CENTRAL NEW YORK — A national TV legend who got started in Syracuse, former radio and TV station owners, and a longtime print journalist who was just getting started in a new radio venture were among those we lost during 2012. In this segment of our Year in Review, we pause more to pay our respects to local broadcasters who passed away this year.
Marty Piraino might not be quite as popular as other TV personalities from decades past, but he was very well known among bowling fans in the area. From the 1960s through the 1990s, when bowling was popular enough for WSTM-TV 3 to produce and broadcast programs like “Syracuse Bowls” and “WSTM Challenge Bowling,” Piraino was a frequently appeared as a competitor, and eventually, as a host. He would later be inducted to the Greater Syracuse Hall of Fame, as part of the hall’s inaugural class in 1987. Piraino died in February at the age of 88. [Original story]
Dick Clark, National Star Who Started in Utica: April 18
The New Year’s Eve telecast on ABC just won’t be quite the same tomorrow night, after longtime host Dick Clark passed away this past April at the age of 82. Clark’s long and successful career started in Utica radio, where his uncle owned WRUN, and his father was the manager. Using the name “Dick Clay” on the air during the earliest years of his career, Clark graduated from Syracuse University in 1951, and worked at Syracuse’s WOLF radio before returning to Utica, where he made his television debut on WKTV.
Eventually, Clark became host of a local program in Philadelphia, called American Bandstand. The show’s success caught the attention of network executives, who kept Clark as host when they took the show national. Clark was also well-known for hosting the original 15-year run of the TV game show, Pyramid on CBS and ABC. Reruns continue to air on GSN, and three different revivals of the show have been produced since Clark’s run ended in 1988.
To honor the late host, ABC will continue to use Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest as the title of its annual countdown coverage. This year’s programming begins with a two-hour “celebration of Dick Clark” from 8-10pm. The special will review highlights from the 39 years Clark was live in Times Square to count America down into the new year. Even though a mild stroke caused Clark to miss the 2004 broadcast, he returned to host every single New Year’s Eve countdown for the remaining years of his life. [Original Story | Extra coverage: local broadcasters remember Dick Clark]
Alan Milair, Longtime Syracuse Radio and TV Host: April 21
During his 30 years at WSYR radio and television (back when channel 3 had the WSYR-TV call sign), Alan Milair served in many different roles. On the radio, he hosted Music Just for You, along with numerous classical musical programs. On television, Milair was a newscaster, a weatherman and talk show host. Although he finished up his career as program manager for WSYR AM-570 and WSYR-FM (94.5 back then), some might say his most memorable contribution to local broadcasting was the Monster Movie Matinee. Milair created and performed in the program, which enjoyed a 16-year run. Milair was 81 when he passed away at Loretto Cunningham in April. [Original story]
Chuck McFadden, Former WSYT Owner: April 23
As the founder of Encore Communications, Colorado native and Army veteran Charles “Chuck” McFadden owned Syracuse Fox affiliate WSYT-68 from 1991 until 1998, when he sold the station to its present owner, Sinclair Broadcast Group. (Somewhere along the way, Encore Communications became Max Media.) Prior to trying his hand at station ownership, McFadden spent more than 30 years working in various capacities in TV sales and management.
Outside of work, McFadden enjoyed skiing well into his seventies. He and his wife also loved to travel, and share the distinction of having visited all seven continents. According to his obituary, McFadden had been suffering from prostate cancer before his death in April at age 79. [Original story]
Paul Bartishevich, Ithaca-based Radio Producer/Syndicator: June 1
Paul Bartishevich produced more than 22,000 short-form educational features, aired by more than 400 radio stations nationwide during his time as CEO and President of Finger Lakes Productions International. Before founding the company in 1987, Bartishevich worked at WSYR radio in Syracuse, and for the Mutual Radio Network. According to his obituary, Bartishevich was 53 when he lost his life to an apparent heart attack in June. [Original story]
Frank Gruenewald, Formerly of WKTV and Harron Cable: June 27
For almost half a century, Frank Gruenewald was involved with Utica television. The Navy veteran and Utica College graduate was hired as continuity director at WKTV in 1953. A few years later, WKTV would be purchased by Mid York Broadcasting, of which Paul Harron was a primary figure. Eventually, Harron added cable TV to his portfolio, and Gruenewald was named General Manager of Harron Cable’s Utica operation in 1963. He would remain with Harron through its 1999 sale to Adelphia, and then with the new ownership until his retirement in 2002.
Gruenewald was also well-known in the Utica area for volunteering his time to many different events and causes. Among them, he helped launch the “Betsy the Barge” concert series at the Lock 20 Canal Park in Marcy, and for many years, he presided over the popular “Christmas on Main Street” celebration which still takes place every year, the weekend after Thanksgiving. Gruenewald was 86 when he passed away in June. [Original story]
Saundra Smokes, WHEN Talk Host: August 8
For most of her professional career, Saundra Smokes wasn’t involved in broadcasting. She spent most of her career as a print journalist, starting out as a “copy kid” at the Herald-Journal in the late 1970s. Over the next several years, she would work her way up the newsroom ladder, and in 1985, she became the first person of color to hold a seat on the editorial board of a daily newspaper in Syracuse. Smokes also became the paper’s first full-time opinion columnist. United Features Syndicate was impressed with her work, and offered her a deal that would get her columns published in more than 20 newspapers nationwide for several years.
