Monday, February 24, 1997
Local show inspired young Letterman

The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW YORK - Hand him a Cincinnati Reds jersey or a photo of former WLWT-TV entertainer Paul Dixon and you'll see how fondly David Letterman remembers the Queen City.

Reds games at Crosley Field thrilled the Indianapolis kid, while the late Mr. Dixon's daily TV show (1955-74) inspired his late-night comedy craziness.

''Without exaggeration, I was just out of college (in 1969), and I really didn't know what I wanted to do. And then all the sudden I saw him doing it (on TV),'' Mr. Letterman said. ''And I thought: That's really what I want to do!''

Mr. Dixon presided over an irreverent hour of sheer goofiness weekday mornings until a fatal heart attack in 1974. The daily Channel 5 broadcast also aired on sister stations in Indianapolis, Dayton and Columbus.

Mr. Dixon tossed things over his shoulder while seated at his desk and made fun of his hair piece and everything else on his program.

''It was the stupidest show, and he would just say, 'This is the stupidest show!' And housewives from the Tristate area would just love this guy,'' he said. ''He would do the same show, minute to minute, Monday through Friday, and it was hilarious. People just exploded.''

Dixon 'funnier than I am'

Mr. Dixon gave a huge Oscherwitz Kosher Salami to a lucky studio guest years before Mr. Letterman began giving out Big Ass canned hams.

''That's right! It's a similar kind of deal - but he was much funnier that I am,'' he said, holding a color photo of Mr. Dixon, signed by his widow, Marge, which The Enquirer delivered to Mr. Letterman.

When handed a No. 15 ''Letterman'' Cincinnati Reds jersey, it instantly evoked childhood memories from the 1950s of the city he speaks glowingly of when Sarah Jessica Parker or George Clooney visit his Late Show.

''Me and my dad used to do down there on the train,'' said Mr. Letterman, who turns 50 April 12.

''It was like Little League baseball day, and you had your Little League suit on, and you'd get off the train and walk three blocks to Crosley Field, and I'm telling you, for a kid, it was like, 'Oh my God!'

His love affair with the Reds continued after the move to Riverfront Stadium.

''In the dead of winter, me and my buddies would send off for Opening Day tickets in the 1970s. And we'd sit all the way down the left field line, in the highest elevation in the park - You're looking DOWN on the flag pole! - and we'd just freeze and drink that watered-down Hudepohl and just think it was great!

''I used to love going down to Cincinnati. And the food! Oh, my goodness! Compared to Indianapolis in those days, and now even more, Cincinnati was much more cosmopolitan than Indianapolis.''

So why not bring his Late Show to Cincinnati sometime?

''I'd love to come to Cincinnati,'' he said. ''Cincinnati is a great town.''