Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Bob Braun was trouper to the end

Tristate TV-radio legend dies

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bob Braun in 1999 with photographs that depict his career, holding one with Red Skelton.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        Radio-TV personality Bob Braun, who lost his battle with cancer and Parkinson's disease on Monday, was a show-business professional to the very end.

        As he lay dying, surrounded by family, he talked about making a radio comeback in a voice that had been reduced to a whisper by Parkinson's.

        “As late as Sunday morning, he told me, "If I could just go back to work, I'd be happy,'” said his son, Rob, news anchor at WKRC-TV (Channel 12).

        “He always talked of a comeback. That's all he wanted to do was work. It was his love.”

        Mr. Braun, 71, was part of Cincinnati broadcasting for more than 50 years. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was the Tristate's biggest TV star.

        The Ludlow native inherited WLWT's top-rated 50-50 Club in 1967, when Ruth Lyons retired. He hosted the show 17 years, until it was canceled in 1984, and helped raise millions for Ruth Lyons' Children's Fund.

Braun with Ruth Lyons on the "50-50 Club" in 1961.
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        At its peak, the Bob Braun Show was broadcast in nine other cities: Dayton, Columbus, Lexington, Louisville, Indianapolis, Huntington and Charleston, W.Va., and Nashville and Knoxville Tenn.

        The regional exposure allowed Mr. Braun to attract an “A” list of entertainers: Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Dick Clark (his personal favorites), Duke Ellington, Perry Como, Bill Cosby, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Mel Torme, Rowan and Martin, Merv Griffin and a young comic named Jay Leno.

Radio debut at 13
        Mr. Braun made his radio debut at age 13 in 1942 hosting a Saturday Knothole baseball show on WSAI-AM. He made his WCPO-TV debut three months after Channel 9 signed on in 1949, pantomiming records with Dottie Mack. In those early days of TV, a national TV audience could see Mr. Braun on The Dottie Mack Show broadcast on the DuMont and ABC networks (1953-56).

        His big break came on Jan. 14, 1957, when he won the top $1,000 prize on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts national TV show.

  • Born: April 20, 1929, in Ludlow.
  • Married: Wray Jean Wilkinson on Oct. 30, 1954. They have three children, Rob, Channel 12 news anchor; Doug, an Herbalife vice president in Los Angeles; and Melissa Pohl of Cleveland. They have six grandchildren, a pair from each child.
  • Radio debut: Hosted a summer Saturday WSAI-AM knothole baseball show at age 13 in 1942.
  • TV debut: Sang on Harris Rosedale's variety show in 1947 on Crosley's experimental W8XCT, six months before the birth of commercial TV here on WLWT.
  • TV highlights: Hired by WCPO-TV in October 1949, three months after the station signed on. Pantomimed songs on WCPO-TV's Dottie Mack Show, broadcast nationally on the DuMont network (1953-56). Won first prize singing on Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts Jan. 14, 1957. Was immediately hired by WLWT and WLW-AM. Began substituting for host Ruth Lyons on the live weekday 50-50 Club variety show in May 1957. Took over the show when Ms. Lyons retired in 1967 and continued until Channel 5 canceled the Bob Braun Show in 1984. Moved to Los Angeles in 1984 and hosted talk shows, parades and local specials; did commercials; and appeared in Unsolved Mysteries and Hard Copy re-creations.
        He was immediately hired away from WCPO by WLWT and WLW-AM, which were then jointly owned, to do a daily radio show, weekend “sock hop” dances and appear on Ms. Lyons' live daily show.

        “I have a lot to be thankful for, beginning with Ruth Lyons,” Mr. Braun said in a 1999 interview for his 70th birthday.

        “Ruth spent a lot of time grooming me. She was, in some respect, difficult to work with because she wanted you to be your best ... She was a big, big influence in my life, and my work ethic.”

