Wall $treet without

May 04, 2006

The stock market has always been a rough ride for investors. For every boom to thrill us there is a bust to send us scrambling for the exits. Yet today, perhaps more than ever, average Main Street Americans are riding the Wall Street whirlwind without much of a safety net. Between our 401(k) and IRA retirement funds, our 529 plans and brokerage accounts, there are bonds and indexes to ponder, hedges and commodities to analyze. What's needed is a clear-headed adviser to give some reason to this chaos. And someone who can explain the mysteries of economics and high finance with a bit of wit and charm wouldn't hurt either.

Louis Rukeyser held that post for more than three decades as host of public TV's Wall $treet Week With Louis Rukeyser. His death this week represents a particularly sad loss for Maryland. Not only did he tape his show at Maryland Public Television's studios in Owings Mills, but Mr. Rukeyser was also a proud alumnus of The Sun and Evening Sun. Ever the journalist, Mr. Rukeyser always wrote his own copy for broadcast - and any Wall $treet viewer can attest to his lifelong fondness for puns and wordplay.

Before there was a CNN or a CNBC or an MSNBC, there was the gentlemanly Mr. Rukeyser on Friday nights explaining the market from his faux living room with that week's guests. No short sound bites, no flashy graphics, no anger or shouting. By today's standards, such an arrangement must seem hopelessly static and staid, but it was also steady and reliable. Mr. Rukeyser was no Jim Cramer, the apoplectic Mad Money host ranting on cable these days, and that was the point. He commented in complete sentences, sought the expertise of actual experts and cautioned against snap judgments and government bureaucrats. He was a talking head who actually had something worthwhile to say.

Mr. Rukeyser's departure from MPT in 2002 was handled ungraciously, and it's telling that a dumbed-down successor show sponsored by Fortune didn't last long. There are no thoughtful Louis Rukeysers wandering the TV landscape today, just the usual entertainers and know-nothings marketing their bombast. We are the lesser for it.

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