Joe Krebs, Channel 4 reporter and ‘steadfast soldier’ of D.C. morning news, dies at 78
By Matt Schudel,
Lucian Perkins The Washington Post
Joe Krebs, a television journalist who spent 32 years at WRC-TV (Channel 4) in Washington, including 18 as an anchor of the NBC-owned station’s early-morning news program, died April 6 at his home in Rockville, Md. He was 78.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his wife, Mary Lynne Krebs. After his diagnosis in 2018, Mr. Krebs was featured in a Channel 4 report about his illness and researchers’ efforts to find a treatment and possible cure.
Early in his career, Mr. Krebs was a lawyer and a Navy officer before taking a pay cut to become a television reporter in Greensboro, N.C. In 1973, he moved to Baltimore’s WBAL-TV.
He came to Washington’s Channel 4 in 1980 as a reporter who often drew on his legal expertise in covering such stories as the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan and the subsequent trial of John Hinckley Jr.; the naval espionage case of John Walker and members of his family; the trial of D.C. drug kingpin Rayful Edmond; and the sensational case of abuse and revenge involving John and Lorena Bobbitt.
Mr. Krebs reported from the cockpit of a Navy fighter jet and in 2007 covered the decommissioning of the USS John F. Kennedy, the Navy aircraft carrier on which he had served decades earlier.
After 14 years as a reporter, Mr. Krebs joined Barbara Harrison as co-anchor of Channel 4’s morning news broadcast, now called News4 Today. Along with meteorologist Tom Kierein and traffic reporter Jerry Edwards, they presented what was perennially the region’s top-rated morning news show.
Mr. Krebs was up at 2:30 each morning to prepare for the program, which ran from 5 a.m. — and eventually 4:26 a.m. — to 7 a.m. During NBC’s “Today” show, he and Harrison presented five-minute news summaries, followed by another hour of news afterward.
“For nearly two decades, I started almost every morning with Joe sitting next to me,” Harrison said in an interview. “We came there to deliver the news, and I think that’s what people respected about us. Joe had a sense of calm, no matter what was happening or how tragic the news, that radiated through the entire newsroom. He was just such a steadfast soldier to sit next to.”
In 1999, Mr. Krebs had a heart attack while riding his bicycle and was off the air for six weeks while he recovered. During that time, viewers sent him flowers, cards and food baskets.
“It made me realize that something about the mornings — the contact you make with the viewer is at a very intimate time of day,” he told The Washington Post in 2004. “The house is dark and quiet, people are just getting out of bed, and for viewers, there is a loyalty that comes with the early mornings.”
Mr. Krebs and the rest of the morning team received multiple local Emmy Awards. He was joined by Eun Yang as co-anchor in 2010, two years before his retirement.
While serving as morning anchor, Mr. Krebs had a regular series of “cold case” stories on unsolved crimes. He often wore a trench coat as he revisited crime scenes and interviewed witnesses and police officers. According to Channel 4, many reports produced new leads, and at least one led to the arrest and conviction of a murderer.
“Joe was refreshingly unaffected, approaching TV news without any of the ego or arrogance or swagger that affects too many who make their living on a stage,” Channel 4’s Wendy Rieger said in a segment about Mr. Krebs that aired on Tuesday.
The Washington Post
Channel 4’s Joe Krebs and Barbara Harrison in 2004.
Joseph Martin Krebs Jr., the oldest of nine children, was born March 22, 1943, in Carthage, Mo., and grew up in St. Louis. His father was an obstetrician-gynecologist, his mother a homemaker and dietitian.
As a child, Mr. Krebs used to read the newspaper over an intercom in his family’s house.
“We would listen to the NBC News roundup,” he later said in a Channel 4 profile, “and I just thought that sounded like the neatest thing in the world to do.”
Mr. Krebs was a graduate of Saint Louis University, from which he also received a law degree in 1967. He then served as a naval officer on the USS John F. Kennedy, where his duties as a public affairs officer included taking dignitaries, such as Princess Grace of Monaco and actor Gregory Peck, on shipboard tours.
He spent a year as a prosecutor in St. Louis County before becoming a TV reporter.
Mr. Krebs, who was a dedicated bicyclist and swimmer, twice swam across the Chesapeake Bay, a distance of more than four miles. He also participated in long-distance bicycle rides to raise money for AIDS awareness and other causes. He often went on bicycle camping trips with his brothers.
Mr. Krebs served for 12 years as president of the Washington-Baltimore local of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He was on the union’s national board and chaired its broadcast steering committee.
He was married in 1972 to Mary Lynne Kortum. In addition to his wife, survivors include their two daughters, Emily Davis of Rockville and Anna Olson of Kensington, Md.; five sisters, Mary Ellen Kramer of Cincinnati, Margaret Edelman of Garden City, N.Y., Elizabeth Kamler of St. Peters, Mo., Susan Krebs-Smith of Gaithersburg, Md., and Catherine Krebs of Brooklyn; three brothers, Francis Krebs, an Ecumenical Catholic Communion bishop, and Eugene Krebs, both of St. Louis, and Robert Krebs of Gaithersburg; and three grandchildren.
On his retirement in 2012, Mr. Krebs described how he approached his job: “Go to work every day, take your job seriously, and mean to do it well.”
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