Happier days: David Henderson, Robert Knight, and the author
A Giant of New York Journalism is no more. Robert Knight, a major figure in New York media, widely published in both the Black and corporate Press, a voice heard on the BBC, NPR, and most notably, Pacifica Radio’s New York affiliate, WBAI-FM, and a winner of numerous awards in journalism, including the prestigious GEORGE POLK AWARD, has died. He was 64.
As I said elsewhere, I repeat here.
Robert Knight was one of those dudes who was so smart, and SOOOOOO funny, you’d leave his presence with a hurting head, from thinking so much, and a sore belly, from LAUGHING YOUR ASS OFF. He will be missed.
I had heard about Robert’s passing at of all places, on Face Book, a social media network he detested. A colleague of ours from WBAI Radio that I am also friends with over there, Shelton Whalden, had sent me a text with the news. I immediately sent out other text notes to other friends there asking if they had heard, and what they knew. Even made a few phone calls to other mutual friends. No one knew anything.
Robert was a colleague, confident, but most of all a friend to me.
In the 1990′s, Elaine Rivera, then a reporter with the too short-lived New York Edition of NEWSDAY, Robert Knight, and I, lived down on the Lower East Side. I introduced Robert to Elaine in 1994, and shortly afterwards, they became ‘an item.’ Robert, especially, would make it a point to visit with my then wife, Susan Pillay, and I, about three to four times a week. We’d break bread, have a few drinks, and lots of laughs. Elaine was also a frequent guest, along with Robert, to my Ninth Street apartment, living on the other side of Thompkins Square Park, also on east 9th street.
Elaine passed away, suddenly, last Fall. I happen to know that RK, as I sometimes affectionately called Robert, was BLOWN AWAY by her passing, devastated, in fact. We would talk, but his health status was like a yo-yo, up and down, before, and since my return to New York from Australia last Fall. We would talk on the phone about meeting up, but I suspected it would be some time before his strength was up-to-par to engage guests. That included yours truly.
On the day that he received his GEORGE POLK AWARD, Robert, my then wife, Susan Pillay, and I, were hanging out at the 9th street digs. We three went to the Mid-Town venue where he would receive this noted award, and was greeted with a large crowd of supporters, all WBAI FOLKS, who just wanted to be around to share his moment. There were about 40 people in all, and that crowd included Laura Flanders, a dynamic journalist, and Valerie Van Isler, the then General Manager of that shop, among other WBAIers of note.
Indeed, those were some HEADY DAYS down on the Lower East Side, hanging with RK.
We had a bit of a falling out some time later. It was a rift that lasted well over a decade, I am sad to say. But, in 2008 we got back to where we were in the 1980′s and ’90′s. We hugged, cried and laughed, and it was good. We remained in touch during my five year stint DOWN UNDER.
Lastly, Robert Knight was one of those special American Black men who made you proud to be American, irrespective of race, creed or religion. Without waving the flag of the stars and stripes, he was a constant reminder of not only what is wrong with our country, but also, a guy who offered insight on the other possible ways we could be better as a people, and nation. THAT IS RARE.
He was worldly, in the true sense of the word. He was also very, very funny and a guy who would keep you on your toes with his astonishing wit, and humor.
As in the case with so many people one encounters in the world of Broadcasting and Journalism, few people ‘got him,’ others could easily define him as aloof, self-centered, and distant. He was also fiercely private and not always one easy to get to know. Yet, he was also fiercely loyal, and a man who had a big heart with those who did get close, and got to know him.
For me, personally, this has been a difficult period of 18 months with the passing of great friends, and associates, who’ve played a role in both my personal, and professional life. Some of them are known, and some not well known among avid listeners of WBAI Radio. But they all made a public mark, and were known publicly and known both inside and outside the sometimes-insular world of the media. I am going to list them here, anyway.
There was the passing of Ibrahim Gonzales, the long time program host at WBAI; Then Jim Sutherland, who was a great friend and professional colleague who I began my television broadcast journalism career with. Jim, like RK, would go on to win several notable awards in his field. He went on to work at CNN, and was later Executive Producer at THE WEATHER CHANNEL. Another brainy friend comes from my Harlem Prep days, who sometimes was heard on the airwaves of 99.5 FM taking about computers, and other stuff, he was Eugene Anthony Alexander ‘Umar’ Argent. Then Elaine Rivera, as noted above, she was a feisty, brainy, warm, and brilliant human being. And now, uncannily close to Elaine’s passing, separated by just a few short months, is the passing of Robert Knight.
All of the above had a connection with, or were heard in some fashion, on the airwaves of Pacifica Radio’s New York station. Now they are all gone. All gone in a strange, and eerie, 18-month span.
Yet, in knowing them all, and being truly blessed to have had them be a part of my life, I know what they would say. They would say, “Remember me, but do go out and meet and make new friends.”
That is who those folks are. GIANTS in so many ways. Robert Knight would be at the top of that list.
I cannot bring myself to deleting his personal phone numbers from my personal directory. Information about his death, the causes, have been slowly coming out. RK did tell me a bit about his health challenges early in 2013, and having a brush with death, in late 2012.
He survived, and I thought that he would jump this hurdle, too, as he did before. His journalistic awards, and life accomplishments, are too numerous to list here. The word, impressive, is not precise enough to describe the many roads he traveled, and the journeys he shared with untold thousands he touched in a amazing career, few, if any, will ever match.
He is survived by three brothers, Michael, Dale and Alan, and his longtime comanion, Paulette Spencer.
RK.… Goodbye my dear friend, your great spirit remains with, and inside of me.