Minium: ODU will honor Bruce Rader of WAVY tonight for his 45 years as a television sports commentator

By Harry Minium

NORFOLK, Virginia. – Bruce Rader has never been the finest TV sportscaster. He’s a blue collar guy who didn’t go to broadcasting school and doesn’t even have a college degree, and in many ways that was his strength.

Hampton Roads is a community that builds and sails ships and fills them with cargo and coal. We have one of the largest natural harbors in the world and the Navy is our main employer.

Most residents of Hampton Roads work hard to earn a living.

It partly explains why Rader was a staple of local television for 45 years and why his retirement earlier this week has garnered so much attention.

In a way, he was our Everyman. We could identify with him. He had an overflowing energy and joie de vivre that showed through on your TV every night.

And he had a basic understanding of what matters to the people of Hampton Roads.

He focused on local sports, Old Dominion and Norfolk State, and high school football and basketball.

He was the first broadcast reporter in the area to begin covering historically black institutions and the first to travel to Daytona and Richmond to cover NASCAR and to the Super Bowl and Olympics to cover local athletes such as Bruce Smith.

We love football in Hampton Roads, and he was the first local television host to regularly cover the Washington Redskins before they were commanders.

When ODU football started, he hosted a weekly TV show at WAVY and the University, found sponsors, and hosted Coach Bobby Wilder’s show for 11 seasons.

It would be an exaggeration to say that I grew up watching Bruce – I’m older than him. But when you invite the same person into your living room for 45 years, they essentially become a member of your family.

So, in a way, I felt a sense of loss when Bruce recently announced his retirement. He last signed WAVY on Thursday night.

Count ODU sporting director Wood Selig among those Rader will miss. Selig grew up in Norfolk and grew up watching Rader. He also admires what Rader has done for local sports.

“Bruce Rader has done as much for Hampton Roads sports as any individual in this community,” Selig said. “For 45 years he has been the voice not only of local teams and sports, but also of our national connection to those local teams and local individuals.”

Rader will be the guest of tonight’s home men’s basketball game with FIU, a key game the Monarchs must win to secure a bye to the first round of the Conference USA basketball tournament.

Rader will be introduced to the field in the first timeout of the first half.

I hope the ODU fans give him a standing ovation.

Bruce Rader interviews Anne Donovan

Rader overcame a ton of odds to succeed in the broadcast. Although he is handsome, he looks much younger than his age. And his high-pitched voice isn’t the classic baritone you’d expect to hear on the airwaves.

Rader met Maury Povich, the longtime TV host, when he was 18 and was advised “to try to do radio. You’re never going to be on TV. You’re 18 and you’re in it.” look 15″.

Undaunted, he worked his way into radio as a teenager, telling a local radio executive that he worked for the Washington Post (he was a part-time correspondent), then a sponsor of the radio saying that he worked for the radio station (he didn’t have a contract yet).

When he returned to the WINX radio studio with a signed contract with a sponsor, he began doing a sports show at the local high school. Eventually, he started doing local TV sports in the Washington area.

Rader came to Hampton Roads 45 years ago as a reporter for WVEC and served as a sports editor for the Virginia Beach Sun and the Chesapeake Post to end the week. When he came to WAVY as a sports journalist, it was the fourth sports station in the area.

He focused on football in high school. He was the first to do Friday night flights, during which a WAVY helicopter ferried him to half a dozen football games.

It quickly turned WAVY into the #1 sports show in the region and has rarely been knocked off that perch.

Rader has always hustled like a pink slip is right around the corner, because that’s what people who didn’t grow up with a silver spoon do.

“I was always afraid of getting fired,” Rader said. “Because of that, I never gave up. I said, ‘Let’s do more high school football, let’s bring the helicopter, do ODU football, do things to create more revenue. “

And while sportswriters often work to move to bigger markets, he was smart enough and had enough humility to know that a market the size of Hampton Roads was where he belonged. Of course, he dreamed of returning home to Washington.

But he knew that kind of market was where it belonged in the Darwinian world of journalism.

Hampton Roads became his home and where, very late, he started a family.

