When news of Kevin McNicholas' sudden death reached Beacon Hill last week, kind words flowed quickly from the offices of politicians he had long hounded with tough but cordial questions.
Gov. Deval Patrick released a statement praising his work, and Sen. Scott Brown was seen at his wake over the weekend. The day he died, the Associated Press ran a tribute written by a colleague who had been at McNicholas' bedside as his cancer worsened, and other newspapers followed with obituaries heralding his reign as "dean of the Statehouse press corps."
But in Brookline, the unassuming radio reporter from Allston is remembered better as a warm, gravelly voiced man who joined two friends on local television show every week to banter about politics and current events. Though easily the best versed on their weekly subject matter, McNicholas was never one to steal the show.
"He was kinda like the guy who resolved all of the arguments," said Mike Sallen, a Thorndike Street resident who hosted "The Fun Show" with McNicholas each week on for the past five years. "He had so much knowledge about the political scene and the statutes and things that were passed by the legislature."
After decades of covering politics on Beacon Hill and across the Commonwealth as a contract radio reporter, McNicholas died on Thanksgiving Day from cancer. He was 61.
A radio man by nature and profession, McNicholas was pulled into public television six or seven years ago—no one can remember exactly—when Sallen met him in the locker room of the West End House in Allston and insisted he join his relatively new show, which includes a short play along with plenty of unscripted banter.
McNicholas eventually agreed, but he was reluctant to read from Sallen's script and often worried that he wasn't doing it right, despite years of reading news over the radio.
"Kevin's whole career was speaking his own words he'd dug up and put together," said Archer O'Reilly, another Thorndike Street resident who appears on the show. "Being faced with somebody else's work was something he never felt comfortable with, but at the same time really enjoyed."
Sallen said McNicholas eventually realized the importance of his role as fact checker on the public access show, tempering his co-hosts' jokes and one liners with a keen understanding of Massachusetts politics. He became close with his co-hosts over the years and would occasionally call them up for long conversations between recordings.
At 61, McNicholas was the youngest man on the show and had a more contemporary taste in music than his colleagues, a gap in experience that often led Sallen to call him the "voice of the youth" on the show.
Though personally modest, McNicholas loved to talk and could tell stories about almost anyone in Massachusetts politics, press and public relations. His name dropping, when it happened, seemed natural and inadvertent, never boastful.
"I realized just how well connected he was to folks in politics and media, but he never tried to impress you with facts and statistics," said Lawrence Hollie, a former Brookline Access programming coordinator who worked with McNicholas. "He would mention social luminaries in a matter-of-fact way, often by accident."
When he learned just a few weeks ago that he had bladder cancer, McNicholas was straightforward with his co-hosts about his outlook, telling them as they sat down to record "The Fun Show" at the Brookline Access Studios.
"He said, 'They're not giving me much time,'" Sallen said.
McNicholas had hoped to come back to the studio to tape another episode of "The Fun Show" after his last operation, but didn't feel about to it when the time came. He died the following week.
Sallen and O'Reilly attended the wake for their co-host over the weekend, along with some of the biggest names in Massachusstes politics. Then they taped another episode of "The Fun Show" on Monday, including a tribute to their friend.
"We're going to continue," Sallen said. "We're not going to forget about him. We're going to keep talking about what he did, and who he was, and why we liked him."
You can watch many archived episodes from "The Fun Show" on the Brookline Access Television website.