Sunday, June 22, 2003

Obituary: Radio host Rich King

WLW broadcaster left everyone laughing

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mr. King

Cincinnati radio personality Rich King gave the world an important gift: laughter.

The radio humorist died about 6:30 a.m. Saturday in Naples, Fla., of abdominal cancer. He never divulged his age.

His classic radio bits include reports of bullfights in the fictional Erlanger Astrodome and broadcasts from nude beaches in New Richmond. His shows included an imaginary cast of characters, like producer Fred Geschnottenon. He did dramatic readings from the phone book.

Veteran broadcaster Nick Clooney said Mr. King will be remembered for his unique mix of humor and professionalism.

"He was the smartest broadcaster I ever met," Clooney said. "And the funniest."

The Chicago native scored many high-profile interviews, such as Bob Hope, Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon. And he left even the biggest names laughing.

"He made everything funny," said Dan Allen, program director at WSAI-AM (1530), a friend and former co-worker. "He was distinctive in that he didn't tell disc jockey 'yuk yuk' jokes. He was incredibly original."

Mr. King began his Cincinnati career in 1964 at 1530-AM, when it was WCKY. He joined WLW-AM in 1965, and had a huge impact on a young listener in Indianapolis - David Letterman.

In the 1987 book, The David Letterman Story, An Unauthorized Biography, author Caroline Latham wrote: "Another influence from the early days was radio personality Rich King, who had a show on WLW in Cincinnati. He used to devote large portions of his program to broadcasting imaginary events, such as paddleboat races on the Ohio River or baseball games between nonexistent teams. Listening to him taught Dave the humorous potential of misinformation."

After a brief stint in San Diego, Mr. King returned to the Queen City to work for WKRC-AM (550). He left in 1990, moving on to WINK/WNOG-AM in Naples, Fla. He retired from radio in March.

Mr. King's strong and straightforward voice touched people as far as the airwaves reached. But the tall, good-looking fellow affected even more outside the radio booth.

He started the Ricky King Fund in 1978, following the death of his son, 4, from Reye's syndrome. More than $1 million was raised in the Tristate for research, which helped find the link between aspirin and chicken pox.

Mr. King revived the charity in south Florida, which now provides wheelchair lifts, bathtub lifts and other medical equipment for children.

"He was enormously compassionate," Clooney said. "When the people around him were in pain, he was always looking for ways to alleviate that."

After beating esophagus and prostate cancer, Mr. King devoted many of his radio shows to helping others with cancer.

"He was always thinking of others, even if he didn't know them," said Bob "The Producer" Berry of WEBN-FM, whose radio career was inspired by King. "I've never met a better person."

Mr. King is survived by his wife, Joan, and their four children.

The broadcaster will also be remembered fondly by his other family - the people he left laughing.

"There's no one else like him," Clooney said. "His humor was done with rapier wit. He told jokes with charm and originality, never with the bludgeons we hear now."

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Saturday.

John Kiesewetter contributed. E-mail

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