Hear excerpts of WIBC legend negotiating with gunman live on air.
This week marks the anniversary of one of WIBC’s proudest accomplishments. Hoosiers were spared the trauma of what nearly was a gruesome murder & likely suicide as a radio legend was the hero.
1070-AM newsman Fred Heckman – pictured in the photo wearing a dark suit and black glasses – teamed with FBI agents & other law enforcement to negotiate the safe release of a hostage from entrepreneur Tony Kiritsis who had been holding his mortgage broker for 63 hours at gun point during the cold days of February 1977.
There are many broadcasting related items to exam & gain perspective when looking back on this incident (including giving in to a hostage demands for broadcast time, air profanity-laced news content, or the importance discerning between rumor & fact and then how to responsibly tell such information during such a toxic situation) but today our focus is on WIBC’s Fred Heckman recognizing the humanity in the situation and embracing it.
Heckman’s role in the incident began simply. He was doing his job, covering a large news story. However, it escalated when a panicked, desperate Kiritsis wanted to tell his side to the public and he reached out to the most trusted newsman in Indianapolis.
Heckman & WIBC decided to replay on air that taped conversation to demonstrate to Kiritsis a sincere effort to diffuse the situation. What ended up happening was trust was built up between Kiritsis & Heckman, and suddenly the WIBC newsman went from covering the story to being part of it… and after another tense day, Kiritsis called Heckman again and once more WIBC re-broadcast their chat.
Heckman was stunning in these moments. Sure, his professional poise was evident; but equally as noticeable – and a sign broadcasting greatness – was Heckman’s recognition of the humanity of the entire situation, and not just the hostage. Heckman treated Kiritsis with respect leading Kiritsis to bare his feelings. In particular on these airchecks, notice how:
- Heckman validates many of backed Kiritsis’ character (& you get the sense that Heckman believes it).
- Heckman even goes so far as to somewhat support Kiritsis after being on the receiving end of prank phone calls.
Such human decency is a far cry from the demeaning or derisive behavior often displayed on many “reality shows” & talk shows & blogs that litter the modern media landscape. I’d have to think Heckman, who passed away in 2001, roles over in his grave regarding such current programming.
Heckman showed us 35 years ago, and in countless other times during his career with his newscasts & My Town Indy daily commentary (which gave short, slice-of-life profiles that left listeners uplifted by ordinary local citizens – your neighbors, really – doing ordinary-to-extraordinary things to make a difference in our community) that recognizing & embracing humanity works in radio, a medium that thrives at creating that personal connection with listeners.
Thank you, Mr. Heckman.