Rader divorced his first wife when he met Virginia Waff at a party 24 years ago. Virginia, who works for Norfolk Sheriff Joe Baron, was impressed with her sincerity and down to earth attitude.

“He was so nice and funny and so lovable,” she said.

They married on June 15, 2002, and Rader was 52 when Virginia had twins, Reed and Alex. On July 23, 2018, Virginia welcomed a second set of twins, Bryce and Haley.

Family is the reason Rader is stepping down. He wants to spend more time with his children.

“As any parent knows, your children are your priority in life,” he said.

Good for him.

bruce rader, bruce smith
Bruce Rader with Bruce Smith

Rader threw something of a retirement party this week at Chartway Arena sponsored by WAVY. Summarizing the two-hour event would be impossible, but suffice it to say there were jokes, tears and many career highlights.

Longtime sportscasters Brian Parsons (ODU graduate) and Nathan Epstein paid tribute to him. Esptein lost his temper when he recounted how Rader hired him to allow him to be on the air while his grandparents were still alive.

“It meant the world to me,” he said.

ESPN sports commentator Stan Verrett, via video, explained how helpful Rader is to those just starting out.

Verrett was doing a morning radio show when Rader invited him to come on set and start learning television, including doing mock shows. “You were the one who convinced the film crew to stay after the 6 p.m. news” to rehearse, he said.

Eventually, Rader convinced WAVY officials to air Verrett on weekends over the Christmas holidays.

“Thanks to you, Bruce, I started a career that allowed me to do and see so many amazing things and have so many amazing experiences,” Verrett said.

“And it all happened because of your kindness, your generosity and the tutelage you gave me when I was just starting out.”

Rader, for his part, paid tribute to Peter G. Decker Jr., the late Norfolk lawyer and businessman, ODU graduate and generous donor to the university’s athletic program. Decker was known throughout town as “Uncle Pete”.

For those who knew Uncle Pete, Rader’s story sounded familiar.

“I was sitting in his office, and I said, ‘Uncle Pete, I’m in trouble. I don’t have a mentor,'” Rader said. “‘I need you. Tell me what to do.’

“He did, but I said I need you forever. I just need to know you’re there.”

“He looked at me and said ‘Bruce, I’ll be here for you all your life. You can call me 24 hours a day and I’ll answer the phone and I’ll be there for you. But you have to do something for me .'”

What is it, Rader asked.

“‘Honestly, I don’t think you’ll make it, especially in this business. But if you do, the only thing I ask of you is that you use your fame to give back to the community, that you give back to charity.'”

Rader kept his word. He started a golf tournament to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, which treats children with cancer free of charge. When the tournament finally ended in 2016, it had raised over $1 million.

He has organized numerous charity events and worked with Dennis Ellmer, President and CEO of Priority Automotive, to raise money for children’s charities through the Charity Bowl football game, an event held at the ODU.

Peter G. Decker III, Uncle Pete’s son and member of the ODU Board of Visitors, attended Rader’s farewell event with his wife, Dana, and mother, Bess.

“I wouldn’t be here without Uncle Pete and the Decker family,” Rader said.

Bess cried as Rader spoke.

Rader is a glass half full type. He reported difficult stories if necessary, but he didn’t like it. He preferred to be optimistic.

He broke his fair share of news. And that’s because everyone knows Bruce. If you’re part of the local sports community, you’re in its rolodex.

“Bruce could report on ODU without having to call our media relations department because he knows our history, he knows so many people on our campus, he knows so much about us,” Selig said.

“Think of all the places he went and brought stories from the locals to Hampton Roads, whether it was the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the Redskins, or coverage of ODU women’s basketball.

“He brought everything into our living rooms.

“Sometimes I know members of the media, including Bruce, walk a fine line. They don’t want to be a homer. He’s always helped ODU get his message across. I don’t think we’d have the following which we’re enjoying today if it wasn’t for the consistent and positive coverage we’ve received from Bruce throughout his tenure at WAVY.

“You will never find another Bruce Rader, not just in this community, but across the country. They don’t make Bruce Raders anymore.

“As commonplace as playing hopscotch across the country every couple of years, Bruce Raders is a thing of the past.”

Rader was indeed one of a kind. And he will be greatly missed.

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