Luke Radel was playing mini-golf with his family when former Congresswoman Claudia Tenney called then hung up on him.
“It was tense,” he said affably. “In the background, she could probably hear cheering when one of my brothers scored a hole-in-one.”
She followed up with a text message that Luke screen-captured and direct messaged me on Twitter. In the text message, she says that she listened to a recent interview he had given on the Bill Keeler Show and said, “ You may want to publicly retract your statements as you are very close to slander.”
She recommends he, “Run it by [his] lawyer parents.”
Then says closes with, “Good thing you are 16.”
“I’m a journalist,” Luke shrugs. “I’m here, to tell the truth as long as I’m doing that that’s all that matters.”
In a way, his age is the punchline to the anecdote about the text, but also perhaps the most impressive thing about Luke Radel. He may be this area’s most courageous investigative multi-media journalists, he has broken several major political stories this summer, he has established his own successful news service, called Elected News, on both Twitter and YouTube, and Thursday was his first day as 11th grader in New Hartford High School.
Luke Radel’s take on politics is bipartisan and uncompromising. He has produced stories criticizing Congressman Anthony Brindisi as well as Congresswoman Tenney.
Readers who follow his news reports at Twitter.com/LukeRadel can attest to the fact that he covers Republicans and Democrats with equal scrutiny and equally unwavering intensity.
He declines to describe himself politically and says that regarding the current Presidential race, “I’m not in any camp.”
Luke’s on-camera style is as friendly and eager as a daytime talk show host, but with the wit and sophistication of a Jimmy Kimmel or Stephen Colbert. The questions he asks are as current as a trending topic on Twitter, and they have the precision and impact of a guided missile.
Both the Tenney and Brindisi campaign declined to comment, one, not surprisingly, more emphatically than the other.
During our interview on Google Meet, he said something about Twitter not being the best platform for telling a story. So I couldn’t resist instantly stopped him and pointed out that Twitter.com/LukeRadel was literally one of his two platforms. His YouTube channel is LukeRadel.com.
“I’m hitting you with a tough ‘Luke Radel question,’” I laughed.
I recorded his response in my notebook as: “Has weird relationship with Twitter. Follows exactly 100 people. Only journalists who he believes are right down the middle. Thinks it’s good for news when journalists are on it.”
It says a lot about the speed of his thought processes that he defused my question and was able to turn it around so quickly. It happened so fast that I barely had time to scribble those fragments down in my notes.
Whenever he gets around to interviewing me, and he better(!), I hope he is just as challenging and that I’m just as quick. Luke’s speed and intellect will be a tough act for anybody.
One of his fondest memories is of Election Night 2018. He and his father rushed him back and forth to the Brindisi and Tenney Headquarters. He was too young to drive. Still, with the help of his dad, Pat Radel, he was able to live stream a split-screen of both the excited crowd packed into the Delta Hotel ballroom and the somber gathering at the other end of Genesee Street on the top floor of Cavallo’s Restaurant.
“‘Elected’ is a smaller-scale operation than other outlets,” Luke recalled. “We’d show up to a rally and see fifteen cameras with lights and microphones and we’d have a tripod, an iPhone, and a pair of earbuds.
He describes that night as “electric” and says that for he, and his parents, it was like “lightning in a bottle.”
“I think we caught it that night,” he told me. “And the credit has to go to my mom who worked the control room from our desktop computer at home, working through different camera angles and graphics packages.”
“Luke has always been unique and special,” his mother Mary told me. “As a baby, he grabbed for the newspaper.”
She describes her son as being outstanding from the time he was born and having all the Presidents memorized by the time he was in Preschool.
“We are so proud of him,” she said. “He has a special gift, this ability to speak, and he really cares.”
Mary has faith in her son’s ability to do a “good, honest job,” tackling contentious and complicated issues like the extent and nature of each Congressional candidates support from Spectrum.”
In that report, his younger brothers, John Paul and Mark appeared in a skit he called “Money in a Bucket,” where he humorously illustrated how candidates could accept corporate PAC money while claiming not to accept corporate PAC money.
Both John Paul and Mark told me via Twitter that they enjoy being in their older brother's videos, but while John Paul shares an interest in politics, Mark prefers to play sports like basketball and golf. Mark actually portrayed Governor Andrew Cuomo in the video he cites as his favorite, while John Paul prefers the stories Luke did on Kanye West’s bizarre and quickly fizzled-out run for the Presidency.
