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For more than 30 years, John Kiesewetter has been the source for information about all things in local media – comings and goings, local people appearing on the big or small screen, special programs, and much more. Local media is still his beat and he’s bringing his interest, curiosity, contacts and unique style to Cincinnati Public Radio and 91.7 WVXU. Contact John at johnkiese@yahoo.com.

RIP NBA great Bill Russell, godfather of Cincinnati 'Sports Talk' radio

bill russell
Boston Celtics legendary center Bill Russell has a light moment while answering questions from members of the media after a Celtics team practice in Waltham, Mass., Oct. 11, 1999. The NBA great died at age 88. His family said on social media Russell died Sunday, July 31, 2022. Russell anchored a Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 titles in 13 years.

NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell, who died Sunday at 88, has been praised for his many achievements: 11 NBA championships, the first Black head coach for any major U.S. sport, his support for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali and other civil rights leaders, and offering advice to basketball stars from Julius Irving to Kobe Bryant.

I'll add one more to the list: He's the godfather of Cincinnati sports talk radio. Russell's California radio call-in show inspired Bob Trumpy — the father of Cincinnati's long-running weeknight sports talk franchise — to pitch a similar show here in the mid 1970s, while Trumpy was still playing for the Bengals.

"One off season, I was driving in California and heard a radio sports talk show on the air with Bill Russell," Trumpy told me in 2014 before he received the Pete Rozelle Radio and Television Award for “long-time exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football” at the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend.

"Cincinnati had the Bengals, Reds and (hockey) Stingers, and I thought: 'Wait a minute, this might work here.' "

When he got back to Cincinnati, he pitched the idea to WLW-AM General Manager Charlie Murdock. At the time, WLW-AM played music throughout the day. It was a decade before the hiring of Gary Burbank, Bill Cunningham or Randy Michaels.

"WLW-AM turned it down. Charlie Murdock said it wouldn’t work. I was crushed," Trumpy said.

So he took the idea to WCKY-AM, the 50,000-watt CBS News affiliate which introduced the news/talk format on Cincinnati radio. WCKY-AM was owned by a different company at the time, when the Federal Communications Commission limited owners to only one AM and one FM station. The FCC later changed its rules, which enables iHeartMedia to own eight stations, including WLW-AM; ESPN 1530 WCKY-AM; Fox Sports 1360 WSAI; WKRC-AM; WEBN-FM; and KISS 107 WKFS-FM.

"I had never listened to WCKY-AM. But it was a 50,000-watt signal, and I needed a powerful station," he told me.

So in 1976 Trumpy started a one-hour weekly show on WCKY-AM before Monday Night Football game radio broadcasts. It expanded to three nights a week in 1977, before he retired from the Bengals after the 1977 season. WLW-AM hired him away in 1980. He hosted WLW-AM's Sports Talk for 10 years while doing NFL games for NBC Sports.

Cris Collinsworth took the WLW-AM show when Trumpy left in 1990 to work full-time for NBC Sports as a TV and radio analyst for football and a variety of other sports. Lance McAlister has hosted WLW-AM's signature sports show since 2009.

Russell, inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, was the NBA's most valuable player play five times, and an All-Star 12 times. He led the Boston Celtics to 11 NBA titles (1957, 1959-66, 1968-69), including two as player-coach (1968-69).

Three times Russell's Celtics knocked Oscar Robertson's Cincinnati Royals out of the NBA playoffs (1963, '64, '66); twice in the Eastern Conference finals.

The NBA great also was a basketball commentator for CBS Sports and TBA in the 1970s and '80s, in addition to doing a California-based radio show. He didn't like the restrictive TV analyst role because, he once explained, "the most successful television is done in eight-second thoughts, and the things I know about basketball, motivation, and people go deeper than that."

In 2011, when Barack Obama presented Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he said:

"Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for rights and dignity of all men. He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the Black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing and making the teammates who he loved better players and made possible the success of so many who would follow."

Including those who followed Bill Russell into radio.

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.