Mentor Memorium

He was a reporter. He was a writer. He was a lover of music, mostly jazz. He was interested in art and history. He was Hap Hazard, and now he is gone.

Hap was the news director at WJTN/SE-93 radio for forty years. He covered all of the major news events in southern Chautauqua County through most of the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s. “Covering” the news is an old journalists term, which I use because I am one. But when I say that Hap covered stories, I mean just that: he went to a meeting, an event, or a fire or crime scene, and then he came back to the newsroom, wrote about it, and made sure it got on the air. Hap understood the key to reporting: write down what happened and tell the audience exactly that. Embellishment was generally not necessary, unless you were writing a feature story that was designed to make the listener feel, or react, or think in a new way.

In addition to writing radio news, Hap also wrote for the Buffalo News. He was a stringer, paid per story, so the newspapers in Buffalo could run articles from the Jamestown area even without sending a full-time reporter to the scene. Every day he sat in the newsroom at WJTN, clipped those articles out of the paper, and pasted them into scrapbooks. Those scrapbooks were a tremendous resource for our news department, providing a history of the region by way of daily reporting. But the scrapbooks only truly worked well with Hap’s memory to go along with them. An issue would arise and Hap would recall when something similar had happened before, or when a person was involved in the past or a building was dedicated or some such thing, and then he would remember about what year it happened and we would haul out the scrapbooks to get the scoop. We had a traditional clipping file, too, but wasn’t always as comprehensive as Hap’s scrapbooks.

Hap actually had very little air time himself until program director George Pfleeger retired in the 1980’s and was no longer there to read newscasts on the air. That’s when Hap stepped up to the microphone. Having long been a news reporter and writer up until then, he suddenly became an on air newscaster, and he did it with great aplomb.

Hap’s writing was exemplary. He could turn a phrase like fine wood on a lathe. I am convinced that ability was natural. He may have honed it over the years, but his writing was very much like his spoken voice: understated until the punch line.

If we’re lucky, there are people in our lives willing to take a chance on us. I will forever be grateful to Hap for the chance he took on me in 1982. I had already been working for the radio station as a producer and announcer for four years and had gotten to know Hap. He had a vacancy in the newsroom and asked if I would give it a try. I jumped at the chance. For twelve years we worked across a desk from one another in a noisy newsroom that was also home to a loud teletype machine, clattering typewriters, a TV, ringing telephones, the sports department, and announcers hanging around between their air shifts. It was chaotic, challenging, hilarious, sobering, and a tremendous learning environment.

After he retired in 1994, I became news director and also succeeded him as the southern Chautauqua County stringer for the Buffalo News. The greatest compliment I ever received was when Hap recommended me to the editors at the Buffalo News; “She’s savvy, and she’ll do a good job for you,” he said.

We made a point of having lunch together once a month, for several years after he retired. I talked him into writing some feature stories for the radio, which he continued for a while. Eventually our lunch dates became less frequent when the conversations grew shorter, and then stopped altogether after a few times when he would make a date with me and then forget to show up. There is often tragedy in the aging process. He passed away at the age of 87.

He was my teacher, my friend, and my mentor. He was Hap Hazard, and now he’s gone.

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