Nathan Richie, a former Charlotte radio host who recently had landed his dream job, died in a motorcycle accident Saturday morning in Indian Land, S.C., while on his way to meet his father-in-law to celebrate Father's Day. He was 53.
Most recently, Richie was a host for WLKO-FM (102.9 "The Lake"), although he also was an on-air personality for WEND-FM (106.5 "The End") and old local stations like Mix 104.7 and WBCY 108.
He got his start in the business in the showiest and silliest way possible: dressed in a chicken costume as the mascot for WBCY — which was a rock station in Charlotte back in the '80s and is now WLNK-FM (107.9 "The Link") — when he was still a student at East Mecklenburg High School.
He ended it working out of that same building at 1 Julian Price Place just west of uptown, in a powerful and important role behind the scenes: as director of digital programming for Entercom Charlotte, which operates WLNK and the AM and FM bands for both WBT (1110/99.3 "News") and WFNZ (610/102.5 "The Fan").
Hired just this past January, Richie oversaw each station's websites, social media channels, internet radio streams, podcasts, apps and text and email campaigns.
In the nearly four decades in between, he held all manner of radio jobs, from promotions and marketing to hosting, producing and content development. He taught at Carolina School of Broadcasting. He worked for years at his father's advertising agency. He started his own marketing firm.
"He was really a great example for anybody of never giving up, and when the walls came up and the doors closed, he just looked for another door," said longtime Charlotte radio personality Chuck Boozer, who worked with Richie when he produced Boozer's morning show at the old WEZC back in the '80s. "He reinvented himself many, many times."
The Entercom job, though, seemed to excite him more than any he'd done before, friends and former colleagues said.
Richie had been fascinated by social media and its potential since Twitter was still in its infancy and before Instagram even existed. In its early years, he served as president of the Social Media Charlotte networking group, which was formed in 2009.
"He told me about and predicted the social media boom long before it came," said Charlotte radio veteran Jack Daniel, who hired Richie to host shows at WEND in 2000 and at WLKO in 2014. "We had lunch two or three weeks ago, and Nate was just glowing about how much he loved his new job, and how the position was just so perfect for him."
But the true love of his life wasn't his work. It was Wendy Wells.
The two met when Daniel hired Richie at WEND, where Wells was already working as a part-time on-air personality. She said she was almost instantly struck by the kindness of the divorced father of two young boys, and that "the moment I met him, I knew that he was for me and I was for him." Within six months, they had started dating.
Though they never were married, Richie and Wells considered themselves husband and wife.
They wore wedding bands and got commitment tattoos, and his sons Austin and Jonathan were adamant that their father's obituary refer to Wells as his wife. (Both of Richie's children are following in his footsteps in some way; Jonathan, 24, is pursuing the same major as his dad — business management — at East Carolina University, and Austin, 26, sells advertising at iHeart Radio in Charlotte.)
The couple did not have children of their own, but had many fur babies over the course of their relationship, mainly dogs, often of the foster kind. Richie left behind two cats and a spitz-chow mix that they adopted on the day David Bowie died: Jan. 10, 2016. They named her Ziggy Starpup.
For years, Wells had feared that her time with Richie would be cut short. But it wasn't because she worried about the risks he took engaging in two of his other passions: martial arts and motorcycles.
It's because she was diagnosed with lupus in 2013. She has suffered for years with joint pain, arthritis and ostepenia (bone loss) in her back and neck; she has been hampered by liver and kidney inflammation; she's had two brain aneurysms; "and Nathan still didn't run away," Wells joked.
In fact, he took her care very seriously.
"Nathan did everything for me. I have been on disability for well over a year, and he brought me my tea every morning. When he was working from home, he made my lunch every day. He made dinner. He took me to all my doctor appointments. He sat beside me at almost every infusion (therapy treatment).
"Once he started working at Entercom this year, we had to hire an in-home helper to come in a couple days a week to cook, but even so ... he wouldn't leave me for too long. (His co-workers have told me that) if I was having like a worse-than-usual day or week, he'd tell them, 'I've gotta get home to my Wendy.'"
A little after 8 last Saturday morning, Wells was still in bed when Richie kissed her on the forehead and said, "Off to meet your dad. Love you, baby." Then he climbed onto his red 2006 Honda VTX 1300 motorcycle and headed from their Matthews home toward the South Carolina border, with plans to have breakfast and then go meet his old friend Boozer in York County.
Richie got his first motorcycle — a Yamaha Virago 750 — when he was in his late teens or early 20s, said his father, Stephen Richie of Mint Hill. But Nathan couldn't afford the insurance on it, and got rid of it after a short time.
He bought his second one 18 years ago, after his dad started riding.
His older brother Dain also got into it, and the three started enjoying their new-found mid-life passion together. They loved taking their bikes on hilly, twisty roads through the North Carolina mountains, especially near the borders of Tennessee and Virginia.
Ten years ago this month, the three of them made a meandering five-day round trip via mountain routes to Gettysburg, Pa., that covered 2,000 miles.
On the return trip, Nathan Richie went down on his motorcycle on a mountain road but escaped with a few bumps and bruises. (Stephen Richie said he has gone down on his bike before, and that his son Dain has, too; they've both broken bones in crashes. "If a motorcyclist tells you he hasn't been down, it's because he hasn't been at it very long," Stephen Richie said.)
The last big trip the father and sons took together was in April 2017, when they went to St. Louis to pick up the bike that he had when he lost his life. "It had belonged to my brother-in-law, who was moving to Seattle and didn't wanna take it with him," Stephen Richie said. "That was a nice trip. We took about five days to come back and went through Memphis and Chattanooga, and ate ribs and drank beer, and all that good stuff."
Asked about the pleasure he got from being able to ride with his sons, Stephen Richie said, simply: "Nothing better."
Richie was driving his Honda west on S.C. 160 when it crashed into a car that was coming from the other direction and making a left-hand turn off the highway.
"It's part of the risk you take. And it is a risk," Stephen Richie said. "Everybody recognizes that you're much more vulnerable on a motorcycle. You don't have a cage to protect you. You don't have the stability on two wheels that you have on four. We all know that. And it's about balance of risk and reward. People who love motorcycles really, really love riding. For most of us, that outweighs the risk.
"But that's an attitude I may be re-thinking very soon — as you can imagine."
A memorial gathering for Nathan Richie will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Hilton Charlotte University Place, 8629 J M Keynes Drive. Visitation will follow at that location. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Lupus Foundation of North Carolina, or any reputable dog rescue organization.