Kelly Ann Nugent was Luke’s 10th grade Honors English teacher last year. She was impressed, not only with his journalistic efforts but by his passionate advocacy for the rights and dignity of people with Down Syndrome.
“That actually stood out to me more than the YouTube channel,” she told me in an email interview. “I immediately admired someone with so much compassion who was willing to stand up for what it is right.”
It didn’t surprise me when she wrote that Luke “immediately won over his peers [by being] so adept at adding to the breadth and depth of literary discussion[s] without ‘talking over people’s heads.’”
His fans will agree with her assessment that he speaks “with genuine joy and interest, not with the aim to impress or [in her case] get a good grade.”
Jeffrey Walters, Luke’s Advanced Placement European History teacher, describes him as “…a natural leader [who] possesses a versatile brain, deep analytical thinking skills, quick wit, and a charming personality.”
Jeffrey observed that “from a teacher’s point-of-view, he is one of the students (and fortunately there are many in our school) that you look forward to having in class each and every day because he has a positive energy that is both infectious and inspiring.”
Since I’m a teacher, I had to ask if Luke keeps up with his homework while undertaking his in-depth journalistic efforts.
“Absolutely done on time…and of the highest quality,” he assured me, adding I probably already knew the answer to that. I did, but like my friend Luke, I had to make sure I did my due diligence as a journalist.
“There’s a value-set at New Hartford, and you don’t find this many places,” Luke told me. “Excellence is encouraged and fostered, it was a bit of a shift for me [this is his second year as a student at that high school] and it’s been really helpful.”
He says that all of his teachers have been “phenomenal,” but especially Mr. Walters and Ms. Nugent.
Luke first burst into the public eye, three years ago, when he was only thirteen, with a series of stunningly well-produced videos explaining the treacherous and tangled politics of what’s known as the “Downtown Hospital” issue. One of the ways he gained an audience was through his appearances on the most popular and influential morning news show in the Utica/Rome market, the “Bill Keeler Show.”
“Bill’s show is the most popular place for conversation about local politics for a reason,” Luke said. “He asks the tough questions and I always appreciate the opportunity to talk to those guys, Andrew and Jeff, and really discuss what’s going on in the news.”
Luke says that he has always admired and respected Bill and his show, saying, “He knows what’s up.”
“It’s really great to see Luke take such an interest in journalism at such a young age,” Bill Keeler told me in a Facebook Messenger interview.
I asked Bill for a comment on Luke’s work since I first became aware of that work on his show.
“At a time when social media and misinformation are swaying the public on important issues of politics and health,” Bill said, “it’s incredibly valuable to see a high school student taking the time to investigate a story, confirm details with multiple sources and deliver the facts so that the reader or viewer has the opportunity their own well-informed conclusion.”
He can say that President Donald Trump signed his yearbook when he came to Utica in 2018 and that he took a selfie with every Democratic candidate for President during the New Hampshire primary season. He approaches his work with maturity and seriousness. He’s like that with everything.
“Luke took the time to put on a tie, come into school, and sit down with me one-on-one to introduce himself before he began my class,” his 10th grade Honors English teacher, Kelly Ann Nugent, recalled. “When it came time for our annual debate, he was a role model and a leader, and as you can imagine, he put on the performance of a lifetime.”
She ended her email by telling me that she was “honored that [she] was able to be his teacher.”
I asked Luke what he has planned for his future. It didn’t surprise me that he aims to be President of the United States someday. But, before that, he plans to pursue Journalism and Communications, or maybe Political Science, as a major at college.
“I want to help people,” he said, then talked about his love for volunteering with “The 21 Club,” the local Down Syndrome support group.
Jeffrey Walters, Luke’s AP European History teacher, described him as “a natural leader.”
“Luke possesses a versatile brain, deep analytical thinking skills, quick wit, and a charming personality,” Mr. Walters said of his student. “In addition to being well versed in the arts, he's dedicated, sincere, and compassionate. Likewise, he has a fabulously funny sense of humor, one that is often admirably self-deprecating.”
That’s a good thing since Luke’s request that I contact the Tenney and Brindisi campaign for comment on this story…let’s just say, bore no fruit. That only leaves more work for him, but he is certainly up to the challenge.
Ron Klopfanstein also enjoys Tweeting about politics, media, and journalism, at Twitter.com/RonKlopfanstein