WKRC's Thomas signing off
After 44 years, 'one of a kind' radio voice will go out with a big party
BY JOHN KIESEWETTER | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
Jerry Thomas had made it clear to his WKRC-AM bosses - "no cake, no parties" - when he retires later this month after 44 years.
"We've got to celebrate this," says Tony Bender, WKRC-AM (550) program director and co-worker for 17 years.
So WKRC-AM is throwing an on-air retirement party 5-9 a.m. Dec. 14 at the Primavista restaurant, 810 Matson Place, East Price Hill. The party, open to the public, has the blessing of Jerry's wife, Joan, and their two children.
"He'll forgive us," says Sherry Rowland, WKRC-AM promotion director.
Thomas, 67, is thought to have the longest tenure at one station of any area radio personality on the air.
The 1957 Elder High School graduate has done just about everything at the station since he was hired May 1, 1962, from a Louisville station to be the overnight DJ. He was so popular that Thomas replaced legendary morning host Stan Matlock 35 years ago.
Thomas' morning show was No. 1 well into the late 1980s on 5,000-watt WKRC-AM, one-tenth the power of WLW-AM. His morning show with Craig Kopp ranked sixth in the most recent ratings.
Bender and Clear Channel executives have not announced who will replace Thomas in January.
In four decades at WKRC-AM, he has been a DJ, program director, salesman and a conservative talk host. In the early days, he'd do character voices.
"No matter what the format, he was able to adapt and still be funny. He's an amazing talent," Bender says.
For sister WKRC-TV (Channel 12), he co-hosted the weeknight "PM Magazine" show, afternoon movies and "Bowling for Dollars."
His legacy includes converting classical music WKRC-FM to rockin' WKRQ-FM in the 1970s. He brought to town a young Buffalo, N.Y., program director named Randy Michaels - who would eventually leave Q102, buy rival WLW-AM and WEBN-FM, and become CEO for Clear Channel.
"My baby was the Q. I made it what is was," Thomas says.
He can be heard throughout the day doing commercials on most of Clear Channel's eight stations here.
"That voice is so recognizable. He's just one of a kind," Rowland says.
Station managers have known since Thomas signed his 2003 contract that he wanted to hang up his headphones when the deal expired.
"A year ago, they tried to get me to change my mind. They tried again last week. But I'm going to quit," says the Green Township resident. "It's no big deal. One day I'll be there, and one day I won't."
Michaels tried to pry Thomas away for WLW-AM in 1983. In 1992, Thomas mysteriously left the air for six months - when WKRC-AM was losing money - and secretly signed with WLW-AM to replace morning host Jim Scott, Thomas says.
But in the interim, WLW-AM's owners bought WKRC-AM, so Thomas returned to launch "WLWA-AM" on 550.
Before Thomas renewed his contract in 2003, Republican Party leaders had talked to him about entering politics, which he may explore next year.
"I'd like to see what it is," he says. "People had asked me before if I'd run for office, but I couldn't because I was on the air."
Thomas doesn't know when he'll do his last show, because of the holidays and some remaining vacation. He has no immediate plans other than staying up late and sleeping in.
"It's a difficult life, going to bed at 6:30 p.m. Only one night of the week can I take my wife out for dinner or a movie," he says. "She's been very patient with me. It's time (to retire)."