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Richard Wald, former NBC News president and ABC News executive, dies at 92

The former television executive and journalism professor died Friday after suffering a stroke in his sleep Sunday, according to his son.
Richard Wald when he was president of NBC News.
Richard Wald when he was president of NBC News.NBC

Richard Wald, a respected television executive who served as president of NBC News in the 1970s, helped steer coverage at ABC News for decades and taught media industry practices at Columbia Journalism School, died Friday.

He was 92.

He had a stroke in his sleep Sunday night, according to his son Jonathan, a news industry veteran and former executive producer at both NBC News and MSNBC.

"He loved world events, big stories and small. He loved details and getting it right," Jonathan Wald said.

Ted Koppel, the broadcast journalist best known for anchoring the late-night ABC News show "Nightline," celebrated Wald's career in a phone interview Friday morning.

"He was one of the giants of the industry of journalism," he said. "When you consider everything he did over the years — whether we're talking about NBC, ABC and ultimately Columbia — I don't think you'll find many of us quite like him."

Wald supervised the creation of "Nightline," which originally grew out of the network's nightly coverage of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. In the interview Friday, Koppel credited Wald with coming up with the name of the show — an evening spin on the "morning line" at a race track.

Richard Charles Wald was born March 19, 1930, in Manhattan to Lily F. Wald and her husband, Joseph S. Wald, who worked in the garment industry, according to a family statement. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1948 and then went to Columbia University for his undergraduate studies.

Wald was a newspaperman at his core, beginning his journalism career as a freelancer for The New York Herald Tribune while he was still a student. He later joined the paper's staff, working as a political correspondent, a foreign correspondent, associate editor and managing editor, according to archival news reports.

He came to NBC in 1967 following stints at The Washington Post and the short-lived New York World Journal Tribune. He was a vice president who presided over the network's daily news operations for five years before he ascended to the president's chair.

Wald was the president of NBC News from 1973 to 1977, overseeing pivotal stories such as the final years of the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon's resignation, the 1976 presidential election and the socioeconomic upheavals of the era.

In an off-the-cuff speech at the National Association of Broadcasters in Chicago in March 1976, he correctly predicted that television news — at the time limited to 30-minute evening digests — would grow into a 24-hour enterprise.

Wald was a model for the veteran news division president played by actor William Holden in Sidney Lumet's classic satire "Network" (1976), according to a statement from Wald's family.

The New York Times reporter Dave Itzkoff, author of a book about the making of "Network," wrote that Oscar-winning screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky shadowed Wald for two days while developing the story.

He left NBC in November 1977 because of what The New York Times characterized at the time as "differences with higher management."

In a statement Friday, a spokesman for the NBCUniversal News Group said: "We are saddened to hear about the passing of our former colleague Richard Wald."

"He was a beloved teacher and mentor to many, and his extensive contributions during his career as a broadcast executive and journalist were extraordinary," the spokesman added.

Wald then joined ABC News in the fall of 1978. He was recruited by Roone Arledge, a hard-driving maestro of broadcast television who tasked him with handling daily operations inside the news division.

ABC News was "small and struggling" when Wald came aboard, he later recalled. But with a skilled team of anchors and producers, Wald helped turn it into a cornerstone of small-screen news, known in part for programs like "Nightline."

Koppel remembered Wald as a quick-witted and charming newsroom leader.

"He was always a snappy dresser. He always had a package of good jokes," Koppel said.

Wald retired from ABC News in 1999 after 20 years there, saying in a statement that "it had been my privilege to help in the construction of one of the great international news operations in the world.

"I have enjoyed every day of it," he added.

Wald later taught at Columbia Journalism School, most recently serving as the Fred W. Friendly professor of professional practice in media society emeritus. He led seminars on national affairs and ethical practices in the media, among other topics.

Wald's faculty biography on Columbia's website recounts his life in terms of the New York City streets where he spent most of his time, with "116th St." standing in for Columbia University:

"Prof. Wald was born on 110th St in Manhattan; went to high school on 15th St.; went to college and graduate school on 116th St; left the island briefly to go to college in England; worked for the Herald Tribune on 41st St.; Whitney Communications on 49th St.; NBC News on 48th St.; ABC News on 66th St. and now works on 116th St."


Caroline Ballard, an NPR Utah host and Columbia Journalism School graduate, tweeted that Wald "never forgot how important it was to have reporters digging and pushing for the truth."

Koppel said he spoke with Wald at least once a month, sometimes more frequently, "and usually prompted by one of us having a new joke."

"I talked to him for the last time about three weeks ago," Koppel said. "He was as sharp as a tack."

Wald's wife of 67 years, Edith, died in December. He is survived by three children — Jonathan, Matthew and Elizabeth — as well as seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.