2019: The Year Of Generational Changes, From A to Z

Dec 30, 2019

Marty Brennaman and Rob Braun. Lisa Cooney and Cammy Dierking. John Popovich, Jeff Hirsh and Jeff Henderson.

2019's generational changes reshaped Cincinnati's broadcasters and media institutions for the new decade starting Jan. 1.

Jeff Hirsh retired in February after 40 years on Cincinnati TV.
Credit Courtesy WKRC-TV

An unprecedented number of iconic Cincinnati TV and media personalities left their stations this year with a combined 258 years of experience (Brennaman 46; Popovich and Hirsh, 40; Henderson 36; Braun 35; Dierking 31; and Cooney 30).

That leaves only a handful of familiar faces with 40 years or more on local airwaves -- Steve Horstmeyer, John London, John Lomax, WGUC-FM's Brian O'Donnell, Duke Hamilton, Chris O'Brien and Bill Cunningham, to name a few.

Here's a look at the year from A to Z:

Folake Olowofoyeku and Billy Gardell star in CBS' 'Bob Hearts Abishola.'
Credit Courtesy CBS

A is for Abishola. On CBS, Bob Loves Abishola, and so do I.  Nigerian native Folake Olowofoyeku (the youngest of 20 children) stars as a Detroit nurse being wooed by sock company owner (Billy Gardell, Mike and Molly) in a new era of sitcoms which plays immigration for laughs.

Marty Brennaman in his booth before calling his last Opening Day in March 2019.
Credit Courtesy Amanda Brennaman

B is for Marty Brennaman, who called his last Reds game in September. For 46 seasons he provided the soundtrack of our springs and summers, our constant companion for seven months a year. The Reds also get an A+ for its "month of Marty" farewell, including building a radio booth in Gapper's Alley among the fans, giving away pocket radios to hear his final broadcast and throwing an on-field "Marty party" after the season finale. Tommy Thrall steps up to the Reds radio microphone in February.

Cammy Dierking
Credit Courtesy Cammy Dierking

C is for courageous co-anchors Cammy Dierking and Rob Braun, who left WKRC-TV at the top of their game when their contracts expired rather than continue working for Sinclair Broadcast Group. Both left a year after they were ordered to read a Sinclair news commentary complaining about media companies pushing "their own personal bias and agenda."

Braun, 63, told WVXU-FM listeners in October:  "They weren't my words. Some of what was in that was true. And some of the things that we were required to say were not my words, and not the way I would say it, and I didn't believe them. … We were just required to read them as puppets, and it just didn't sit well. ... It's their ballgame. And you had to get on board or get out, and fortunately I was able to get out on my own terms (in June)."

Dierking, 59, quit when her contract expired in December to work as a personal trainer. In the past 24 months, more than 250 years of local news experience has been lost by one station in Braun (35 years), Dierking (31), Jeff Hirsh (40), Larry Davis (45), Deb Dixon (44), Joe Webb (31) and Brad Johansen (25).

Doris Day starred in a CBS sitcom after her successful movie career.
Credit Courtesy CBS

is for Doris and Dotty. Doris Day, who died at 97 in May, was Cincinnati’s biggest movie star, the top box office draw in the early 1960s. Born Doris Kappelhoff in 1922, she became a singer and actress after her promising dance career was ended by a Hamilton car-train collision. Dotty Mack, one of the first stars on Cincinnati television, died in November at age 90. Born Dorothy Macaluso, she was such a hit pantomiming  to records on WCPO-TV in the early 1950s that her shows were broadcast nationally from Cincinnati on ABC and the old DuMont Network.

E is for Elliott Block, owner of low-power WBQC-TV, branded as WKRP. Block, who died in November at age 71, was a low-power TV pioneer who figured out how to squeeze 12 digital subchannels into the signal beamed from Channel 9's tower.  Other local deaths: Jack Williams, who played Lucky the Clown on the Uncle Al Show; former WLWT-TV centerfield camera operator Jim "The Judge" Hines; photographer Gordon Baer; former Reds publicity director and WUBE-FM sportscaster John Braude; and former Enquirer police reporter Walt Schaefer.

