Marvin Anderson can already picture it.
Even though a thick layer of snow coated Rondo Commemorative Plaza, a small park on the corner of North Fisk Street and Concordia Avenue in St. Paul, the 80-year-old saw what could be in just a few months.
A radio booth set up by the stage. People enjoying a warm summer evening. Henry Lake on the microphone, broadcasting live on WCCO-AM, speaking on everything from how the Twins are playing to what he learned about the Rondo community's destruction during the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1950s and '60s.
"Just to see you doing a remote here, and then they listen to him on the radio. I mean, that's what kicks your mind into high gear," said Anderson, who's mentored Lake since the broadcaster was a senior at Minneapolis North.
" 'Maybe I could do that,' " Anderson imagines a young listener saying. "They've got to see themselves in other situations. … 'Rather than a gang banger, maybe I can be a radio announcer.' "
Lake, 47, is acutely aware of the eyes — or ears, actually — on him as one of the few Black radio hosts in the Twin Cities with his own daily program.
His show — Lake Night — airs Monday to Friday from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., or after Twins and Timberwolves games. While the time slot doesn't garner as many listeners as coveted morning shows, it does provide Lake two invaluable assets: freedom and a platform.
The more eclectic nighttime audience, paired with WCCO's trust in Lake, means he can craft his show into a blend of sports and life. The latter has been at the forefront in the past year, with Lake's unique voice giving context in the wake of George Floyd's killing, the ensuing riots, even the recent invasion of the U.S. Capitol.
And many are listening.
He cried on air during the protests after Floyd's death, a moment that garnered internet attention and a bigger reach. His show's audience, which skews younger, extends to 38 states. He has one of the top programs in his time slot in the Twin Cities market, which doesn't have much local night programming.
The Memphis-born, Minneapolis-raised Lake knows airtime is rare air for people who look like him. He approaches that with a sense of gratitude and leadership rather than burden.
"I just try to be genuine, authentic," Lake said. "I navigate the whole media thing with a sense of responsibility for my community."
From student …
Growing up in north Minneapolis, Lake loved watching and talking about sports, especially basketball, even more so than playing. He waited for the copies of Jet, Ebony and Sports Illustrated to arrive at his house so he could pore through the lists of McDonald's All Americans and see where they would play after high school.
But when he started at Morehouse, a historically Black college, he pursued law and was an active member of his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Toward his senior year, he'd decided against graduate school and instead tried to figure out how basketball could work into his future plans. He sent letters to several NBA teams, asking for guidance on breaking into the field.
Half didn't respond, but one general manager, Pete Babcock of the Atlanta Hawks, penned back a handwritten note. He later met Lake at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, where Lake interned as a press steward for basketball games on Morehouse's campus. Babcock helped connect Lake with his brother, Rob Babcock, who was working with the Timberwolves. That ultimately spun into a community relations internship.
He spent several years working various jobs, including following his mother's footsteps as an educator in Minneapolis Public Schools. He manned a hotel's front desk and traveled across the country working with the Howard Pulley basketball program. That last job gave him his start in sports media when he launched a newsletter about high school basketball recruiting and Minnesota players.
He started at sports station KFAN as an intern in the early 2000s on the recommendation of another media member who had seen him around the basketball scene in the Twin Cities. As a part-timer, Lake worked with on-air personalities Chad Hartman and Dan Barreiro, became the overnight board operator and eventually earned featured spots on air.
Lake's earnestness to learn has stuck with Barreiro years later.
"A guy who wanted to ask a lot of questions," the longtime KFAN host said, "and who was completely invested in a way that said, 'Yeah, I want to be part of the continuum here. And I want to respect what's come before. And I want to be a part of that and bring some new stuff to the table as well.' "
While Lake earned more opportunity, including co-hosting the Sludge and Lake Show, chances to move up were hard to come by at the successful station with such long-tenured talent. In 2013, he moved to Kansas City to take a full-time midday show at 610 Sports Radio.
