist, invaluable resource, mentor, role model, boss, and friend.
Pratt described Raack as “an outstanding radio journalist, who is an all-around great person. Bill is the reason I work here. Not having him in the office every day will be tough for me to take both professionally and personally. I wish him all the success in the world in his next chapter.”
Rachel Lippmann, who met Bill when she was a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said it was “out of respect for Bill” that she applied for an open position in our newsroom. “I was happy where I was and not looking for a job. But when you are given the chance to jump to a top-30 market at the age of 25, you take it despite your reservations,” Lippmann said. “I probably shouldn’t have been in that large of a market at that young of an age, but Bill decided to take that chance. He even went so far as to put me on the air for morning and afternoon newscasts not long after I arrived.”
Marissanne Lewis-Thompson tells a similar story. Raack had her on the air two weeks after she started in late October. “Bill placed a lot of confidence in my abilities early on to take on newscasting, which was something fairly new to me. I was so nervous when I went live for the first time. My hands were shaking, and my heart was trying to jump out of my chest. Whenever I stumbled, he encouraged me to get back up and keep trying. It was comforting to know that he was sitting right behind me.”
Raack still believes that public radio is where young and aspiring journalists should be. “I know this sounds cliché, but I don’t know of a time when it was more important to have a vibrant, energetic press corps. I’m encouraged by the young reporters (and soon-to-be reporters) that I have met in recent years who take their jobs very seriously and want to make a difference. It won’t be without its challenges. Many in elected office see the media as the enemy and seek to discredit our efforts to find and communicate the truth. So my advice to those entering the profession: be persistent, have a thick skin and have fun.”
Raack described his impending departure as “surreal” and his 23 years at St. Louis Public Radio as a “dream job, in many ways.” After a celebration with co-workers and other well-wishers on Friday, he says he plans to “take a deep breath, enjoy the holidays with my family, and consider several options for the future.”
Thank you for guiding us in that mission, Bill. Thank you for your years of service to St. Louis Public Radio listeners, for your mentorship, and for your friendship. We will miss you, and we wish you the very best.