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Friends, Former Co-Workers Remember Pat Barry

pat barry
Courtesy Bina Roy
A celebration of Pat Barry's life will be held at a later date.

Update 9 a.m. Tuesday Feb. 23:  Jerry Springer called from his Sarasota home to talk about his old pal Pat Barry, and told me how and why Pat left radio to become WLWT-TV's main weatherman in 1984. It was Springer's idea.

Springer says he suggested to general manager Tony Kiernan that they hire Barry in an attempt to replicate the success of Willard Scott, NBC's hugely popular Today show weatherman who was not a meteorologist.

Credit Courtesy Brinke Guthrie

"Pat Barry was a big name on local radio, on Q102. Instead of hiring a meteorologist, I told Tony, 'Why not spice up our newscasts with this big, funny, boisterous personality? He could be our Willard Scott.' "

When Springer saw Barry at a local restaurant and mentioned his idea, Barry wasn't convinced. "I don't know a thing about the weather." Springer persisted by saying, "You've got this out-sized personality. I tell you, you're going to rock." Barry got the job, and in three years the Springer-Norma Rashid-Barry team was No. 1.

Twenty years later they hooked up again. I had forgotten that Barry was a producer on Jerry Springer's national Air America radio show 2005-06 broadcast from WCKY-AM at Clear Channel's (now iHeartMedia) Kenwood studios.

"Pat knew radio and I didn't. He helped produce it. He was there every day. He was a great mentor on how to do radio, and he knew everyone in the business," Springer says.

"It's hard to think of Cincinnati without Pat Barry. It's shocking. It happened so suddenly," Springer says. "He was always happy. He was always laughing, the life of the party. It's hard to believe. You always think it's going to be someone else."

Original post 3 p.m. Monday Feb. 22: Tributes filled the airwaves and Facebook this weekend after beloved radio/TV personality Pat Barry died of COVID-19 Saturday. He was 69.

Barry – whose career spanned five decades on WKRQ-TV, WLWT-TV, WXIX-TV and 10 other stations – will be cremated and interred in a private ceremony adjacent to his parents in his hometown of Springfield, Ohio.

A celebration of his life "and all things Pat" will be held later, says Denny Janson, longtime friend and former sports anchor at WCPO-TV and WKRC-TV.

I can't wait to hear the stories. Everyone has a story about Pat. Below are some of them.

Credit Courtesy Al Kenyon
WKRQ-FM engineer Al Kenyon (left), Randy Michaels and Pat Barry in 1975.

"My friends have told me one hundred (stories) today," Reds Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench told me Sunday. "People from all across the country. We will never see another like him. He brightened our lives so much." Barry, who never married, often spent Christmas and other holidays with Bench, whose three sons called him "Uncle Pat."

"Never have I known anyone who could make me laugh so uncontrollably. Who was so appreciated by so many people. When I first met him, he gleefully drew my attention to his vanity license plate: 'Big Kid' it read, and he was that and more. Bigger than life and the best friend anyone could ask for," Bench said in a  statement released after his death.

He had a big, booming voice to match his larger than life personality, and even bigger heart. He seemed to know everyone, and generously gave to them – a joke to brighten their day, career advice, support for their projects or in their time of need. (Here are my Pat Barry stories: After the death of retired Enquirer columnist Jim Knippenberg in 2009, he helped Mary Armor, several of Knip's coworkers and me establish an endowed University of Cincinnati scholarship in Knip's name with several fundraisers, including a reunion of his WLWT-TV Jerry Springer-Norma Rashid anchor team. After the death of my father in 2012, he drove up to the Middletown funeral home for the visitation and expressed his condolences in person.)

Credit John Kiesewetter
Pat Barry reporting from Findlay Market for Fox Sports Ohio's Opening Day Parade telecast.

"It's unbelievable how many people Pat touched, and when you think of all the times you spent with him, you realize how deep of a friendship you had," says David Ashbrock, who directed Barry on WXIX-TV newscasts and Fox Sports Ohio's Opening Day parades for years. "So many of us have lost a very good friend. 

"Pat was genuine. And he was like that every day. He would do anything for anybody, and enjoy doing it. He had a heart of gold," Ashbrock says. Although Barry met with many entertainers who came to town for concerts or radio promotions, it was "uncanny that Pat never 'big-timed' anybody or made them feel like he was in any way superior to them."

Ashbrock and Barry exchanged texts every Christmas. Barry's 2020 message to Ashbrock ended by saying, "Grateful to have you as my friend."

Credit Courtesy Chris O'Brien
Pat Barry with Chris O'Brien in the Q102 studio in 1977.

WGRR-FM morning co-host Chris O'Brien, who started at WKRQ-FM a couple weeks before Barry in March 1974, says Barry "was the same then as the last time I saw him, at a pre-COVID event: Laughing, hand extended, a friend from the start. I think that defines his popularity. Being so outgoing, Pat was someone you definitely noticed. Boisterous? Maybe, such a big heart. We never, in nearly 47 years, had a falling out.

"I just can’t wrap my head around him not being here among us. No one loved living life more than Pat,"  says O'Brien, who posted a half dozen photos on his Facebook page from their years at the station. (I'm using some of his pictures on this post with his permission.)

"He never had a cloudy day," says Janeen Coyle, O'Brien's wife and WGRR-FM co-host, who worked with Barry at Q102 in the 1980s.

Credit Courtesy Chris O'Brien
Chris O'Brien, Janeen Coyle and Pat Barry at the 2015 Opening Day parade.