Chris Riva joined WXIX-TV news in December.
Credit Courtesy WXIX-TV

F is for Fox 19, which expands its weekday news coverage by adding 5-6:30 p.m. newscasts Jan. 6 to compete head-to-head with the city's three legacy television stations. Reporter Amber Jayanth and former WCPO-TV newsman Chris Riva will help anchor WXIX-TV's 5-6:30 p.m. newscasts with Tricia Macke and Rob Williams. Starting Jan. 6, WXIX-TV will broadcast 11 hours and five minutes of news every weekday: 4:30-11 a.m.; 4-7 p.m.; and 10-11:35 p.m. That's more than any other Cincinnati TV station.

G is for Goners. Among the TV shows we said goodbye to in 2019: Big Bang Theory, Jane The Virgin, Last Call with Carson Daly, Elementary, Life in Pieces, Murphy Brown (revival), The Kids Are Alright, Will & Grace (revival), Speechless, I Feel Bad, A.P. Bio, Gotham, The Gifted, Lethal Weapon, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Arrow, Mr. Robot, Orange Is The New Black, Transparent, Veep, Game of Thrones.

Director Ron Howard (right) gives instructions to the 'Hillbilly Elegy' crew filming on Harrison Street in Middletown in August.
Credit John Kiesewetter

H is for Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy. The Oscar-winning director rolled into Middletown with Glenn Close and Amy Adams in early August for a week of filming Hillbilly Elegy, written by Middletown native J.D. Vance.  Scenes were shot on Harrison Avenue, two blocks from Vance's childhood residences on McKinley Street.

Valerie Harper (right) co-starred with Mary Tyler Moore (left) before CBS spun off her character as 'Rhoda.'
Credit Courtesy CBS

I is for irreplaceable icons who died this year: A Charlie Brown Christmas producer Lee Mendelson, who died at 86 on Christmas; comedians Tim Conway (Carol Burnett Show, McHale’s Navy), 85, and Bob Einstein (Super Dave, Curb Your Enthusiasm); actors Luke Perry (Beverly Hills 90210, Riverdale), 52; Valerie Harper, 80, and Georgia Engel, 70 (both Mary Tyler Moore Show), Diahann Carroll (Julia), 84; Pete Mayhew (Star Wars' Chewbacca), 74; Peggy Lipton (The Mod Squad, Twin Peaks), 72; Danny Aiello (Do The Right Thing, Once Upon A Time In America), 86; Peter Tork (The Monkees), 77; John Singleton (Boyz In The Hood), 51; Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Benson); John Witherspoon (The Wayan Brothers), 77; Arte Johnson (Laugh-In), 90; Michael J. Pollard (Bonnie & Clyde), 80; Rip Torn (Larry Sanders Show, Dodgeball), 88; Jan-Michael Vincent (Airwolf), 73; Albert Finney (Erin Brockovich, Murder On The Orient Express), 82; Peter Fonda (Easy Rider), 79; Ron Leibman (Archer, Kaz), 82; Carol Channing, (Thoroughly Modern Millie) 97; Kaye Ballard (The Mothers-in-Law), 93; Jim Fowler (Wild Kingdom), 89; Russi Taylor (voice of Minnie Mouse), 75; author Toni Morrison, 88; Broadway director Hal Prince, 91; Broadway composer Jerry Herman, 88; radio host Don Imus, 79; and former CBS legal affairs correspondent Fred Graham, 88.

J is for Jeopardy!, James Holzhauer, Ken Jennings and January. Alex Trebek, 79, who announced last spring he's battling stage 4 pancreatic cancer, will host a special primetime edition on ABC starting Jan. 7 called Jeopardy! The Greatest Of All Time.  Holzhauer, who won $2.7 million on the show last summer, will compete against Jennings, who won $3.3 million over 74 games in 2004, and Brad Rutter, a five-time Jeopardy! Champ (2000-2014) who has won $4.6 million on the show.

