On Craig Windham

Photo: Craig Windham on Facebook

At a radio network I worked at in New York in the ’80s — the RKO Radio Network — we used to joke that it was the best network nobody ever heard of.

The reason for that is it had an amazing stable of talent, people who — once General Tire was ruled unfit to hold broadcast licenses, and once it sold the operation to Dick Clark, who had no interest in anything other than the satellite transponders RKO owned — went on to fine careers.

One of them was Craig Windham, who was one of our Capitol Hill correspondents and, assuming you’re a fan of public radio, you’ve heard on NPR newscasts for a couple of decades now.

Windham, who died last night, was as good a person character-wise as you’ll ever find in a newsroom as evidenced by his work with young people, with whom he led overseas mission trips. He even earned a Ph.D. in counseling and when he wasn’t doing those newscasts, he operated a counseling business for adolescents.

“Craig touched so many lives,” Robert Garcia, the executive producer of NPR’s Newscasts, said in an email to his staff. “He was one the best reporters and anchors I have ever had the privilege of working with in my 40 years in this business. His beautiful writing, his use of sound, his calm, steady, gorgeous delivery — all marked the work of a caring journalist who loved nothing more than telling a good story, adding the texture that took you there, and leaving every listener invested in some way — moved or informed.”

Windham’s dissertation for his doctorate was on the influence of social media on young people.

I knew Windham the news guy. I didn’t know Windham the youth counselor guy or the church-leader guy, and while I hadn’t talked to him since I moved to Minnesota, I suspect there’s a lot about people I work with every day that I don’t know, things that define who they are, at least as much as their ability to read or write a news story. I suspect it’s that way in a lot of organizations and workplaces.

We don’t really know the people on radio, although we think we do. It’s all part of the ethics to reveal as little personal information as possible, which — the theory goes — makes us more trustworthy.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Craig, like so many in the business, was a pro who kept to himself and wrote and read the copy you heard.

And yet, it feels today as though we missed an opportunity to appreciate him for something more important.