A Last Tip Of The 'Sportlight' Cap To Sportscaster Bill Meridith
It's the final time in the Sportlight for Bill Meridith, the long-time WCIN-AM sports director. He died at his Fairfield home Wednesday, May 12, at 94.
Meridith brought some of the biggest names in sports to the airwaves of arguably Cincinnati's smallest station: Baseball icon Jackie Robinson; Hall of Famer pitcher Bob Gibson; 1978 National League MVP and Cincinnati native Dave Parker; and coaches Sam Wyche, Pete Gillen, Jim Anderson and Tony Yates, to name a few.
For years he broadcast high school basketball and football games for WCIN-AM with a variety of partners, including introducing Xavier University radio announcer Joe Sunderman to radio. He also did the first play-by-play of high school basketball on Cincinnati's new cable TV system, Warner-Amex cable (now Spectrum) in December 1981.
And he did all this as a part-time job around his full-time position as a Cincinnati Public School teacher and/or administrator.
"Bill Meridith covered high school sports like no other sports reporter in Cincinnati," said Lincoln Ware, longtime friend and former coworker. "He covered basketball and football with games live from the different schools. He even sold advertising so that the games could be broadcast live."
"With all that being said he was just a great human being," Ware said.
Meridith scored an interview with Robinson, the first Black player in Major League Baseball's modern era, when Robinson attended Game 2 of the Reds-Oakland A's 1972 World Series at Riverfront Stadium. It was the final public appearance for Robinson, 53, who died nine days later. Meridith's interview is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame archives.
When I was the Enquirer's TV/radio columnist, Meridith would call whenever he had booked a special guest for his Saturday morning Sportlight talk show. He was humble and unassuming, despite all he had accomplished for the station which was the voice for Cincinnati's African-American residents for nearly 50 years. And this old newspaper guy loved that he closed his sports shows by saying "30," the journalism shorthand for "end" dating back to an 1850's Western Union telegraph code.
Sunderman, Xavier's basketball voice on radio for 40 years, owes his broadcasting career to Meridith. The LaSalle High School and XU grad did his first game as a radio commentator – reluctantly – when Meridith invited him to do WCIN-AM's LaSalle-Elder game in the 1970s.
"I really didn’t want to do it, and Bill was kind of insistent about it," Sunderman once told me.
When Sunderman arrived for the game, he asked Bill what he should do during the broadcast.
"He laughed and said: 'It’s simple. When I tap on the table, you talk. And when I tap again, then you quit talking and shut up.' And he would do that. And if you’ve never done radio broadcasting in that situation, it was pretty helpful. I knew about 10 minutes into it I was enjoying that situation a lot more than I ever thought I would. I was enjoying myself, and working with Bill, he made it easy. I enjoyed it quite a bit," Sunderman said.
"He was a very good mentor. What a great man, a wonderful influence to have. Of course, he did high school games and he did Xavier games. He was a former coach. He had a great sports program on Saturday, the Sportlight," Sunderman said.
Meridith was head coach of the Aiken High School boys' varsity basketball team in 1963. (That's all I could learn about his coaching experience.) Two years later, he began working part-time for WCIN-AM when he was Cincinnati Public Schools' supervisor of athletics in 1965.
Enquirer TV/radio columnist Steve Hoffman wrote in 1971: "WCIN's part-time sports director, Bill Meridith, will have his busiest fall at the soul station since beginning there six years ago. Before he begins his assistant principal chores at Cincinnati's Campbell Junior High School, Meridith does a 6:30 a.m. taping of two-minute sports reports for WCIN's Newswatch 7:50 and 8:50 a.m. broadcasts. His Sportlight continues in the 7:05-7:15 p.m. weekday slot. With football starting, Meridith's Prep Scoreboard is a 10:40-10:55 p.m. Friday feature."
In 1972 – four years before Bob Trumpy, the so-called "Father of Cincinnati sports talk" started a weekly sports talk show on WCKY-AM – Enquirer radio columnist Magee Adams wrote that Meridith was a "dependable source of sports talk" who "gives local scholastic sports a fair shake."
Meridith went to Reds spring training in Sarasota in 1996 for a week, and did six reports a day for WCIN-AM. He was praised in 2000 by Enquirer sportswriter John Fay for being the only Cincinnati radio reporter in Sarasota when Ken Griffey Jr. reported to the Reds camp after his trade from Seattle. Fay noted that Reds flagship WLW-AM, and sports talk competitors WBOB-AM and WCKY-AM (HOMER 1530), weren't there.
Like with Sunderman, Meridith drew on his long list of contacts to join him on radio broadcasts. His radio partners for basketball playoff games included Roger Bacon basketball coach Hep Cronin (father of future UC coach Mick Cronin) and Elder coach Paul Frey.
Meridith also broadcast Princeton High School football games for several years; the 1974 Enquirer/WKRC All-Star games for high school basketball, baseball and football players; and the 1972 UC-Xavier football game.
For most of the past 10 years (or more), I'd regularly see Bill at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Fairfield with his wife Jo. Often he'd drive to church wearing his black "Sportlight" ball cap.
Services for Meridith are private. You can give Bill a tip of the Sportlight cap at the Paul R. Young Funeral Home website.