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Jim LaBarbara: From Music Professor To Township Trustee?

Jim LaBarbara
Jim LaBarbara

After nearly four decades on Cincinnati radio, DJ Jim LaBarbara has left the airwaves to enter politics.

LaBarbara, the self-proclaimed "Music Professor" who came from Cleveland to WLW-AM in 1969, is a Republican candidate for Sycamore Township trustee. He's opposing two long-time incumbents, Cliff Bishop and Tom Weidman, also both Republicans.

"This is something I wanted to do for a long time," said LaBarbara, a 39-year resident of the township, which includes Kenwood  Towne Center, and a member of the Sycamore Township Board of Zoning Appeals.

"This is the third time I wanted to run, but I kept getting talked out of it" by fellow Republicans who know how difficult it would be to unseat an incumbent, even though the township races technically are non-partisan, he said.

"Nobody goes against them. People say, 'Are you crazy? They're going to go after you.' But I'm ready," said LaBarbara, who left his midday shift at country WNKR-FM (106.7) in Dry Ridge this summer. He's also worked here on WGRR-FM, WCKY-AM and WSAI-AM. He published a memoir in 2011 called "The Music Professor: A Life Amplified Through Radio & Rock 'n' Roll.

Former DJ Dusty Rhodes – who started as a Delhi Township trustee before winning the Hamilton County auditor position – has encouraged LaBarbara often to run for township office.

"Dusty and I have been talking about this for a long time. He said, 'Why don't you run?'"

LaBarbara first got involved with politics in 2009 supporting John Kasich for Ohio governor. Kasich and LaBarbara both grew up in Pennsylvania's Stowe Township, near McKees Rocks, about seven miles west of Pittsburgh.

LaBarbara says his main campaign issue is that "the trustees are spending too much money. They've spent $10 million on land and buildings, like the ex-Taco Bell on Montgomery Road. People don't know what we've bought and what we own. They (trustees) are supposed to be conservatives, but they spend a lot of money," he said.

Rhodes isn't the only media personality successful in township politics. Former WNOP-AM DJ Walt Harrell (aka Bunky Tadwell) was a Miami Township trustee in the 1980s, and Enquirer local columnist Frank Weikel was elected to several terms as a Springfield Township trustee in the 1970s and '80s.

"I'm looking forward to knocking on doors and shaking hands," LaBarbara says. "I'm excited about running, but it’s a whole different animal."

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.