It Doesn't Get Any Better Than 'Swing' Host Bill Cartwright, Who Is Retiring
To use his favorite phrase, "it doesn't get any better than" Bill Cartwright.
Cartwright, 85, big band swing music host and longtime WVXU-FM Community Advisory Board member, retires after the broadcast of Swing with Bill Cartwright 10-11 p.m. Saturday.
Since 1996, Cartwright has hosted WVXU-FM's longest running show. Pete Rightmire started When Swing Was King at Xavier University in 1976, three years before the premiere of National Public Radio's Morning Edition.
When Xavier sold the station to Cincinnati Public Radio in 2005, Cartwright was hosting the show weekend afternoons. The music show will not continue. New programming will be announced next week.
"I love the songs. I love the artists," Cartwright says. "I love (Frank) Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller. Count Basie was absolutely amazing. I was just enamored with him."
Often the song would end, and listeners would hear Cartwright say, "It doesn't get any better than that!"
Cartwright grew up on a dairy farm on Greentee Road in Warren County, a few miles east of Middletown. He remembers listening to Middletown's WPFB-AM shortly after it signed on in 1947, before his family moved to Mariemont. After college, he worked in radio for three years in the late 1950s at WCKY-AM.
"I really loved radio, but I decided I wasn't very good at it," he said. He did newscasts at night during Nelson King's Hillbilly Hit Parade show.
Cartwright also did a recorded overnight show which was sponsored by Red Top Baby Chicks, which paid the station per inquiry. He'd read a two-minute commercial asking listeners "to send no money friends, but send your name and address to WCKY, Cincinnati 1, Ohio."
Sometimes WCKY-AM's 50,000-watt radio waves would "skip," or be reflected at night to distant locations, and the station would get mail from California, New Zealand, the Panama Canal Zone and northern Venezuela, he says.
He operated Cartwright Communications Company after WCKY-AM for years, selling two-way radio parts and equipment. When Cartwright sold his business, he "wandered in to WVXU-FM" on the Xavier campus and offered his services to General Manager Jim King.
"Not only did Bill Cartwright do When Swing Was King on WVXU on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, he also recorded a long series of shows that played on WVXA-FM in Rogers City, Michigan, when we had the X-Star network," says George Zahn, former WVXU-FM staffer now managing WMKV-FM.
Cartwright – who once didn't think he was very good at radio -- and Zahn rotated as weekday 6-9 a.m. hosts for Rogers City, inserting weather and other community information. After Xavier sold the station, parts of Studio D were installed in Cartwright's spare bedroom in Mariemont.
For his Saturday night Swing shows, Cartwright researched events of that week through history that he could mention. A painful back has prevented him from recording shows since December. The shows listeners have heard this year were from 2016, which matched closely to the 2021 calendar.
"I had put together a list of my favorite songs, if I could have done a final show. I'm in a lot of pain. It finally reached a point it was too painful," he says.
He now regrets talking about timely events on every show.
"Unfortunately my shows are dated with all that info about what happened on that day in history, which is a shame. I wish I didn't have that in there so they wouldn't be dated, because I think that the music will live forever."
His longtime commitment to public radio also resulted in Cartwright spending many years on Cincinnati Public Radio's Community Advisory Board, often as board chair.
"Bill is a listener, a long-time supporter – and more than that – a dear, dear friend to everyone at the station," said a WVXU staff memo about Bill's retirement. "We’re going to miss his dulcet tones, swinging tunes and tidbits of history he shares between sets, but we’ll continue to treasure his loyalty, wit and charm for many years to come. When it comes to Bill Cartwright, 'It doesn’t get much better than this!'"
John Kiesewetter's reporting is independent. Cincinnati Public Radio only edits his articles for style and grammar.