Bill McCreary, the pioneering WNYW/5 anchor and host of the long-running "The McCreary Report," has died.
His wife, O'Kellon McCreary, said in a phone interview Wednesday that the cause of death was Myasthenia gravis, a neurological disorder that he was diagnosed with shortly after retiring from Channel 5 in 2000.
McCreary, who was 87, died on April 4. WNYW announced his death on Monday.
Known as "Mac" to friends and colleagues at the TV station where he spent the bulk of his career, McCreary was one of a hugely influential group of New York-based Black reporters — who included Tony Brown, Melba Tolliver and the late Gil Noble — who covered the nation's most important city during a period of wrenching change. He also was a member of a small group of news anchors who helmed programs specifically for and about Black New Yorkers.
On "The McCreary Report," he provided a forum for figures as diverse as Malcolm X and Rosa Parks and covered dozens of issues of vital importance to Black New Yorkers, from policing to housing to health.
When WNYW dropped the show in 1996, Wilbert A. Tatum, publisher and editor-in-chief of the Amsterdam News, wrote in an editorial: " ‘The McCreary Report’ is gone, and there is little we can do about it, unless we decide we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore." Indeed, Tatum and others began a campaign to reinstate the program. McCreary attempted to relaunch it years later, in 2006, as a streaming program on YouTube.
O'Kellon McCreary — his wife of 62 years — said in a phone interview that Bill McCreary felt the program "had run its course. He was a very easygoing guy, and he tried to go with the flow, and knew there's a time when you have to make a stand and times when you can't, and you have to know the difference."
The stand he would make, she said, was over the portrayal of African Americans on news programs. "He said the reason he went into broadcasting was because people could not believe everything they read and heard, and he wanted to do something about that," she said.
"Every time you looked at TV, you saw a Black man walking away with his hands behind him in handcuffs. [Black] people were doing things that were powerful and important that the press didn't cover. He tried to show the other side, which was positive."
McCreary was born in Blackville, South Carolina, and was raised by a single mother, Ollie McCreary. They moved to New York when he was a baby. After graduation from Baruch College, he joined the Army and worked as an information analyst based out of the Pentagon. Returning to New York in 1960, he joined WWRL/1600 AM, where he was mentored by Alma Vessells John, a Harlem nurse who went on to host her own news programs including "Positively Black." In 1963, he became a reporter, then news director, for WLIB/1190 AM, where he produced documentaries on the civil rights movement and interviewed Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
He arrived at WNYW in early 1967 as one of TV's first Black reporters, nearly a year before the release of the federal Kerner Commission report, which had determined that TV coverage had misreported the 159 riots that had broken out during the so-called "long, hot summer of 1967."
O'Kellon McCreary said her husband "had called it the ‘inner-city revolution,’ and TV stations didn't have anyone to go into the Black communities because if a white reporter went in, they'd chase him out. He [Bill] was fortunate enough to have the contacts and saw that as a great opportunity to change the look of the community."
In 1970, Bill McCreary launched the program "Black News" at the station. In 1979, he was named co-anchor of the 10 p.m. news with John Roland. In 1987, McCreary was named vice president of news at WNYW, then launched "The McCreary Report."
Roland — who retired in 2004 and now lives in Florida — said in a phone interview: "I couldn't have asked for a nicer and more generous partner. He used to mentor a lot of young people [and] would tell them, ‘Don't expect anybody to give you anything. Don't ask for anything — work for it. You'll be better off to work from the bottom to the top because that's how you stay on the top. If they give it to you, you'll never last.’ He was very sincere about that [because] he worked his butt off to get here. Nobody ever gave him anything. He earned everything he achieved."
Jerald S. Carter, former Nassau County Court judge, was a legal commentator on "The McCreary Report" during major trials, including two O.J. Simpson cases. Carter said McCreary "was knowledgeable and even-keeled, even-tempered, and he listened. He would have made a great judge, to tell the truth."
Roland said he had learned of his friend's death weeks ago but had not alerted the media or his former station.
O'Kellon McCreary said her husband "didn't want anyone to know, so I kept it a secret for two weeks, then announced it in our congregation. He didn't want a service or memorial. He was cremated and interred, and that's the end of his journey."
McCreary, who had no children, also is survived by a brother, Michael J. Carrell.