Remembering Dave MacNeill, 1931-2012

cocktailsBy Laura Carlo 

It was sunny, but still chilly, that April afternoon. I was wearing my new gray flannel suit, I had my degrees, a solid resume and a shelf full of “Best News” awards from radio and TV jobs in Fall River and Providence. As I filled out my application in the lobby of WCRB Radio, I felt confident I was about to find my spot on the dial in Boston. 
 
Confident, that is, until the receptionist said, “You’ll be the last interview today. General Manager Dave MacNeill will come get you when he’s ready.”

My knees turned to jelly. Dave MacNeill? THE Dave MacNeill? The man I had listened to as a music announcer and news anchor? The steady, calming, friendly, intelligent voice on my father’s favorite radio station ever since I could remember?  Dave MacNeill was a bona fide radio superstar, one of the most respected radio professionals in Boston. 
 
But sure enough, this friendly man with salt and pepper hair and bushy beard (I was not expecting that) came around the corner, and welcomed me warmly. He first  asked me about my news perspective. I told him I believed in the “news you can use” style---the government, business, education, health news that will help us make informed decisions about the things that matter most to our lives, and not the “If it bleeds, it leads” style. Turns out that was his style, too.

That conversation segued in to more discussions---almost two hours more---before it ended. I asked him when I might hear of his decision? “Right now,” he said. “Welcome to WCRB!” I shook his hand and thanked him profusely. “Don’t thank me, Laura. You got this because you earned this.”    
 
Two weeks later I reported for duty…. and never left. Dave MacNeill was a major reason why. As impressive a man as he was, DMac (as all of his colleagues called him affectionately), was humble. I don’t know how we got any work done in those days---Dave and I would start talking about something, the conversation would take twists and turns, and I found myself living vicariously through his exciting stories. 

His path to radio

Dave was headed to MIT after high school, but contracted polio the summer after his senior year. It didn’t stop him, though. He became involved with a WCRB program for teens, “Young America Speaks,” which hooked him on radio. He worked as a councilor for children with disabilities at Camp Caravan. That led to his acceptance at Boston University, where he graduated from in 1954. 
 
Besides his job as a teen, Dave’s first radio job was at WBUR, a college station then. Then he made his way back to WCRB, where he did many jobs, working his way up to staff announcer, news anchor and eventually News Director. In those days WCRB was a mixed-format station. But in 1951 it added a program, called  “Afternoon at Symphony,” and its success led the station to eventually become all-classical.   But it always kept a strong news department with Dave at the helm. Along the way, Dave interviewed just about everyone, from Senator Ted Kennedy to former Celtic Nate “Tiny” Archibald. Not to mention a veritable “Who’s Who” of classical music titans of the 20th century, from Anne-Sophie Mutter to Vladimir Horowitz.  
 
Dave’s voice was a presence in Symphony Hall, too: He narrated pieces three times with the Boston Pops, including the time Marin Alsop became the first woman to guest conduct a full-length Boston Pops concert. For many years he was the voice of the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops concerts from Symphony Hall and Tanglewood.  Dave also participated in many of the milestone events in our city’s recent history, including anchoring the Channel 2 coverage of the John F. Kennedy election from the City Room at the Boston Globe. 
 
Dave didn’t have enough shelf space for all the news and public affairs competition awards he had won over the years, culminating in his election to the Massachusetts Broadcasters Hall of Fame. On the day of his induction, I was struck by how many big-name radio personalities – from decidedly NON-classical formats - came over to tell Dave how much of an influenced he had been.  
 
Regardless of these honors, Dave  would repeat to me and our WCRB colleagues that it wasn’t about personal recognition; “It’s all about wrapping your station around your community.”

Saying good-bye
 
Last Saturday I was allowed to visit with David at the hospice where he knew he would spend his final few days. We had one hour and 45 minutes together, in which we did a lot of reminiscing about our WCRB days together. I consider that precious time a gift.

Dave told me that  he had had a great life, a great family, and how very much he had enjoyed his 57 year career at WCRB. I tried to remind him of all the impressive things he had done and he still modestly downplayed them. In typical DMac form, he began complimenting me and our colleagues instead.

He was getting tired, so I thanked him again for everything, from allowing me to be in his circle, to mentoring me, to eventually relinquishing his News Director title to me as he took on other responsibilities. Once again, he pointed his finger, and in that friendly but steadfast voice reminded me of that April afternoon decades ago… “Don’t ever forget, Laura. You earned it.”
 
I kissed him good-bye.
 
And now, he has taken his last, peaceful breath. 
 
Rest in peace, my friend. You earned it.

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