Bruce Rader and I were together at WAVY TV for about 14 years, but we did not “run” in the same circles. He is North End, I am Kempsville. I was “dayside,” in management for a couple years at the station and then a news reporter for a decade; he anchored sports and worked nights.
But I was the 6 & 11 sports director at WAVY TV for about 12 months in 1977, and Bruce was my weekend guy; so, for that reason, we became joined at the hip. We also lived in the same apartment complex off Providence Road, and his best buddy from Maryland briefly shared a unit with me. So, our relationship has been more personal than professional, built over a mutual love for TV news, sports, politics in Virginia Beach and summers on the sand around 55th Street where Bruce often holds court.
That said, I do admire Bruce for his 45 years at one station, especially the one on the Portsmouth side of a tolled tunnel where he outlasted and presumably outrated many competitors but also overcame a declining corporate regard for the job of local sports anchor. Thanks to ESPN and the internet, fans do not really need their news channels to tell them what happened nightly in arenas, ballparks and stadiums across the country. In fact, one station here quit doing sports for a while, and another tried.
Yet WAVY, perhaps because of Bruce’s profile and energy, kept him on air, even providing him a full-time producer, the multi-talented Brian Parsons, for the past 25 years, as well as a succession of capable reporter/assistants, including Chris Reckling, John Castleberry, Ahmad Fareed and Nathan Epstein. Collectively they were responsible for the consistent quality of the sportscasts that Bruce fronted on WAVY and Fox 43.
For many viewers, Bruce’s hyper on-air style, reminiscent of the brash Warner Wolf who owned the airwaves in DC, was an acquired taste. But it became Bruce’s brand, which as a marketing guy, I can appreciate. And although Bruce was rightfully lauded for bringing well-deserved attention to Norfolk State, Hampton University and other HBCU schools, his real focus was NASCAR, the team formally known as the Redskins, and high school sports in the region.
All the network affiliates crisscross the region to bring home highlights, particularly during scholastic football seasons, but Bruce and WAVY merged technology with pigskins to take it to another level. Friday Night Flights became, in my opinion, the best on-air franchise in the area. Only WAVY has its own helicopter and deployed it on fall evenings to ferry anchors and videographers across the Southside and the Peninsula, to record captivating aerial footage of touchdowns and interceptions but so much more.
Once on the ground, Rader, Slater, and other WAVY personalities kibbitzed with cheerleaders and bands, making the segments homespun local television at its best. I can imagine there are hundreds of players, coaches, trombonists, and booster club parents who are forever thankful for their 15 seconds on TV, thanks to WAVY’s appreciation of the regular folks at the games, whether there to participate or spectate.
Bruce has hinted that he may not be done as a media personality, and I get that desire. After leaving WAVY in 1991 to start my PR firm, I hosted a Meet the Press type talk show, On the Record, for nearly 17 more years at WVEC TV. I enjoyed it immensely. But since that ended in 2008, I have been the guy some of you still recognize in the grocery aisle, while gaining significant satisfaction out of helping clients and building community, using the skills and platform that TV taught and afforded me.
There is life on the other side of the camera, and Bruce Rader, devoted husband and father of two sets of twins, including a pair of cute three-year-old’s, will hopefully find satisfaction in other pursuits. Indeed, his philanthropic and telethon work is the stuff of legend around here, meaning Bruce will likely have Joe Flanagan type appeal as an emcee for years to come if not more.
His able successor, Craig Loper, is now reporting the scores, leaving Bruce to be a high-profile man about town, which is not a bad gig in a region that clearly loves him, and he has so genuinely loved back.
About the Writer
Joel Rubin is President of Rubin Communications Group, a public relations firm based in Virginia Beach. Previously he was a reporter and anchor at WAVY TV and also hosted a weekly political and issues talk show called On the Record with Joel Rubin on WVEC TV. A graduate of the University of Virginia and former chairman of the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame, Joel also directs the WINDSdays campaign to raise awareness of offshore wind and its potential benefits to the Hampton Roads region.