Wendy Rieger, longtime Channel 4 anchor in Washington, dies at 65
Wendy Rieger, who co-anchored the popular 5 p.m. newscast on Washington’s NBC station WRC-TV (Channel 4) for more than 30 years, winning a loyal audience with her good-humored and well-crafted reports, died April 16 at a hospice facility in Montgomery County. She was 65.
The cause was glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.
A fixture of broadcast journalism for more than four decades, Ms. Rieger won local Emmy Awards, including one for a report on Vietnam 20 years after the war. She made news herself when she had open-heart surgery in fall 2020 to address a rapid heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) and a defect in a mitral valve. In May 2021, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had most of it surgically removed, and she retired in December after 33 years at WRC.
Ms. Rieger was an actress in Norfolk when she made her journalism debut in the late 1970s, earning extra money as a news reader for a Tidewater-area radio station. She was advised by a station colleague to “sound” like a news person — “You know, serious,” she was told. “Like Walter Cronkite.”
After assessing her less-than-flourishing stage career — “There’s no closer way to get to Broadway than to do dinner theater in Norfolk,” she joked — she changed paths. Ms. Rieger spent much of the 1980s in public and commercial radio, with stints at WAMU, WLTT-FM and WTOP, and earned acclaim for her engaging personality and thoughtful handling of hard news and community features.
She also worked as a weekend reporter at CNN’s Washington bureau and, in 1988, joined WRC-TV as a nighttime street reporter during the crack epidemic. She began anchoring weekend evening newscasts in 1996 and moved to the 5 p.m. weekday slot in 2001, sharing the table initially with Susan Kidd and later with Jim Handly.
Four years later, Ms. Rieger reported on a woman who had discovered she was allergic to chemicals in her house and found environmentally friendly ways to remedy the problem. The episode led Ms. Rieger to launch a weekly segment and accompanying blog called Going Green.
“It’s easy to change a couple of things — change a few lightbulbs, wash clothes in cold water,” she told Washingtonian in 2008, when the magazine awarded her a prize for her commitment to environmental safety and preservation. “We want people to do this joyfully.”
Going Green, with tutorials on ways to save energy and commit to healthier lifestyles for people and pets, proved so popular that many stations in the NBC network began airing her segments, and NBC Nightly News launched a similar feature.
On the air, Ms. Rieger was inclined to show a personally revealing, self-deprecating side when the mood felt right. Lashed by wind and rain while covering a hurricane, she quipped to the audience, “Note to self: waterproof mascara!” She followed with her observation after that maelstrom had tempered down and was only producing tiny waves in the Atlantic Ocean: The wondrous storm “goes all flat,” she said, “kinda like my dating life.”
Wendy Bell Rieger was born in Norfolk on April 18, 1956. Her father was an airline pilot, and her mother was an English teacher and later a polygraph examiner. Ms. Rieger was 8 when they divorced.
She graduated from American University in 1980 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Her first marriage, to Sol Levine, a CNN producer, ended in divorce. In 2021 she married retired WRC-TV news photographer Dan Buckley. In addition to her husband, survivors include three brothers.
As a flaxen-haired former actress, Ms. Rieger often appeared on lists of Washington’s most attractive local celebrities. She grew weary of the flattery as her career progressed, saying she wished to keep attention on her work. She was proud of having found a personal style of delivering the news, which The Post once described as “self-effacing, opinionated and humorous by turns.”
She called it merely a reflection of herself.
“You have to be yourself on the air, you can’t go in there and project some fake personality, some front and expect people to believe it,” she said. “Eventually the real you comes through and it better be comfortable for you, since that’s what people see on the other side of the camera.”