Monday, March 30, 1998
Publicist's pitch lands
Opening Day honors for Vester

BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

linda vester
Urusuline High School grad Linda Vester is making news this week in her hometown.
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Let's be honest: NBC News at Sunrise anchor Linda Vester wouldn't be on your list of people to throw out the Opening Day ceremonial pitch.

raymond buse
Raymond Buse
Linda Vester wasn't even on Linda Vester's list.

''When I first heard about it,'' she says, ''I remember sitting down at my desk and saying, 'Holy Cow!' ''

The Milford native can thank two people for the honor:

  • Raymond L. ''Buz'' Buse III, Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce publicist who orchestrated a campaign envied by NBC's ''Must See TV'' promotions department.

  • Sylvia Stayton, Cincinnati's ''meter-feeding granny.''

It turns out that Ms. Vester was named Sunrise (5 a.m. weekdays, Channel 5) anchor the day Mr. Buse took over chamber publicity in November 1996, after seven years in marketing there.

At the time, the world was laughing at Cincinnati police for arresting the Clifton grandmother for putting 15 cents into two expired parking meters.

Mr. Buse sent Ms. Vester a congratulatory can of popcorn. Then he hatched a plot to counter Cincinnati's negative publicity by putting the 1983 Ursuline Academy graduate on the mound Opening Day Tuesday.

There was just one problem: He couldn't get to first base with the Reds.

Linda who? You're out!

So he spent a year assembling a team of national and local power-hitters to pitch for Ms. Vester. His lineup included Vice President Al Gore, Gov. George Voinovich, Oscar Robertson, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Jim Bunning, Bob Taft, John Pepper, Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk and former Reds manager Sparky Anderson.

''It has totally stunned my colleagues here at NBC. They don't see this kind of thing in New York,'' says Ms. Vester, 32, who will join Al Roker on Fountain Square Tuesday for his Today show weather reports (7-9 a.m., Channels 5, 22).

''Linda Vester Day in Cincinnati USA'' quickly mushroomed into almost a week. She spoke to Dearborn County students Friday who faithfully watch her show; visited a Cincinnati Zoo baby golden cat named ''Sunrise'' on Saturday; and read ''Casey at the Bat'' for the Cincinnati Pops Sunday.

Tonight, she'll be roasted at a sold-out benefit for the Findlay Market renovation project and serve as grand marshal Tuesday of the 79th annual Findlay Market Opening Day Parade.

Then she'll attend her first Opening Day after her ceremonial toss.

Not bad for someone who never appeared on local TV until WLWT broadcast her NBC News reports from the Persian Gulf War.

''All this stuff shows what a great American place this is,'' says Ms. Vester, who interned at WKRC-TV (Channel 12), where he dad, Dr. John Vester, did medical features.

''Cincinnati is a wholesome, and clean, and happy place to live. We love our town. We love our baseball.''

Yes, we love our baseball. And the thought of throwing a pitch in front of 55,000 people has given Ms. Vester nightmares. Isn't she used to millions watching her work on TV?

''When I'm anchoring a show, I'm actually alone in a cavernous empty studio, except for the crew. It will be totally different when I'm out there on the mound. I don't pitch for living. I talk for a living.''

She speaks so highly of her hometown that NBC bosses agreed to send Mr. Roker here for TV's top-rated morning show.

''The payoff is that 6 million Today show viewers will see how proud we are on Opening Day,'' Mr. Buse says.

From buzz by Buz.

''I've never known one person to create so much hometown spirit,'' Ms. Vester says.

''He's a genius. He's a one-man machine. People in NBC's PR department are shaking their heads saying, 'Who is this guy?'

''I can't thank him enough for giving me something that me and my family will never forget. He's a treasure.''

Nope, he's just doing his job.

''I don't think you can overdo Opening Day,'' Mr. Buse says. ''My goal is to make the first pitch in Cincinnati a national event, like the Kentucky Derby. I think we can make it bigger still.''

This year, Linda Vester.

Next year, David Letterman?

What makes Opening Day special?
Unassuming artist played toss with Reds
Findlay parade will end Gibbs' colorful tenure
John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202; fax: 768-8330.