Jo Ellen Pellman, a 2014 Walnut Hills High School graduate, stars in the film adaptation of Broadway's 'The Prom.
Credit Ambe J.

K is for Cincinnati native Kiki Layne, star of the Academy Award-winning If Beale Street Could Talk. Her portrayal of Tish Rivers was the major film breakthrough for the 2009 School for Creative & Performing Arts School graduate.  Next up: Coming 2 America with Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, Tracy Morgan and Vanessa Bell Calloway, and The Old Guard with Charlize Theron. Look for another rising star from the Cincinnati area on the big screen in 2020: Walnut Hills alum Jo Ellen Pellman stars in the film adaptation of The Prom, the hit Broadway musical, with Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, James Corden, Awkwafina, Keegan-Michael Key and Kerry Washington.

Lisa Cooney (center) and traffic reporter Vanessa Richardson (second from left) both left WLWT-TV's morning newscasts in spring.
Credit Courtesy Lisa Cooney

L is for Lisa Cooney, who’s finally sleeping late. Cooney retired after 30 years – the most hosting the News 5 Today morning show – told me: "I'm tired. Thirty years is enough. I'm ready to go. I want to take some time off. I want to get some sleep." Kelly Rippin, a former WXIX-TV reporter working in Orlando, was hired in June to replace Cooney.

M is for Mark Ruffalo, the Avengers veteran who came to Cincinnati to play a different kind of superhero: local attorney Robert Bilott. In Dark Waters, Ruffalo portrayed the Taft, Stettinius & Hollister partner who took nearly two decades to win a class action suit against DuPont for dumping deadly chemicals in West Virginia. Todd Haynes, who directed Cate Blanchett's Carol here in 2014, returned to direct the film here also starring Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham and Bill Camp.

NBC's 'American Ninja Warrior' taped two days on Second Street Memorial Day weekend.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

N is for Ninja Warriors and Nails. NBC's American Ninja Warrior set up its obstacle course for two nights of filming on Second Street Memorial Day weekend which attracted huge crowds. CBS held auditions in November in Washington Park for its new Tough As Nails reality competition, which will air sometime in 2020.

O is the voice of Oscar the Grouch. For 50 years Caroll Spinney did double duty on Sesame Street, performing the cantankerous trash can inhabitant and also the loveably naïve Big Bird. Spinney, 85, did Big Bird by holding his hand above his head to manipulate Big Bird’s mouth and face while watching a tiny TV monitor strapped to his stomach.

John Popovich, Carol Williams and Dennis Janson anchoring WCPO-TV newscasts from the Bengals' 1989 Super Bowl in Miami.
Credit Courtesy John Popovich

P is for Popo, as everyone calls WCPO-TV sports director John Popovich. Popo, 69, retired as Cincinnati television's best storyteller after 40 years. In 1980, Popo debuted Sports Of All Sorts, which he hosted live at 11:30 p.m. Sunday night for 33 years. And for 30 years, Popo and sports anchor Dennis Janson were a great TV sports team. "I didn't ever really want to be the (sports) anchor.  I never intended to do that… When Denny came (in 1984 from WKRC-TV), that was great. He wanted to anchor, and I wanted to report."

Q is for quits. That’s what Shepherd Smith did in October, opening the 3 p.m. Fox News time slot for Bill Hemmer. The Delhi Township native, who joined Fox News in 2005 after working for WLWT-TV, WCPO-TV and CNN, will debut Bill Hemmer Reports on Monday, Jan. 20, two weeks before the Iowa Democratic Party caucuses. He'll also "lead all breaking news coverage" on Fox News, the network announced.

R is for rockers who died this year: Eddie Money, 70; Ginger Baker, 80; Dr. John, 77; Rick Ocasek, 75, and Daryl Dragon, 76, the Captain from the Captain and Tennille. Music deaths also included rappers Nipsey Hussle, 33, and Juice WRLD (Jarad Higgins), 21.

