Former Cincinnati DJ Wally Phillips Dies
Wally Phillips, the popular Chicago radio personality who got his start in Cincinnati, has died in Naples, Fla. He was 82.
Born in Portsmouth in 1925, Phillips moved with his family to Cincinnati at age 6, when his father died. He dropped out of high school here to enter the Army Air Forces for World War II, the Chicago Tribune said.
After the war, he worked for a DJ in Grand Rapids, Mich., for about a year before coming home to work for old WCPO-AM (1230) and WLW-AM (700). He went to Chicago’s WGN in 1956, where he was the No. 1 morning personality for 18 years (1968-86). He retired from WGN in 1998 after 42 years.
Phillips also did a WLWT-TV show with announcer Bob Bell and producer-director Don Sandburg. All three went together to WGN, where Bell became "Bozo the Clown" on WGN-TV, Myers says.
"He came to WLW radio after a stint at WCPO radio, probably in 1953," recalls Bill Myers, a former WLW-AM/WLWT-TV employee. "He did an evening disk jockey program. One of his calling cards was to have the engineer insert recorded one-liners during Phillips' chatter. Then he'd make some appropriate rejoinder. I.e., "When did he change his name to James Drake?" "There are no strings attached to this, and there never have been." "Didn't you know he was big bootlegger?" "You figure out a way; you know all the angles." These things were all individual cuts on a 16" transcription - disks that the engineers would make by taking a sentence here and there from the station's daily soap operas, which still were plentiful at the time. It was hilarious.
"On at least one occasion, Richard King (WLW afternoon DJ) worked out something with Phillips (then on WGN) wherein the two of them chatted - their programs were on the air at the same time. It was a classic half hour between two of radio’s sharpest wits. Wish I knew if there was a recording.
"Once in a while, there were atmospheric conditions which caused the WLW helicopter's communications frequency to "skip" into Chicago - and vice versa. Thus, Wally Phillips' traffic 'copter reporter, Sgt. Baldy, could be heard here. So the producers had to be careful to coordinate between Baldy and WLW's Lt. Art Mehring when it was time for their respective traffic reports. So King decided it would be fun to have the two 'copter guys heard on both stations at once. So Mehring was giving Ft. Washington Way and I-75 info, and Baldy was giving Eisenhower and Edens Expressway info. More hilarity!!!"
Former WSAI-AM newsman Joe Gillespie, now at a Lexington station, reminds me that Wally Phillips called WCPO-TV in 1980 and spoke to gunman James Hoskins, who had taken nine employees hostage. Here’s his email:
"Thanks for the piece and link to Wally Phillips. I learned about Wally first hand, programming against him in Chicago. Didn't hear the magic until the day the guy took the hostages at WCPO. Wally called the gunman and talked to him, urged him not hurt anyone and offered to fly to Cincinnati to talk with him in person.
Most major broadcasting companies, including mine (then Group W), had very specific rules about calling into a hostage situation, it was against the rules, but the way Wally did it, he managed to pull it off. After the conversation ended and after the situation ended Wally's newsman said "You know, if you'd only had a little more time, I think maybe...", Wally answered "You know, people helping people, that's what we're all about." It doesn't read well, but when I heard it I understood why he owned the mornings in Chicago."
Here is the Chicago Tribune story, which has a great story about Phillips Cincinnati native Doris Day: