Mike Pintek’s public policy legacy

Mike Pintek’s public policy legacy

I first “met” Mike Pintek 36 years ago. I’ve placed the word “met” in quotation marks to honor what any real radio man knows, and what Mike often talked about – how radio is the most intimate media of all.

Yes, you might be broadcasting collectively to tens of thousands of listeners but, in essence, you are talking to multiple audiences of one.

Thus, as a young news director at the old WANJ-FM in Wheeling, W.Va., I “met” Mike as I retired to bed each night in advance of a 3 a.m. alarm as he anchored the mid-evening newscasts 60 miles away on KDKA Radio.

When he first came on the air here in 1982, I thought it was the network news. That’s how smooth and authoritative Mike was. And he had great “pipes” (that is, a voice) to boot. I tried to mimic him the best I could.

Though Mike, who became a talk show host in 1985, and I had interacted all the time once I ended up in Pittsburgh the next year — first at United Press International, then The Associated Press and for 22 years at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review — I told Mike that story for the first time last summer.

It was the same day he publicly announced he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was genuinely touched.

Mike Pintek lost his battle early Wednesday at the age of 65. And while scores of us lost a friend, a colleague and mentor with his passing, Greater Pittsburgh lost a champion of sound public policy.

Mike could smell a hustle shoveled by those in government and corporate “officialdom” miles away.  One of the most notable examples was 1997’s Regional Renaissance Initiative (RRI), that devilishly and deceptively titled effort that was nothing more than a Stadiums Tax, not to mention a power grab by those enamored with the prospect of unaccountable regional governance.

This latest in a long line of attempts to tax us to prosperity went down in flames in all 11 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties where the measure was on the ballot. And Mike played a pivotal role.

Armed with the facts — from the Allegheny Institute, from my editorials in the Trib and his own extensive research — Mike made the case that the RRI was not merely a sham of economics and, if it passed, a blow against self-governance, it was morally wrong corporate wealthfare.

And the day before the vote, Mike, at the time doing the 9 a.m.-to-Noon show, read scores of those Trib editorials on the air for three solid hours. It was a seminal moment in Pittsburgh radio.

It was Albert Einstein, speaking at the opening of 1930’s German Radio Exhibition, who said “radio shows (people) as they are.” Mike innately understood this. And he capitalized on that understanding and his wonderful gift of communicating intimately, one on one, to help the electorate understand how it was being hustled.

That’s quite a public policy legacy. But then again, Mike Pintek was quite a person.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).