Fort Wayne TV pioneer Dick Florea named to Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame

Dick Florea retired from NBC33 WKJG-TV after 35 years in 2001. ( file photo)

A Fort Wayne television pioneer has been named to the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

Richard Florea, who retired in 2001 after 35 years at the city’s first TV station, WKJG (now WISE), will be inducted May 18 in Indianapolis along with four others to be honored by the hall, which was established in 1966 in partnership with the Indiana University Media School to “preserve the history and stories of journalism in Indiana.”

In announcing Florea’s selection, the hall described him as “unflappable in chaos and unmovable about getting all the facts straight.” Florea served 48 years in broadcasting, including 17 years as anchor at WKJG, where he was also host of “Editor’s Desk” and “Our Town,” both focused on community issues and people. Florea began his career at WMRI radio while still a high school student in Marion, broadcast and edited news at WBAA at Purdue University and was inducted into the Indiana Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2015.

Florea, the hall concluded, had been dubbed “the Walter Cronkite of Fort Wayne.”

When he retired in 2001, Florea told The News-Sentinel he had loved his work but looked forward to having more time to explore his interest in genealogy.

“I’ve been here 35 years and toiling in this vineyard for 48 years all together. This is not an epic thing. The way I look at it, people retire every day,,’ he said. “Working (in the newsroom), you feel the pulse of the community. You become aware of a lot of things around town, whether that’s good or bad. It will be a big change for me to be disconnected. But I’ve always been a voracious reader of newspapers and I watch the news, so it’s not like I’m disappearing off the face of the Earth.”

Then-Mayor Graham Richard even proclaimed a “Dick Florea Day” in his honor.

When The News-Sentinel caught up with Florea in 2010, his voice was described as still-familiar and “only slightly gravelly with age, and the face is remarkably unlined for a man of 73.” He had indeed pursued his interest in genealogy, he said, along with caring for his Civil War-era farmhouse near Huntertown. “Genealogy has fascinated me for a long time,” he said. “Even on my honeymoon, we had to stop at a cemetery to look for a grave. We were going right past it.”

Born in New York City, Florea moved several times before landing as a seventh-grader in Marion, about 45 minutes south of Fort Wayne. He earned a degree in industrial management from Purdue University then returned to Marion to work for WMRI and fledgling TV station, WTAF.

“Then WKJG called me,” Florea recalled in 2010. “I balked. I wasn’t playing hard to get, but I didn’t see where I would be that much better off. This (TV) was an unknown.” The station eventually flourished, and Florea anchored his first WKJG newscast at 11 p.m. Feb. 28, 1966.

At WKJG he reviewed scripts, trained incoming news directors and completed paperwork for license renewal, working with local broadcasting legends “Engineer John” Siemer and the late Hilliard Gates. Florea also maintained a steady, calming presence during blizzards, floods, tornadoes, neighborhood crime and government upheaval.

“It isn’t that you are some big deal,” he said. “You’re not. You’re just in a visible job. I’ve never had a broadcast course in my life,” Florea said, “but it gets in your blood. Every day’s different, and you meet all kinds of interesting people. I liked it ’til the very end.

“This is what you’ve trained for, what people are depending on you to do. Get the information right.”