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Promotion guru and former radio producer Rich Walburg dies of leukemia

Rich Walburg headshot Game Day 2022 crop.jpg
Game Day Communications
Rich Walburg joined Game Day Communications in 2019 from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.

A celebration of life is set for Rich Walburg, who did marketing and media relations for Oktoberfest, Taste of Cincinnati, BLINK and Game Day Communications after producing award-winning talk shows on WLW-AM.

THURSDAY, JAN. 20 UPDATE: A celebration of life for Rich Walburg, the Game Day Communications media and creative services director and former radio producer who always loved a bit of foolishness, has been scheduled for April Fool's Day at the Holy Grail at the Banks, 161 Joe Nuxhall Way.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at St. John Neumann Church, 12191 Mill Road, Pleasant Run. It will be live streamed on the St. John Neumann website.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Animal Friends Humane Society, 1820 Princeton Road, Hamilton, OH 45011.

A Richard Walburg Media Scholarship was established last week at the University of Cincinnati, his alma mater. Donations can be made online here. Donors should type "Richard Walburg" in the line requesting a specific department or program. Or checks may be mailed for the Richard Walburg Scholarship to CCM, ATTN: Development & Alumni Relations, PO Box 210003, Cincinnati, OH 45221.

Here's a link to his obituary.

ORIGINAL POST JAN. 11, 2022: You might not know the name Rich Walburg, but no doubt you've been touched by his genius promoting Oktoberfest, Taste of Cincinnati or BLINK… Or heard his clever "Showbiz Stuff" entertainment reports on Jim Scott's radio show… Or Marty Brennaman's "Elvis Fun Facts" during Reds games… Or the guests and topics he arranged for WLW-AM's award-winning talk shows.

Or maybe you're still trying to find Daniel's Dove Range in Delhi Township, the fake gun club Walburg created for a WLW-AM promotion.

Walburg, the WKRQ-FM and WLW-AM alum who did marketing and media relations for Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, the National MS Society's Ohio Valley Chapter and Game Day Communications, died of leukemia overnight. He was 55.

"Rich was in radio for over three decades. You can't tell the history of Cincinnati radio without telling the story of Rich Walburg," says WLW-AM sports talk host Mo Egger, his close friend. "He did everything."

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Courtesy Jim Scott
Rich Walburg (left) with retired WLW-AM morning host Jim Scott and sports talk host Mo Egger.

"Rich was about the funniest person I know. I don't know of anyone who wasn't friends with him. He was a great guy," say Scott, WLW-AM's longtime morning host.

The Northwest High School and University of Cincinnati graduate started working at WKRQ-FM in 1988, after graduating from UC. He produced Q102's morning show and served as assistant news director until 1993, when he jumped to WLW-AM to produce Scott's morning show. Soon he started doing a daily cheeky entertainment report at 5:45 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. called "Showbiz Stuff."

His first taste of the entertainment industry came in 1983, when he started working at Kings Island before his senior year in high school. He was a seasonal employee there through 1991, and was inducted into the Kings Island Hall of Fame in 2009.

For many of his 18 years at WLW-AM, Walburg was assistant program director under Darryl Parks and executive producer for all talk shows. During his tenure, Jim Scott and Bill Cunningham won prestigious Marconi Awards for best broadcast personality from the National Association of Broadcasters.

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Courtesy Game Day Communications
Rich Walburg at the Cincinnati Zoo with Fiona.

"He was bright, committed and connected to Cincinnati. All of us at 700 WLW remember him fondly and hold him in high regard – especially me," Cunningham told me.

Walburg "was responsible for all the show topics across the station, and scheduling. Basically, if a guest wanted on The Big One, you went through Rich," says Parks, who called Walburg his "partner and part of the inner circle that ran the station at that time."

Parks pulled back the curtain on how radio talk shows operate in explaining Walburg's influence:

"Few people know this, but as off-the-cuff and unplanned topics and content sounded in that era, the shows were often planned two and sometime three days ahead of airing. We wanted it to sound spontaneous. While he handled most of the station content, he worked directly with Jim (Scott), Mike (McConnell) and Willie (Cunningham) on topics and guests.

"We were amused about how people thought things would just happen. For example, Willie showed up at 11 or 11:30 each morning to go on the air at noon. Many thought he was planning his show in that short time. Truth is, it had been planned out, and then he and Rich would talk the night before, very early in the morning (as Rich would be in around 6 a.m.) and then meet again before going on the air. The next day of Jim's show was actually produced as soon as he got off the air. His Tuesday show was produced on Monday morning."

When listeners "heard something on WLW that was good, Rich's fingerprints were on it," says Egger about his mentor. "He was the most creative idea person I've ever been around. All the hosts will say he made their talk shows better, and that he made them better. He taught me everything I know about radio."

