Duke Hamilton – the Queen City's reigning royalty of country music radio – will retire from WUBE-FM (B105.1) on Thursday, July 2.
Hamilton, inducted into the Country Radio Broadcasters' DJ Hall of Fame in 2003, debuted on WUBE in December 1977, eight years after the station went country. His 50-year radio career began in 1970 at KPCR-AM in Bowling Green, Mo.
"It's been a great ride," Earl "Duke" Hamilton told me last year at the station's 50th anniversary. "I figured they had the right formula here to be successful, and when I realized that, that's why I decided to stay."
Former B105 staffers say Hamilton was the heart and soul of the station. In 42 years, Hamilton served as the morning, afternoon or afternoon drive DJ, music director and program director.
"Cincinnati radio won't be the same without his voice on the air," says Marty Thompson, former program director, who was "a baby DJ" in 1985 when he met Hamilton.
"Without a doubt, Duke is the nicest guy I've ever worked with in radio. Behind the mic, and behind the scenes, he was WUBE. He had a great ear for music. Not what he liked, but what he knew the listeners would like," Thompson says.
"It cannot be understated the mark he left on this radio station and the many people that have come through our studios and worked with him over the years," says Grover Collins, WUBE-FM program director. "Duke Hamilton is the epitome of what everyone aspires to be getting into radio. First and foremost, (he's) a tremendous on-air talent, no ego, a wonderful coworker and, more importantly, a friend to myself and many others at WUBE for years… The word 'legend' is almost not a strong enough word for what Duke means to us and the station after 42-plus years of on-air service and dedication."
Bill Whyte, who won a Country Music Association "personality of the year" award in 1991 while B105 morning host, credits Hamilton with his Cincinnati radio career. The two had started their careers "as kids" at tiny KPCR (which they called "Cow Pasture Country Radio") before Whyte started performing with a country music band. The two reconnected when Hamilton saw Whyte playing at Julie's Country Showcase in Sharonville in the 1980s.
"He brought me into WUBE doing an oldies show on Sunday mornings part-time, and that launched my major market radio career. I have Duke to thank for that," says Whyte, a Nashville songwriter-musician.
"He was such a nice kid when we first met and that never changed. I'm betting there's no-one that doesn't like Duke. And he was just one of the 'steadiest' jocks on air you'd hear. He was kind to everyone, and that combination of talent, kindness and long term steadiness got him into the Country Radio Broadcasters Hall of Fame and he surely deserved it."
Patti Marshall, Hubbard Cincinnati operations manager, says "there has always been one phrase when I describe Duke to someone: God broke the mold when he made him. I have never met anyone like him. His generous heart and spirit are on full display no matter who he is talking to."
Bob Williams, WUBE historian and superfan, says "Duke is a great guy. He was able to adapt to any changes made at the station. He is a Cincinnati legend and will be missed."
And boy were their changes. Entertainer Danny Kaye (White Christmas, Pinocchio) owned the station when Hamilton was hired in 1977. DJs played Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson records on studio turntables, eventually replaced by recording tape "carts," CDs and computerized digital databases.
Hamilton has outlasted dozens of managers who worked for American Media, National Radio Partners, Chancellor, AMFM, Clear Channel, Infinity, CBS, Entercom, Bonneville International and now Hubbard Broadcasting.
"I've been at the right place at the right time," Hamilton told me in 1997 for an Enquirer column about his 20th anniversary. At the time, he was the top-rated afternoon drive DJ on the city's No. 1 station. "The different companies we've had, and different managers, have appreciated what I do and the ratings I've pulled."
Hamilton always was at home with animals, and I don't mean his radio coworkers. Duke and wife Barbara for years raised miniature horses, llamas, goats and rabbits on their 150-acre Falmouth farm.
They made headlines four years ago when their farmhouse burned to the ground. Friends helped them rebuild days later. "We've got great neighbors," Hamilton told WKRC-TV.
As afternoon drive DJ, he seamlessly juggled the music and commercials with constant traffic and weather updates. "I'm not a comedian. I move the (traffic and weather) elements along as friendly as I can. I'm more of the Jim Scott of country music," he told me in 1997.
"These four hours make my day," said Hamilton about his air shift. "I love talking with the callers, talking to the listeners. It may sound corny, but they are family."
Hamilton shared his radio philosophy which made him a Hall of Famer: "I'm just an optimist. I try to look for the good in everything. I like to get along…. You do the best you can, and try to maintain the passion, try to make it one-on-one with the listener.
"You try to sound like it's your first day on the air."
His last day on the air will be Thursday, July 2.