Mike Freedman, who found respite in radio early on and would become a radio network executive, journalism professor and university administrator, died at home in Alexandria, Va., surrounded by his family, on Sept. 18 from pancreatic cancer. He was 71.
Michael Gene Freedman was born in 1952 in Detroit to Belle (Kosofsky) and Hymen Freedman, the youngest of three boys. His parents operated a Kosher butcher shop until his father died in 1958, when Freedman was 6 years old. In the years of struggle that followed, he found solace in a gift from his mother: a small, blue "Bell Futura" transistor radio that he would sneak beneath his pillow at night and fall asleep to Detroit Tigers games through the crackle of AM radio.
The experience sparked a lifelong love of radio, as well as baseball — feelings topped only by those for his wife of 49 years, Renee (Lacoff). In 1968, all three converged: He and Renee were fixed up on a first date, the Tigers won the World Series and Freedman received a reply to a letter he'd written to Tigers's announcer Ernie Harwell, seeking advice on getting a start in broadcasting. "The main thing," Harwell wrote, "is not to get discouraged."
Freedman broke into the industry sweeping floors and changing tapes. Later, he was on-air doing a 4-hour farm program on Sunday mornings, though his characteristic drive eventually led him to Detroit's top news stations and to dozens of awards as a reporter, sportscaster and news director. It led to a move to Washington, D.C., to become managing editor of broadcast news at United Press International; to serve as a press secretary in Congress; and in 1998, to New York, where he achieved his childhood dream of being the general manager of CBS Radio Network News. There, he strove to reach and reinvigorate interest in CBS News's vaunted past, including returning to the air Walter Cronkite for several special projects, among them what would become Cronkite's final live report and his last CBS newscast as anchor.
Years later, in January 2020, Freedman reached his other long-held ambition to be elected president of the National Press Club, which he proudly guided through the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic. He'd been deeply involved with the organization, including 28 years (ending just this year) as executive producer of the many-laureled public affairs TV program, The Kalb Report, which explored the role of journalism in democracy with guests that ranged from U.S. Supreme Court justices to the nation's top newspaper editors, and which was filmed from the Press Club's audience-packed ballroom.
Freedman also spent more than two decades in higher education as a vice president at University of Maryland Global Campus and, before that, George Washington University, where he found a passion for teaching. For 22 years at GW, through last fall, he taught a popular course on media history that revealed the past through guests who lived it, from a journalist imprisoned by the Nazis to a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer and national correspondents.
Fortifying all these efforts with loving support — and, more often than not with labor and charm — was his wife, Renee. They were a model of teamwork, togetherness and generosity.
At home, Freedman set out to be the dad he'd wished for himself: he enjoyed cartoons and old movies with his young sons, led a cub-scout den and took his sons to baseball games and flea markets. He sought the lighter side of sometimes-somber Jewish traditions, like Passover, when he preferred to lead the service with a children's Haggadah and a toy-filled "bag of plagues."
It's a quality he carried into his role as a grandfather, always arriving with a treat or bauble, and erring on the side of ordering pizza. He and Renee created a summer tradition of gathering their family at the shore in Duck, N.C., where he'd hang a "Camp Quackers" sign above the door and, each morning in the role of "camp director," serve a landslide of sugary cereals.
Freedman enjoyed collecting radios, phonographs, telephones, historic newspapers and baseball memorabilia, and his home was a touchable museum where guests could hear doo-wop on a jukebox or answer calls on a candlestick phone.
He made friends easily — at Nationals Park he was on a first-name basis with the vendors, the play-by-play announcers and the team's owners. He was grateful to count as friends so many of his peers, as well as personal heroes including Harwell, Cronkite, acclaimed journalist Marvin Kalb, singer Tony Bennett and baseball icon Frank Robinson.
In part, that's perhaps because Freedman held himself to the same standards, whether at home or work. He believed that better angels — his own and others' — could win the day if given the chance; he believed that luck could be made and should be paid forward; he believed in personal integrity, and in the goodness that could be wrought from simple kindnesses.
Freedman is survived by his wife, Renee; their sons Brian (and fiancée Erin) and Danny (and wife Angela); five grandchildren; and a brother, Larry (and sister-in-law Mimi); and a sister-in-law, Sandy. He was preceded in death this August by his brother Barry, and in 2004 by his mother, Belle.
A memorial service was held Friday, Sept. 22 at Temple Israel's Ira Kaufman Chapel in West Bloomfield, Mich.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to:
* The journalism scholarship established at his alma mater, Wayne State University (https://www.givecampus.com/campaigns/39528/donations/new);
* The National Press Club Journalism Institute (https://national-press-club-journalism-institute.networkforgood.com/projects/182297-support-the-national-press-club-journalism-institute-in-2023);
* or to Goodwin Hospice in Virginia (https://goodwinliving.org/giving/donation-form-hospice)