        In his 27 years at WLWT, Mr. Braun influenced a generation of Midwest entertainers and broadcasters. The Braun Show helped launch the careers of Mary

        Ellen Tanner, Rob Reider and Nancy James, among others.

        C-SPAN CEO Brian Lamb grew up in West LaFayette, Ind., watching Braun on an Indianapolis station. And when former Indianapolis weatherman David Letterman came to town in the early 1970s, he liked to sneak into the Channel 5 control booth during the Braun Show.

        While at Channel 5, Mr. Braun was arguably the city's busiest TV personality. He took his show to state fairs, county fairs and anywhere in between. He appeared at Tristate charity and celebrity events. On Friday and Saturday nights, he would “go out and meet every star when they came through Cincinnati,” Mr. Braun said.

        Show business was his life. He acknowledged late in 1999 that his style, his drive, sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. Being a big star in a relatively small town was not easy.

        “It takes a certain amount of confidence, and that's often misunderstood as conceit,” he said.

Off to Los Angeles

        When Channel 5 canceled his show, a tearful Mr. Braun and his wife, Wray Jean, packed up and moved to Los Angeles. He spent 10 years there getting bit parts in TV shows and movies; hosting talk shows, infomercials, parades and pageants, and making commercials. (His Craftmatic Adjustable Bed spots aired for at least 16 years.)

Braun and wife Wray Jean.
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        He loved to tell about comparing notes with other actors at Hollywood auditions. When others would lament that their series was pulled after six episodes, Mr. Braun would delight in saying how his Cincinnati show was canceled — after 17 years.

        At the Los Angeles airport Mr. Braun frequently ran into Mr. Leno, who would remember him and his longtime sponsor by shouting: “Hey, Bob! Kahn's Hot Dogs!”

        In 1994, the Brauns returned to Cincinnati so Mr. Braun could help launch the “original hits” format as morning DJ on WSAI-AM. He never missed a day of work for five years, even though he had 39 radiation treatments and chemotherapy for a malignant tumor behind his left collarbone.

        “He would do his radio show from 6-10 a.m., then go to Good Samaritan Hospital and get his radiation and chemo treatment, and then go home and go to bed and get up and go to the radio station the next day,” Rob Braun said. “He was such a fighter.”

        Mr. Braun didn't talk publicly about the cancer until a year later, when it was in remission. He also didn't talk about Parkinson's disease until after leaving WSAI-AM's airwaves in August 1999.

Out of the public eye

        He hasn't been seen in public since retiring because he was heeding Ms. Lyon's advice about always being at his best. The former weight lifter did not want people to see his frail condition from a recurrence of the cancer, combined with the debilitating Parkinson's disease.

Braun lifts weights in his backyard in 1958 with his son Rob.
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        He spent the past six months at home in a wheelchair. Rob Braun, the only one of his three children who lives in town, visited almost daily. They talked a lot about the Braun family history.

        “He was the last living relative who knew all the stories about coming over (to America) on the boat, and how who met who,” Rob Braun said.

        Said son Doug Braun, a Los Angeles-based vice president for Herballife who was with his father when he died early Monday: “Dad had a sense of family that was extremely strong, and each of us have carried that into our families.

        “As a family, we spent a lot of time laughing. He loved to tell a good joke. Even when Dad was ill, and had a hard time talking, he wanted to tell a joke.”

Robbed of his voice

        On a good day, Mr. Braun would call Rob and say his voice was strong enough to do a radio show or radio commercials.

        “His biggest frustration was that the Parkinson's robbed him of his abilities, and he couldn't communicate, and that was his career,” Rob Braun said.

        Friends visited Mr. Braun at his Evendale home, but he wasn't interested in going out. He wanted his fans to remember him as he was for 50 years on TV and radio.

        “He didn't want people to see him if he wasn't looking good,” Rob Braun said. “When we were kids, Dad would dress up to go to the hardware store. He didn't want to go out if he didn't look the part.”

        Always a trouper to the very end.

Braun was friend to colleagues
Braun services Thursday

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