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Harry Traynor's Legacy: New Beverly Hills Fire Documentary

Courtesy Greg Tatum
Former WKRC-TV assignment editor Harry Traynor died this week at 72.

Former WKRC-TV producer Harry Traynor died this week, two months after completing a new documentary about the 1977 Beverly Hills Supper Club fire which killed 165 people.

Fire On The Hill: Memories Of The Beverly Hills Tragedy, a combination of new interviews and WKRC-TV video from the fire, was telecast on CitiCable last month, making it eligible for a regional Emmy Award.

Traynor—who worked for WKRC television and radio, WSAI-AM and ABC News over four decades—was trying to get the film on public television, says David Striet of I & Eye Productions, who edited Fire On The Hill for his longtime friend.

"He came to us at the end of 2019 with this project. I'm glad we got it done. He had never won an Emmy, and he wanted to win one," says Striet, who worked at Channel 12 in the 1980s and '90s.

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Traynor, a Fort Wright resident in his early 70s, was WKRC-TV's longtime assignment editor. He enticed many of his former Channel 12 coworkers to help on the 30-minute film: anchors Nick Clooney, Kit Andrews and Randy Little; reporters Howard Ain and Joanne Moore; and videographers Mike Benedic, Jerry Klein and Ray Pfeffer.

The centerpiece is video of Clooney returning to the club's former location with retired Southgate Fire Chief Dick Reisenberg in November 2019 at Traynor's request. Fire On The Hill includes video from WKRC-TV's live fire coverage; photographs; Campbell County dispatchers' conversations with firefighters; and new interviews with current Southgate Fire Chief John Baetsch, retired Newport Fire Chief Ralph Quitter and Pastor Eugene Barbour of Erlanger United Methodist Church. Andrews narrates the film.

Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU
A historical marker on Alexandria Pike (U.S. 127) just east of I-275 marks the location of the Beverly Hills Supper Club.

Striet last exchanged emails with Traynor shortly before Christmas, when Traynor wanted DVD copies of the show.

"He was not in good health but powered through the challenges as he finished his documentary," says Little, whose 6 p.m. newscasts were produced by Traynor in the 1980s. Traynor wrote most of the newscast for anchors to read, and decided what order stories would be presented, Little says.

"Harry was always focused on the story and made sure it was accurate and balanced. He was a great writer," Little says. "I hope he gets an Emmy for his documentary. It would have been his first."

The Washington, D.C., native came to Xavier as a freshman in 1968. He worked at Xavier student station WCXU in news, sales and as station manager, then got involved with WVXU-FM when the station signed on in October 1970 his senior year.  After college, he worked for WKRC-AM as a news reader and DJ before joining WSAI-AM. For WSAI-AM he covered both the city and county government in the mid-1970s, dashing back and forth from City Hall to the Hamilton County Courthouse with his briefcase containing a microphone, tape recorder and note pads.

"He was our primary street reporter," says Joe Gillespie of Charlotte, N.C., a WSAI-AM news anchor in the 1970s. "He was the guy. He was everywhere. He covered everything."

Traynor left radio for Nick Clooney's WKRC-TV newsroom, where he was a reporter and producer before becoming assignment editor.

"We had a great run at Local 12 WKRC-TV (we were Eyewitness 12 back in those days) and Harry was the heart of the operation," says former producer Steve Doerr, a Connecticut resident and Meredith Corp. vice president. "Harry also was a really good friend and hilariously funny."

After WKRC-TV, he was an ABC News field producer.

Striet says he'll continue Traynor's efforts to get the 28-minute film on KET, or other public TV stations.

"His main goal was to get it on KET. He was trying to find a home for it somewhere," Striet says.

To learn more about the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire, here are links to mytwo-hour WVXU-FM specialand my blog for the 40th anniversary in May 2017.

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.