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After 35 Years, It's 'Pitts Off' For Gary Burbank's Earl Pitts

John Kiesewetter
Gary Burbank, who retired from WLW-AM in 2007, tapes his finale Earl Pitts commentary this week.

You know what makes me sick? It's hearing that Gary Burbank is ending his nationally syndicated Earl Pitts redneck commentaries after 35 years.

Credit Courtesy
Gary Burbank as Earl Pitts.

"I'm almost 80 years old!" Burbank says by phone from his Florida home. The popular WLW-AM afternoon host has continued doing the two-minute weekday Pitts comedy bits after retiring from the station 13 years ago this month.

Burbank this week will voice the last new commentaries from Pitts, the blue-collar, right-thinking, ultra-conservative "Uhmerikun." Each commentary begins with Pitts complaining, "You know what makes me sick?" and ends with "Pitts off!"

The Pitts bits, which air at 5:22 a.m. weekdays on WLW-AM, will remain in syndication in 2021, repeating the best bits from his archives, he says.

Credit Courtesy Chad Lambert

Pitts was just one of many characters Burbank did on radio here after he was hired from Louisville in 1980. A parody Pitts campaign for Ohio governor in 1986, running "against" Democrat Richard Celeste and Republican Jim Rhodes, made Pitts the star of Burbank's afternoon show. The campaign was launched with a huge rally at a Cincinnati brewery.

"Earl didn't like Donald Trump, because he says Trump stole his act. Earl used to do rallies," Burbank says.

Burbank, who turned 79 last July, has sustained one of the nation's longest-running syndicated comedy bits with contributions by writers Rob Ervin, Jim Probasco, Tim Mizak, Kel Crum, J.D. Riggs and Todd Richmond. 

Credit John Kiesewetter
Gary Burbank in 2016.

"They send me the copy. I rewrite and edit them to make them sound like me. I try to do a couple every Tuesday, and the rest on Wednesday. I don't want it to feel like it was work, doing them all in one day," he says. "This is my last week doing them, and we'll have enough (new) stuff to take us to the first of the year."

After he packs up Pitts scripts, Burbank will jump into his next project – a podcast featuring the best of his beloved WLW-AM characters: befuddled Gilbert Gnarley's funny phone calls; Eunice and Bernice, the Siamese twins joined together at the telephone; newsman Dan Buckles; and TV pitchman Big Fat Balding Guy With A Stubby Cigar In His Mouth And His Pants Half-Zipped.

"I've got about 15 shows written out, using the old bits that are still funny. They're all on a hard drive. The fidelity is great. I must have a thousand 'Gilberts,' and I didn't know that," says Burbank, who did six to eight original comedy pieces a day on his three-hour WLW-AM radio show for 25 years.

Burbank rarely appeared as his characters in public. He performed them for a half-hour special on WCPO-TV in 1990, which can be seen on his Pittsoff website. He also has appeared as Pitts in recent years riding in Tampa's Gasparilla Pirate Festival parade.

"My stuff is theater of the mind. I want people to use their minds – or not use it," he says.

Burbank was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) before he left WLW-AM in 2007.

"I’m feeling okay. I'm going to be 80 years old, and I can't count on being totally well forever," he says. "I still think like a kid. I act like a kid. And all of the sudden I look in the mirror and say, 'I'm how old?' "

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.