Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Aluminum Luminary

It was a September day in 1961. The Cincinnati Reds were at the top of the National League and were on their way to winning the pennant. The New York Yankees were doing the same in the American League. There would be a World Series in Crosley Field and I would be there. But that’s another story.

On this sultry Cincinnati Monday in September I was about to meet Dick Wagner.
I had left my temporary residence at the YMCA (No, I’m not kidding) and walked to the Sinton Hotel on Fourth Street in the Queen City and up to the Mezzanine floor. These were the studios of WSAI-1360 AM; the same studios that had been there for 30 some years.
I peeked thru the thick glass of a small window in a thick door. Look at that! A shinny black grand piano, left over I’m sure, from the days when music was performed “live” on the air and beamed over the Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana countryside from a powerful transmitter atop Price Hill.

Up a few stairs, I met Joanie, the receptionist, who took me into Gene Nelson’s office. Gene was the Program Director who had called me in Buffalo and invited me to join the staff of a new Top 40 sound in Cincinnati. I met Richard “Dick” Nason, the General Manager and then it was off to tour the studios. It really wasn’t that much of a facility. I was not impressed. Very old fashioned and certainly a far cry from the studios and offices of WBNY, located in Buffalo’s Statler Hilton Hotel.
Dick Wagner was doing the late morning shift---9-noon.
What I heard on the hall speakers was a warm and friendly air personality; snappy production and a sharp wit to go along with it. As is the case with most people, I listened to that radio voice and created a mental picture of the person behind the voice. I was totally fooled. Dick Wagner wasn’t a big guy, in fact he was rather short. His hair was short as well…and bristly. Big eyes peeked at me thru a pair or dark, round glasses and he extended his hand in a peculiar way. As I reached for the hand I realized that Dick Wagner was crippled---Handicapped is what we call it today. Maybe it was polio, maybe it was something else.
“I’m Dick Braun. Wagner that is, on the radio. Good to meet you and welcome aboard”.

I don’t know if I showed my “shock”, but I hope not. If I had I’m sure he was used to it. He was the type of guy who looked at his disability as an inconvenience that could be and was overcome.
Dick used the name Wagner in Cincinnati. Management had made the suggestion in deference to the fact that there was a TV-Radio personality named Bob Braun at 50,000 watt WLW.

As I watched him cue up 45s, flick switches, rev up the pot, turn on his mic and talk, I was truly amazed. He wasn't handicapped or inconvenienced. He was a wonder. He was an inspiration.
When I first saw the control room set up, I figured there would be some difficulty in mastering this set-up, but after watching Dick do his magic, I made up my mind that it wouldn’t be a problem.
Later when I saw Dick go thru the hall with leg braces and traveling on crutches, my head exploded with a “Wow!”.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is an obituary.

BRAUN, RICHARD "DICK," 77, of Louisville, passed away Friday, July 28, 2006, at Baptist Hospital East.
A friend in Louisville, Allen Bryan, said this about Dick: "He was a really decent guy with a serious physical handicap for most if not all of his life. He used to call himself the 'aluminum luminary' because of the braces and crutches he needed to get around.”
Dusty Rhodes who worked with us at the time, and passed along this information said: “He was a wonderful human being and a great talent. Dick was one of the original deejays on WKBW when it went "top 40" (that's him at the steering wheel of the 1959 news cruiser in the photo of the 'KB jocks) and came to Cincinnati from Buffalo where he helped kick off the format on WSAI in 1961. He went to Louisville in the late '60s”.

Dick Wagner always wore a smile. Something had to be truly insane before he got pissed off.

I can recall his creative mind. In a day when radio stations had to run public service announcements, he created two characters called Drs. Mortar and Pestle to rely health tips. Perhaps no big deal to you, but it stuck in my mind.

I remember Dick playing soccer in our back yard. He balanced himself on the sticks and swung his right foot at the ball. He missed, and fell flat on his derriere...but not for long. He picked himself up, set up again and put that soccer ball into the vacant field in back of the house.

He did the play-by play for the station baseball and basketball teams. He went everywhere with us. He challenged the rest of us...Gene Nelson, Dick Purtan, Ron Britain, Dusty Rhodes, Mike Sherman and me. No exception, I have never worked with a better team of radio professionals.

The Obituary went on to read: Dick Braun was born in Pittsburgh on November 1st, 1928, and graduated from the University of Pittsburgh.
Dick was well known in Louisville as a radio announcer on WAMZ Radio and WINN Radio. WAMZ was a big part of his life, and he made many personal appearances over the years, along with his wife. Dick also recorded talking books for the Kentucky School for the Blind. He had the good fortune to have an exciting and fulfilling career.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 51 years, Genevieve Shrewsbury Braun. He was also preceded in death by his son, Richard Braun, Jr. He is survived by a daughter, Jackie Braun; grandson Garrett Nutgrass; and many relatives in Pittsburgh and Sophia WV.
The family would like to thank his friends for taking care of him for the past year, the Edlin Family, the Baker Family, the Diebold family, Betty Clark and James Volpert. The family would also like to thank the employees of Friendship Manor.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Kosair Charities


At 7:16 PM CDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi this is Jackie, Dick Braun's daughter. Thanks for your kind words,it seems my dad was an inspiration to a lot of people, including me.


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