Barry started in radio at 16 at Springfield's WIZE-AM while in high school. He came to Cincinnati in 1974 for a brief stint at WSAI-AM before bursting on WKRQ-FM's airwaves. He left Q102 at the peak of his popularity for television, becoming weatherman for Channel 5's Springer-Rashid team. He would spend the next four decades on WXIX-TV as weatherman and morning co-host; on WLW-AM, WKRC-AM, WMOJ-FM, WDJO-FM, WNKR-FM/WNKN-FM doing talk, oldies, R&B or country formats; and as a reporter or co-anchor on Fox Sports Ohio's Opening Day parades. He also worked for Indianapolis and Tampa stations.

"Pat was always fun and entertaining in a way only he could make it," says WXIX-TV chief meteorologist Steve Horstemeyer, who worked with Barry in Channel 5's weather department.

Three years after Barry replaced longtime meteorologist Tony Sands – with a big boost from NBC's "Must See" TV hits (Cosby, Cheers, Family Ties, L.A. Law) – the Springer-Rashid-Barry team was Cincinnati's top-rated 11 p.m. newscast.

Credit Courtesy Brinke Guthrie
Pat Barry in the Q102 studio in early 1980s.

"He was a great guy. He always had time to be friendly and courteous to everyone he ever met. I am sure Pat is in heaven right now making everyone smile and feel special," said former WLWT-TV videographer Scott Hecht, now a senior producer/manager for Syracuse University athletic productions, in a Facebook comment.

Rashid posted: "Really gonna miss this guy. With that unmistakable laugh and a personality to match, Pat Barry is a true Cincinnati broadcast legend."

On TV, Barry clicked with viewers through his very genuine "big brother" role with Rashid, Tricia Macke and other anchors.  Although he never married, Barry had "a coterie of female friends and associates who thought of him as a big brother/defender," said a "commemoration" released by his friends after he died. "And he was always more than willing to offer advice and guidance to young women and men who were pursuing broadcasting careers of their own. The industry is replete with Pat Barry mentees."

Credit Courtesy Bina Roy

Barry was one of the first to welcome reporter Bina Roy when she was hired by Channel 5 in 2004.

"I always think of him as the mayor of Cincinnati. It seemed like there wasn't anybody in town he didn't know," says Roy, (at right with Barry) who also worked with Barry on Jerry Springer's national radio show and when he did fill-in weather at Dayton's WKEF-TV/WRGT-TV. They kept in touch when she moved to Chicago. He attended her wedding in 2008; went to the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson launch party for Antenna TV with her in 2016 in Chicago; and did Cincinnati vignettes for the Antenna TV airing of  WKRP In Cincinnati, she says.

"Pat was a great friend. He loved people and had a zest for life which made him easy to love. He never met a stranger. Pat was more like family. He was the uncle who showed up at our house with too many presents for our kid. I'd tell him he was spoiling the kid rotten. With that big grin on his face, Pat would say, 'Does he stink yet?' There was a realness to Pat. My life is richer for knowing Pat."

Credit Courtesy Pat Barry

John Phillips, former helicopter traffic reporter for WLW-AM and WKRC-AM, was one of many young broadcasters "adopted" by Barry. They first met while Phillips was a Xavier University intern working as a Channel 12 floor director in 1975, a year after Barry started on sister station Q102.

"Pat said I should come down to the Q, and I did. He adopted me and that's how our friendship -- and really my career -- started.  I was a puppy back then, he taught me a lot about how things worked. Not just the technical stuff, but about the politics and egos. I went to record hops with Pat and when he and Jim Fox had more than they could handle, I took over playing records at Yesterday's Wonderful Old Saloon in Mount Adams. I had that gig for 11 years and it really helped me learn to connect with the audience," Phillips says.

Credit Courtesy Chris O'Brien
A Q012 staff photo from 1976 (from left): Mark Elliott on Mark Sebastian's back, Chris O'Brien on Pat Barry; Bruce Ryan on Tony Galluzzo; and Jim Fox on Doug Coffey.

Despite working on the AM side, Phillips was included in many WKRQ-FM softball games, canoe trips and other activities. "Pat was the spark plug, but it's worth noting that the atmosphere which allowed it was all due to Randy Michaels," the Q102 program director who later ran WLW-AM, Jacor and Clear Channel Communications.

Barry seemingly knew everyone in the area radio/TV landscape. He told Meghan Mongillo, then a Fox 19 reporter, about an anchor opening in Dayton. She got the gig. He once helped Phillips pursue a weather position at Channel 12.  

"Pat took me to Channel 5 when he was the weather guy there to make a tape of me trying to do the weather. He thought I might have a shot (at Channel 12) since people associated traffic and weather together. I was horrible, but he was very encouraging," Phillips says.

Janson, who was one of several close friends who disseminated regular updates on Barry's nearly month-long struggle with COVID-19, says the "outpouring of concern, prayers and best wishes was astounding to even those of us who thought we were aware of Pat's broad and deep connection with people from all walks of life. Little did we know … He would be so gratified to know that so many cared so deeply."

Credit Courtesy Chris O'Brien

To  all of Barry's fans and friends, Janson offered this suggestion to keep Pat's spirit alive in their hearts: "Be kind to someone. Greet them with a smile. Try to make them laugh or lighten their burden in some way. Do something unexpectedly goofy. That's what Pat did as a matter of course and would undoubtedly be his preferable legacy."

Memorial contributions may be made to WLWT-TV's Ruth Lyons' Children's Fund,P.O. Box 59, Cincinnati 45201, which he promoted while at Channel 5. It "was the most consequential role he ever had his broadcasting," according to his friends' "commemoration" statement. Memorial contributions also can be made to the Society of St. Vincent DePaul,1125 Bank St., Cincinnati, 45214.

A celebration of life will "take place when we won't be hobbled by the scourge that claimed his and the lives of far too many others," Janson 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.