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Courtesy Game Day Communications
Rich Walburg wearing a Little Kings crown while promoting a Cincinnati event for Game Day Communications.

Other than "Showbiz Stuff," and his "World Wide Walburg" reports during the early years of the internet, Walburg usually didn't get credit for content listeners enjoyed. After Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall put an Elvis bus in the Reds radio booth in 1996, Walburg and Reds radio producer Dave "Yiddy" Armbruster wrote an "Elvis Fun Fact" for Brennaman to read during every game through the 1997 season.

In reaction to a news story about Cincinnati's overpopulation of doves, Walburg created a bit about a Saturday morning dove shoot at the fictional Daniel's Dove Range in Delhi Township at the intersection of two roads that don't intersect.

"People were driving all over and couldn't find the location. It was all theater of the mind," says Armbruster, sports operations director for WLW-AM and Cincinnati's other iHeartMedia radio station. "Rich was just a good guy. Everyone in the (media) industry knew him. He lived such a good life. It's too bad that this happened to him."

Walburg was known in every newsroom in town for arranging media coverage for Taste of Cincinnati, Oktoberfest and other chamber events, and since 2019 for promotions orchestrated by Game Day Communications.

"He always had a smile and a lot of joy when he would come to WGRR, even on those very early mornings, with Frisch's pumpkin pies at Halloween, beer and pretzels for Oktoberfest or Taste of Cincinnati," says Chris O'Brien, co-host of WGRR-FM's morning show with his wife Janeen Coyle.

"Rich was a professional in every way but with a quick sense of humor. I can't imagine not joking with him again," O'Brien says.

WXIX-TV reporter Lauren Artino said in a Facebook comment that "Rich was one of the best. He was always so kind, helpful, willing to do whatever needed to make our stories flawless."

Walburg emailed newsrooms a daily "Game Day Early AM Stories" newsletter offering media availabilities daily until late September, when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He was amazed at all the get well wishes he received after being admitted to Christ Hospital.

"This has been scary, but I'm going to take care of business," he emailed me from Christ Hospital Sept. 30. "I'm really overwhelmed by all the kindness."

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Courtesy Mo Egger
From left: Mo Egger, Dennis Janson, Marty Brennaman, Dan Hoard and Rich Walburg gathered for a photo when Brennaman was honored by the MS Society when Walburg was local MS Society communications director.

He returned to work after Thanksgiving. When I sent him a note after receiving his "Game Day Early AM Stories" newsletter, he told me that "God willing, I'm back on a very limited basis. Still many treatments ahead." The last morning tip sheet from Walburg in my inbox was dated Dec. 7. The Game Day Communications announcement said that Walburg is survived by his wife, Cindy.

Social media Tuesday was filled with comments about Walburg from friends across the nation.

Tim "The Big Dog" Lewis, a former Cincinnati sports talk host living in Utah, said that "Rich was undoubtedly one of THE best people God put on this Earth! He personified his name…as he was RICH in character, professionalism and love for his craft. He will definitely leave a void."

News anchor Jessica Brown, who left WXIX-TV for Boston last summer, called Walburg "such an amazing person and the best to work with."

Former WLW-AM coworker Paul Mason, now operations manager for Cumulus Media in Nashville, said that Walburg was "one of the classiest and best people in our industry. I never heard anyone say a bad thing about him."

Retired WCPO-TV reporter Tom McKee said: "What a loss of a terrific communicator and great person! Always enjoyed talking with him about unique angles for stories."

UC and Bengals radio announcer Dan Hoard called Walburg, a huge Bearcats basketball fan, "as quick-witted as anybody I’ve ever met and a such a great person."

Days before UC's football playoff game New Year's Eve, Walburg was texting with WXIX-TV meteorologist Frank Marzullo, who was reporting from Dallas before the big game. Walburg wanted to make sure Marzullo knew the UC logo projected on a Dallas hotel was called the C-paw.

"This one really hit all of us in the newsroom really hard. Not only would he do anything to make our television segments the best they can be to show off Cincinnati, but he was always willing to send a text or email sharing some fun nugget I could use even on segments that had nothing to do with him," Marzullo tells me.

Marzullo says he's sure that "Rich is planning media coverage for The Taste Of Heaven or Oktoberfest At The Gates this afternoon."

Funeral arrangements and a celebration of life will be shared as finalized, according to Game Day Communications.

A Richard Walburg Media Scholarship was established Tuesday at the University of Cincinnati. Friends may donate online here.  Donors should type "Richard Walburg" in the line requesting a specific department or program.

Or contributions by check may be mailed for the Richard Walburg Scholarship to CCM, ATTN: Development & Alumni Relations, PO Box 210003, Cincinnati, OH 45221.