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Chuck Miller Resigns As Sorg Opera House Restoration Chief

WVXU-FM archives
Middletown's historic Sorg Opera House opened in 1891 on Main Street.

Chuck Miller, the former WNKU-FM manager who bought Middletown's neglected Sorg Opera House for "less than a new car," has resigned as board president to become executive director of the Fox Theater in Hutchinson, Kansas.

"It's kind of difficult to walk away from it, knowing it's not completed. But I've offered to help out if they need me, as a grant writer or booking agent," says Miller, a 35-year broadcasting veteran who came to this area in 2007 from New Orleans to manage Northern Kentucky University's WNKU-FM.

Credit Courtesy Fox Theater
Chuck Miller discovered the Sorg Opera House in 2011, after WNKU-FM bought Middletown's WPFB-AM/FM

"I'm very confident it will succeed and move forward. There are so many good people involved," Miller says. His resignation is effective Aug. 31. He starts in Kansas on Sept. 16.

Soon after WNKU-FM bought Middletown's WPFB-AM/FM in 2011, he and his companion, Denise Brodsky, discovered the dilapidated 1,200-seat downtown theater designed by famed architect Samuel Hannaford for paper plant owner Paul J. Sorg. The Main Street theater opened in 1891, and later served as the Colonial (movie) Theater and a live performance venue.

Miller and a partner bought the theater, and attached four-story Commercial Building fronting Main Street, for $32,000 in 2012.  Miller and Brodsky, as secretary, were the visionaries leading the effort to acquire non-profit status for theSorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG).

Credit WVXU file
The drop ceiling installed for use as a movie theater was removed to expose the second balcony.

Since 2017, the SORG has hosted an eclectic mix of concerts by the Blue Wisp Big Band; Cincinnati Transit Authority (Chicago tribute band); Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers (bluegrass); the Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra; John Kay from Steppenwolf; the Bach Ensemble of St. Thomas; the Claudettes; "girl singers" Nancy James, Lynne Scott and Pam Mallory with the RL Big Band; Ann Hampton Callaway performing Linda Ronstadt songs;  Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials; Dayton Jazz Orchestra; Fenwick High School's production of "Beauty and the Beast"; and the "Chicago Plays the Stones" blues performance by Ronnie Baker Brooks and Billy Branch.

"We want to thank Chuck for his seven years of dedicated service which involves many significant accomplishments including renovating and reopening Middletown's historic theater," says Chris Riva, a SORG board member and former WCPO-TV morning anchor.

Under Miller's leadership the old opera house received a donation of 985 seats from Cincinnati's Music Hall; removed a drop ceiling exposing a second balcony; and got state funding for installation of air-conditioning and heating, and making electrical improvements, Riva says. He led volunteers in cleaning and repairing the building, installing the seats and painting the theater's interior.

Credit Nick Graham
Seats from Music Hall were donated to the Sorg in 2016.
Credit John Kiesewetter
Bandleader John Phillip Sousa's two visits to the Sorg are noted on a bronze plaque in the lobby.

The theater, in which John Phillip Sousa performed in in 1898 and 1919, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Brodsky also has resigned as SORG secretary to accompany Miller to Kansas. She "has been critical" in the SORG's fund-raising, development and volunteer efforts, Riva says. Brodsky also has resigned her position with Lifespan, a Hamilton nonprofit recently merged with Community First Solutions.

"The Sorg Opera House would not be where it is today without Chuck and Denise's commitment and passion. We celebrate their efforts and vow to carry on the mission of fully restoring this wonderful theater," says Riva, who operates Riva Strategic Media.

The Sorg wouldn't have come this far without lots of volunteers, Miller says.

"We met a lot of good people. There are hundreds of people to thank,"  he says. "It's been a grind – but it's been a treat."

Credit WVXU file
The Sorg stage was decorated for Halloween for its 2017 reopening concert with the Blue Wisp Big Band.

In the "next few months," the SORG board will search for a new president and secretary, Riva says. "During the transition, it is our priority to find the best individual to lead, while still maintaining a stable and effective organization," Riva says.

The fall concert series includes Aja!, a Steely Dan tribute band (Sept. 21); Ralph Stanley II & the Clinch Moutain Boys (Sept. 27); Coco Montoya (Oct. 24); the Cincinnati Transit Authority (Oct. 26) and "Tradin' Toons Two!" with the Blue Birds Big Band and G. Miles & the HItmen.

Credit John Kiesewetter

Early in his career, Miller lived in Hutchinson while working as a producer for KHCC Radio Kansas.

The art deco Fox Theater, which opened in 1931,was designated as the "State Movie Palace in Kansas" by the legislature in 1984. Operated as a non-profit, the theater has two full-time staff, six part-time workers and about 85 volunteers. It also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Miller left WNKU-FM in spring 2014 as the university was elimating 35 staff positions and 14 faculty positions in a $2.5-million budget cut. Two years later, NKU began selling its radio stations.

Miller and Brodsky told the board Monday, Aug. 19, they were leaving at the end of the month.

"Again, we cannot thank Chuck and Denis enough for their dedication, passion and motivation. They will be greatly missed by the staff, board, members and partners alike," Riva says.

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.