Smokes accepted a buyout from the Post-Standard in 2009. It wasn’t until earlier this year that she had just started to get back into the spotlight, as an occasional guest columnist for the newspaper, and as host of a weekly show on Power 620 (WHEN) called “Saundra Smokes Speaks on Venus.” Although Smokes was still included on the program schedule on Power 620’s website as of earlier today, sadly, she only hosted six episodes of her radio program. The show started in June, and Smokes died in August at the age of 57. [Original story]
Albert “Bud” Wertheimer, Former Syracuse Radio Station Owner: August 24
Bud Wertheimer probably didn’t realize he would eventually hit radio’s equivalent of a lottery jackpot when he got into the business in 1963. His family operated a Musak franchise. Back then, communications satellites weren’t readily available like they are today, and even though FM radio had already been around for decades, it was still very unpopular. As a result, Musak feeds were delivered to department stores, elevators and waiting rooms via FM signal subcarriers.
In order to keep up with Musak’s franchisee requirements, Wertheimer eventually found himself buying and/or building a number of new FM stations across the region, including WDDS in Syracuse (the present-day WNTQ, or as it’s more commonly known, 93Q). When FM radio started to gain popularity in the late 1970s, Wertheimer’s holdings paid off. He and a partner formed The Lincoln Group and bought more stations across upstate New York and Ohio. His success as a pioneer in FM broadcasting earned him recognition in the National Association of Broadcasters book Radio: In Search of Excellence.
Wertheimer sold The Lincoln Group in the late 90s and was inducted to the NYS Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame in 2007. After exiting radio, Wertheimer co-founded Rochester-based ad agency Normal Communications, but lived in Syracuse, where he died at the age of 75 over the summer. [Original story]
Art Ginsburg, “Mr. Food” on TV in Syracuse and Utica: November 21
Although Art Ginsburg was born in Troy, NY in 1931, it wouldn’t be until 1975 that he’d get his first experience with giving cooking advice on TV, at the CBS affiliate in Albany. Five years later, his daily “Mr. Food” segments launched into syndication, eventually reaching nearly 170 stations across the country. Unlike some of TV’s longform cooking programs, where expert chefs have an entire 30 minutes to show-off skills most of us can only dream of having, Ginsburg said his daily goal as “Mr. Food” was to showcase, in just 90 seconds, a meal that anyone could prepare, without needing to have formal culinary training or an extensive arsenal of kitchen gadgets.
Syracuse’s WTVH aired Mr. Food on its noon newscasts for many years. The noon newscast at WKTV in Utica included Mr. Food and his signature sign-off, “Oooh, it’s so good!” every weekday from 1992 until his death at the age of 81 last month, due to pancreatic cancer. [Original story]
Arnold Dean, Sports Talk Radio Pioneer: December 8
If you don’t remember Arnold Dean’s contributions to local radio, don’t feel bad — he left Central New York more than 40 years ago. And when he was on-the-air here, he wasn’t Arnold Dean yet — he used his birth name, Arnold D’Angelo. The Cortland native got his first taste of radio at hometown WKRT. While attending Syracuse University, D’Angelo started working for WAGE 620 in Syracuse, and when WAGE was purchased by the owners of WHEN-TV (who then renamed the radio station WHEN), he worked for both stations.
After a few years in the military and a few more years at WHEN, D’Angelo was offered a job at Hartford, Connecticut’s WTIC. That’s when he started going by “Arnold Dean,” though there’s conflicting reports as to the exact reason for the change. Not long into what would become a 40-plus-year run at WTIC, “Dean” became one of the first radio personalities to set music aside and devote his show primarily to talk. He eventually focused on sports, and the simply-titled “Sports Talk” program he started in 1976 remains on WTIC’s weekday schedule to this day.
Although the 1997 Connecticut Sports Hall of Fame inductee started reducing his work schedule a few years ago, he never completely retired; he co-hosted the “Tailgate Show” prior to all of this past season’s UConn football home games. He was also in-studio taking listener calls during another football-related show just two weeks before he died earlier this month, at the age of 82. [Original story]
- Yesterday: In case you missed it, check out our month-by-month rundown of local broadcasting’s arrivals and departures during 2012.
- Later today: We’ll review 2012’s local radio format flips, in an article that’ll appear on our homepage at noon. (If you think you’ll forget, follow us on Facebook and/or Twitter; we immediately share links on both sites anytime we post a new story here.)
- Tomorrow: Our annual countdown of the top 10 stories from the past year, and some other interesting statistical observations.