By Eric K. Williams
The news of the latest passing of a noted New York journalist hit me like a ton of bricks. It was a Facebook posting from two noted, and reputable New York City broadcasters on the passing of Joe Bragg, that ran along these lines…
Sad News … for old school New York City radio fans … Joe Bragg died on September the first, this past Labor Day. You may remember him from 98.7 Kiss-FM. With more than 30 years as a Broadcast Journalist, Dr. Bragg’s voice was heard daily as he reported the news on the radio in NYC and throughout the Tri-State area, on WHN-1050 AM, WLIB-AM 1190, WWRL-AM 1600 and WRKS-FM. As a political journalist, he covered City Hall, Albany and Washington during the administration of several mayors and governors, from 1976 through 2002. His career as a journalist has taken him to the Sudan, South Africa, Japan, The Congo, Rwanda, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Belgium, Italy, Egypt and the Caribbean. Rev. Dr. Joe Bragg was 87.
My initial reply was: Damn!
Joe Bragg and I were not close, I saw him as a respected elder. Yet, we both respected one another’s work, and knew many of the same people in New York’s political circles. Like Bob Teague on the television side, and Bob Capers, Joe was a trailblazer for African-Americans in New York journalism. All three men were Black, and all three were hard working reporters who made a huge impact.
We met back in the early 1990’s at City Hall in New York. I was working the City Hall beat then, inside the newsroom at WBLS-FM 107.5 and the sister station, WLIB-AM 1190. I was covering political stories about the then mayor, David N. Dinkins, who was New York’s first Black American mayor. What can I say? Those days were ‘heady’ times for many inside the Black New York political and cultural scene.
Joe took a liking to me, and through him I got to meet, and later know such City Hall regulars on the radio news side as Bob Capers, then of WABC-AM 770, and also Stan Brooks, the New York radio news institution at 1010 WINS-AM. He was highly respected among his peers, and had a wicked sense of humor when you got the chance to speak with him privately, but he was also all business when it came to covering stories in the city. Joe was like a father figure to me, and also a mentor. He, along with Bob Capers, took me under his wing, and filled this young reporter in on the inner workings of City Hall, and how to best cover the often complicated issues of that story.
Joe was one of those guys one would see everywhere, and not just at the big stories in the city. As noted above he was also an internationalist. He reported numerous stories both inside and outside of New York. He covered the elections in South Africa, the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. the controversial bombings by the U.S. military in Vieqcues, Puerto Rico, he traveled to The Sudan, and perhaps best of all, he broke down and explained the complexities that led to the mass slaughter of nearly a million people in Rwanda. You’d also see Joe Bragg at the United Nations covering the General Assembly, moving right along and among such notables as Richard C. Hottlelett, one of the ‘Big Guns’ at the CBS Radio Network. He was not intimidated nor impressed with folks in the business who were full of themselves.
He was candid with me when it came to covering New York elected officials. He knew who were the honest and clean politicians, and who was, in his words, ‘as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.’ Joe Bragg pulled no punches. Joe Bragg had served as the President of the New York Press Club for some time, and also led the famous ‘Inner Circle’ branch of that noted Club.
By the early 2000’s, and I mean the first decade of the new century, Joe had had enough. He had knocked around at several of the big radio stations in the city, most notably the so-called ‘heritage’ Black Radio Stations 98 point 7 KISS-FM, and WWRL-AM 1600 years before that.
He had seen it all. From covering the Civil Rights movement, reporting of various big crime stories and the Mafia Wars, to every big event in the Big Apple, Joe called it quits. He saw the writing on the wall of the new technology, and while I never asked him his age, he felt a kind of ‘being pushed out’ that most senior journalists face at one point or another in a career. He was also disgusted with the new emphasis on what many call, the ‘Infotainment’ culture infecting many newsrooms across the city and country.
Joe moved into the clergy at about 2002, and shortly afterwards, became an ordained minister at a Harlem church.
Most notably I did not hear of Joe suffering from any ailments of any kind. His family said that he died peacefully in his sleep this past Monday.
Joseph Lee Bragg, a trailblazer and a proud man who left a legacy of great reporting, was 87 years young.