Local Features
2:27 pm
Thu December 29, 2011

Robert Ames bids farewell to Rhode Island Public Radio

PROVIDENCE, RI – Today we at Rhode Island Public Radio say good-bye to long-time staff member Robert Ames. He's the voice that's kept you company in the afternoon and during All Things Considered. He's the last of the original staff of Rhode Island Public Radio and he's retiring after a 45 year career.

When Ames started in broadcasting friends warned him it was a field without a lot of job security. But in a career that has spanned nearly half a century Ames has never been without work. That comes as no surprise to Rhode Island Public Radio general manager Joe O'Connor who says Ames brings a combination of professionalism, integrity and kindness to the workplace.

"Every newsroom I've been in always has its degree of dysfunction because it's stressful. You're always meeting deadlines. There are all kinds of personalities: the calm in the storm, the captain of the bridge was Bob Ames," says O'Connor.

The Ballad of the Green Berets was the number one hit when Ames started his broadcast career at a 5,000 watt radio station in a Philadelphia suburb in 1966. The song would be a harbinger of things to come. He'd been on the job less than a year when he heard he was about to be drafted.

"This was, you know, in the middle of the Vietnam War," said Ames "and every young man who wasn't in college was vulnerable to the draft."

He saved Uncle Sam the trouble and enlisted in the Army hoping that by volunteering he'd have a better chance of landing a job as a military journalist. The strategy worked. He was assigned to cover the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam starting in September, 1968.

"So I would go out on various assignments that ranged from going out with infantry units to doing stories about medivac teams. Just a whole variety of feature-like stories."

After the Army, Ames worked his way through Temple University and then landed a radio job in Camden, New Jersey. From there he went on to anchor positions at powerful all-news stations in Philadelphia and Boston where he earned a reputation as a top notch journalist. Rosemary Lappin was his managing editor at WEEI in Boston.

"Definitely one of my favorites at WEEI, perhaps the favorite," Lappin remembers. "He worked hard and as I said he was seriously funny. I looked forward to walking in there every day and seeing his smiling face."

Ames was at Boston public radio station WBUR when it launched Ocean State public radio in 1998. For the first few years he and co-worker Deb Becker broadcast the Rhode Island news from Boston. Becker says their studio was so small they called it the closet.

"There were an awful lot of snafus. How do you say Warwick? How do you pronounce Coventry?" Becker says. " We got all those things straightened out and of course throughout it all Bob was a true newsman, a true professional. He worked very hard to get the most reliable, up-to-date information on the air and the best sources and experts to talk with about the issues."

Rhode Island Public Radio news director Catherine Welch has been Ames's boss for about a year-and- a-half. She was surprised to learn he was a source for a book she'd been carrying around for years.

"It's called something like "How to Make Radio." And it's very old," Welch says. "It talks about your typewriter being your friend. You don't really need a computer but you absolutely need a filing cabinet. And I was showing it to Bob and he opened it up and he was one of the people acknowledged by the author. And here I've been lugging this book around making my reporters and interns read it and then I was blessed to be able to work with a man who's referenced by the author. I'm going to have him autograph it before he leaves."

Ames not only hosts All Things Considered but has coached dozens of interns and new employees in the art of radio journalism. Rhode Island Public Radio political analyst Scott MacKay calls him a man of "infinite patience."

"I came here to radio after 30 years in print journalism and I had no idea what I was doing and without Bob Ames I probably would have been out the door a long time ago because he's a man who worked with me," MacKay says with a smile. "He was a mentor to me. He helped me so much trying to get my voice to sound decent on the air. He helped tighten my writing from the kind of turgid newspaper style down to a more verb-driven way that we tell stories in radio and we are really going to miss him. He is one of the most decent men I've ever met."

Ames is 65. He's been married to his wife, Sue Dean Ames, for 36 years and has two grown children. He gave retirement a lot of thought before taking the plunge and doesn't worry about getting bored.

"I have some ideas," says Ames. "I'd like to volunteer. I love to fish and I'm going to do some of that. We're going to do some traveling. We've put off travel plans to get our kids through college and the like so I have some catching up to do in that department. But I'm not worried about it. I'm pretty sure I'll keep myself busy and I may come back from time to time on a fill-in basis. We'll see how that goes."

A search is on for Ames's replacement. He or she will have some very large shoes to fill.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you. news@wrni.org.