Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Farewell to Louis Rukeyser

I was saddened to hear over the radio this morning that Louis Rukeyser, host of PBS’s “Wall Street Week", had died:
Rukeyser, who died Tuesday at 73, was for 32 years the winking, crinkly-haired host of "Wall $treet Week," a Friday-night staple on more than 300 PBS stations. Before CNBC, before the Internet, before the over-amped exhortations of Suze Orman and Jim Cramer, the wry Rukeyser was the most important source of financial advice on the air. That is no small mantle; the rise of the mom-and-pop investor class in the latter half of the 20th century was easily one of the most transformative economic movements in American history.

His program's format was comfortable and familiar, like a big easy chair at the end of a tiring workweek. (Rukeyser often sat in a big leather chair while hosting.) Its two main elements were Rukeyser's disarming little soliloquies about the week's economic and business news, followed by a panel discussion featuring Rukeyser's "elves," a group of professional money managers who offered picks and predictions. There were no technical analyses, no yield curves, no biz-page arcana.
Washington Post.

When I was a kid, my father used to religiously set the VCR to tape Rukeyser’s show, which aired at 8pm on Fridays on our Hartford PBS station (CPTV Channel 24). This used to be a pain because “Wall Street Week” aired at the same time as “The Muppet Show” and we weren’t allowed to change the channel until Rukeyser’s show was over. I remember my dad trying to make me sit through the show a couple times. I liked the theme song, which was reassuring, mildly exciting – you felt like you were about to be let in on something if you continued to watch the show. The set was a very civilized looking study, rugs and shelves lined with books, lots of dark wood. Everyone was so witty and entertaining, making jokes about the Fed as they pushed their glasses back up their noses. It was all very Greenwich (where Rukeyser lived).

It’s sad that Rukeyser’s gone. It feels very much like the end of an era. We’ll never go back to those early ‘80’s days, when my parents were still anxious (“Where will we get the money for college?” “How are we going to pay off the house?”), when my dad was still edgy and ambitious, looking for a way to scramble a bit further up, hanging on every word of “Wall Street Week” for the economic wisdom that would help him escape worry and fear -- when we were all younger and weren’t sure how things would turn out. Rukeyser, programmed into our old Panasonic VCR with the analog dial counter, was very much part of our temporary, but at the time forever-seeming, stable routine of getting ahead, week by week.

My dad turned 60 a few months ago. He’ll probably retire soon. As I see icons like Rukeyser, Jennings, and others pass on, fixtures of my childhood with my parents, I can’t help but think not just that there may not be endless stretches of time left with my parents, but also that day by day, the elements of our shared past are disappearing.

See also "Farewell to Louis Rukeyser" at the Motley Fool.

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