S is for streaming, which has turned the TV industry upside down. The increasing popularity of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, CBS All Access and ESPN+ prompted the launch this year of Disney+ and Apple TV+. Coming in 2020: NBC's Peacock, HBO Max, Jeffery Katzenberg's Quibi and a Discovery Channel streaming service.

Rick Ludwin speaking to Miami University students in 2015 in the TV studio where he broadcast as a student.
Credit John Kiesewetter / WVXU

T is for the TV studio at Miami University, which was named in honor of 1970 alum Rick Ludwin in March. The former NBC executive was a frequent visitor to his alma mater for 35-plus years, where he funded generous scholarships; did an annual lecture about TV trends; donated his Seinfeld, Saturday Night Live and Bob Hope shows memorabilia; and helped organize and fund Miami's three-week "Inside Hollywood" program in Los Angeles. Ludwin attended the studio dedication in March – which was his last visit to Oxford. He died after a brief illness in November at age 71.

U is for unplugged. Sinclair dropped "must-run" commentaries from local newscasts on Dec. 13, including former President Trump special assistant Boris Epshteyn. Sinclair announced that instead the company "will be expanding our local investigative journalism footprint in our daily newscasts."

Jeff Henderson with longtime WLW-AM coworkers Brian Combs and Matt Reis last summer.
Credit Courtesy Jeff Henderson

V is for the voice of WLW news, Jeff Henderson. The 1974 Milford High School graduate retired in June as iHeartMedia's regional news director over dozens of stations in six states, including WLW-AM. He worked for old YES95 before coming to WLW-AM in 1983, where he helped launch the careers of a generation of TV and radio journalists: Lisa Smith (WCPO-TV), Andrew Setters, (WLWT-TV), Perry Schiable (who left WKRC-TV in November), Rachael Murray, Bridget Doherty, Ali Miller, Jack Crumley and Lisa Cooney. "I've worked since I was 13. I had two Enquirer routes as a kid. That's 50 years. I worked really hard, and I'm ready to retire. It's time," he told me.

Michael Monks
Credit WVXU

W is for WVXU, which continues to grow and evolve. In February, Michael Monks took over Cincinnati Edition, our signature talk show at noon on weekdays. He replaced Dan Hurley, whose tenure as the "three-month interim host" lasted nearly a year. This year we also said goodbye to Cincinnati Edition producer Pete Rightmire, who had run the show since its weekday debut in 2013; NPR/ABC news commentator Cokie Roberts, who died in September; and 1A host Joshua Johnson, who left Dec. 20 for MSNBC.  Johnson took over the 10 a.m. program three years ago from Diane Rehm. Todd Zwillich will fill in until a permanent host is hired. 

At our sister station, classical music WGUC-FM, Andy Ellis returned to Cincinnati Public Radio to host afternoons filling the void from the death of longtime announcer Frank Johnson.

Anne Serling (center) with the CCM students who recorded 'O'Toole From Moscow' at Cincinnati Public Radio on Nov. 9.
Credit Courtesy Richard Hess

is for crossing this one off my bucket list: O’Toole From Moscow, Rod Serling’s 1955 comedy being revived by Cincinnati Public Radio’s WVXU-FM. Nearly 65 years after its one-time-only live broadcast on NBC, the Cold War comedy about confusion between Russian embassy workers and the Cincinnati Reds will be broadcast around Opening Day as a radio play by University of Cincinnati’s CCM students, with narration by Anne Serling (Rod’s daughter). Stay tuned.

Y is for you. As in "thank you." I couldn't do this without you. Thank you for reading my stories posted at WVXU.org/tvkiese, on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for listening to my interviews on Around Cincinnati and Cincinnati Edition. If you appreciate what I do, please show your support by making a donation to Cincinnati Public Radio.

Z is for zero and zilch.

I’ve got nothing left. Except to wish you a Happy New Year.