In more than five years there, Lake gained firsthand experience in how to run a four-hour show every day. He learned how to finesse talking about sports in a sports-crazy market while mixing in off-field events, including the Mizzou football protests and Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem.
He returned to the Twin Cities in 2018, picking up with KFAN again in his featured role. But when the program director who hired him in Kansas City took the same job at WCCO Radio, Lake was one of his first hires to start the late-night show in 2019.
Lake looks back on that now as a moment of kismet, putting him in a position to help with all of the intense events to come in 2020.
"With the lack of diversity in the media, I understand how important it is for me to do what I do. In Minnesota, you just don't see Black men on the major mainstream channels have their own show, expressing their own opinions every day," Lake said. "I'm happy that I have that opportunity. But it bothers me that I'm the only one, for the most part.
"There is a pressure and a stress that I live with every day that my white colleagues don't because I want Black people and any minority to be able to say, 'Yeah, Henry Lake understands our point of view.' "
… to teacher
Carly Zucker credits Lake with providing her first opportunity in sports radio.
Sometime around 2013, Lake saw Zucker, then working mostly in TV with The CW and the Timberwolves, as someone with radio potential. Others at KFAN were hesitant to give a woman without much sports experience airtime, but Lake still invited her on the station.
Now, Zucker hosts a podcast for KFAN and is a regular on The Power Trip morning show.
''Without Henry's introduction into KFAN and that sports world," Zucker said, "there's no way I would have ever been introduced into KFAN."
Lake's approach fights against what he calls the "country club-esque mentality" of talk radio that often features the same guests to talk about the same subjects. He especially seeks opinions from women and people of color, perspectives that aren't solicited as often.
In a field built on connections and networks, Lake has been public on his social media and his show about re-evaluating his relationships with several other radio personalities in the market who don't speak up about racial injustice.
"I have gotten a ton of support from white colleagues here this year, a ton. And I appreciate all the love. But I've also warned people, colleagues, longtime friends, that I'm not playing any games on serious issues in our world," Lake said. "I will call you out. I don't care how long I've known you or what outlet you work for. It's time to be real. The issues are too significant."
Off the air, Lake is working to expand his community reach, which is what prompted the tour of Rondo with Anderson in early January. Lake talks of creating a company that brings together women and people of color in media, giving them a place to collaborate as well as find outlets to share their work.
From Barreiro to Zucker to another KFAN regular Mark Rosen, all say Lake has an innate ability to make anyone feel like they've been friends with him forever. Whether catching up between innings at a Twins game or meeting up for a drink, Lake is known for bringing people from all walks of life together.
"Every time I met him, I was like, man, I knew I was in for a good time that night and just a good release," Rosen said. " ... Not just seeing him, but other people that he's introduced me to. ... They gravitate to him, no doubt about it."
In many ways, Lake's good at making people both comfortable and uncomfortable. But that might be exactly what Minnesota's airwaves need right now.
“With the lack of diversity in the media, I understand how important it is for me to do what I do. In Minnesota, you just don't see Black men on the major mainstream channels have their own show, expressing their own opinions every day. I'm happy that I have that opportunity. But it bothers me that I'm the only one, for the most part.”
While living in Kansas City — where all he did was work, go to the gym and run errands — Lake realized how important his home was to him. How the Twin Cities was where he wanted to both live his life and make others' lives better.
He sees it not so much a mission as a privilege.
"I always think about guys from around my way that were really smart, and they tragically had their lives taken away from them due to being killed or getting themselves incarcerated," Lake said. "I think about Pedro Ramos Jr., who was a few years older than me — and he would essentially babysit me — him being brutally beaten in the hallway of the school that I would later graduate from and die. My high school classmate, Phillip Lockhart, he was shot and killed the summer of my freshman year when I was at Morehouse. Charles Jackson, the same way.
"There are so many that had their dreams snuffed out. So as I live out my dream, I think about them, too."