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Happy Birthday, Nick Clooney!

Courtesy WCET-TV
Nick Clooney started his career at a Maysville, Ky., radio station in 1952 while attending high school.

This story was posted Jan. 13, 2020. 

Happy 86th birthday to Nick Clooney, the generous Cincinnati broadcasting icon, born on Jan. 13, 1934, in Maysville, Ky.

Clooney likes to joke that most of his life he's been known as George Clooney's father orsinger Rosemary Clooney'sbaby brother.

The truth is that Nick Clooney is a legendary TV star in Cincinnati who has enjoyed success nationally hosting a 1973 ABC game show and American Movie Classics films (1994-2000); doing interviews for the American Life TV network; reporting from the Darfur civil war with George; and co-hosting fundraising music specials on PBS. He has also been a generous supporter of Greater Cincinnati arts, culture and charities.

Credit Courtesy American Life TV
George and Nick Clooney reported on the civil war in Darfur in 2006 for American Life TV.

His Cincinnati credits include being a DJ on WLW-AM radio; hosting variety shows on WLWT-TV, WKRC-TV and WCPO-TV in the late 1960s and early 1970s; anchoring WKRC-TV's newscasts in the 1970s and '80s; returning to radio in the 1990s to host big band music on WCKY-AM and WSAI-AM until 2002; and writing columns for the Cincinnati Post. He was honored as a Great Living Cincinnatian in 2012.

"I never had any specific goal except to be in broadcasting," Clooney told me when I interviewed him in 2010 for a WCET-TV five-part series called Clooney on Clooney.  Clooney started his career in 1952, while attending Maysville's St. Patrick's High School, at WFTM-AM, which stood for "World's Finest Tobacco Market."

Credit John Kiesewetter archives
Nick Clooney hosted a WCPO-TV variety show from 1969 to 1972.

"We actually sat down (in the 1940s) and watched the radio, and listened to those magic voices coming out of it. From the earliest days, I wanted to be one of those (voices),” Clooney said.

And he was – and much more – in career spanning six decades.

Clooney anchored a nationally syndicated daily court show called On Trial in 1988 (three years before the premiere of the Court TV cable network); taught journalism at American University in Washington, D.C.; wrote a book, The Movies That Changed Us (2001); hosted the "Reel Journalism" movie series in Washington; eulogized close friend Walter Cronkite in 2009; and anchored local newscasts at KNBC-TV Los Angeles (1984-86); WLAP-TV Lexington, Ky. (1961-66); KSTU-TV Salt Lake City; (1991-93) and WGRZ-TV Buffalo (1994).

Credit White House photo
Nick Clooney interviewing President Gerald Ford in 1976.

The father of an Oscar-winning son also dabbled as an actor in the 1950s, appearing in a handful of Hollywood movies.  One of my favorite Clooney stories is how he lost a movie audition in 1957 to Michael Landon – for the lead role in I Was A Teenage Werewolf.  (More than 50 years later, George convinced his father to make a cameo in his The Monuments Men in 2014.)

"Being yourself on camera is a difficult thing to do," Clooney told me. "I don’t know how people really become someone else as well as they do. It’s remarkable for me to see George do that."

Credit Courtesy Rosemary Clooney House
Nick on the Armed Forces Radio Network in 1955.

His failure to find a broadcasting job in Los Angeles in the 1950s after his Armed Forces Radio Network service resulted in Clooney moving back to Kentucky to anchor news in Lexington, where he married Nina Warren, a former beauty queen. Clooney came to Cincinnati's WLW-AM in 1966 to appear on Ruth Lyons' 50-50 Club, which became the Bob Braun Show after Lyons' 1967 retirement. He left to host his own noon variety show, competing with Braun, on Channels 9 and 12.

After ending his Channel 12 variety show in 1975, he returned to the station a year later to anchor its last-place newscasts.

"When I got there, Channel 12 was fourth at 11 p.m., because Channel 19 had on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman … The most rewarding was the work at Channel 12 news. And it was the hardest, by far. Those were 15-16 hour days," he said.

Credit Courtesy WKRC-TV
Clooney was the main WKRC-TV news anchor from 1976 to 1984, and from 1986 to 1988.

By 1982, Clooney's Channel 12 newscast was No. 1, ending Al Schottelkotte's 22-year dominance at Channel 9. He was rewarded in 1984 with an anchor deal at KNBC-TV, NBC's Los Angeles owned-and-operated affiliate.

On WCET-TV in 2010, Clooney modestly assessed his career this way: "I’m not the best broadcaster in Cincinnati history, but I had the most versatile career."

Those who worked with Nick would disagree. He's one of the best in Greater Cincinnati broadcasting history, without any doubt. Happy birthday, Nick!

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.