Commentary: Cincinnati broadcast legend Pat Barry gained love, respect doing things his way

Tom Stafford, Journal-News, Hamilton, Ohio
·9 min read

Mar. 28—When I interviewed Pat Barry in Cincinnati in 1987, it was January. That meant he was on his annual alcohol- and bread-free diet to lose the 10 pounds he picked up through the first 11 months of every year, though he ate his roast beef that noon between bread.

Born Barry Pat Tingley (and called Pat), the 1969 graduate of Shawnee High School was in the first of four decades with WLWT-TV, Cincinnati's Channel 5. He had landed the job two years earlier with zero experience in television or weather because Jerry Springer, part of the broadcast team, thought the outsize personality that had propelled Barry to radio fame could make him the Willard Scott of Cincinnati.

Although the decision was controversial, Springer proved to be right about the man whose home décor featured statues of Larry, Moe and Curly. "When I came here," Barry had said of the station, "we were in last place (in the ratings) and the line around the office was 'You can't fall off the floor.'"

By that January, the station was in a virtual dead heat for first in the Cincinnati market, and Barry, who got his start at 16 at Springfield's WIZE-AM, was negotiating a new contract.

His representative was Reuven Katz, who negotiated contracts for Pete Rose and Barry's good friend Johnny Bench. And that seemed to back up Barry's assertion that Cincinnati was "big enough, but small enough that you can know a lot of people."

His insight was confirmed again this Feb. 19, when the 69-year-old died of Covid and a city full of people grieved for the man identifiable for years by his vanity plates: BIG KID.

Following are some legendary tales of the Big Kid.

Big shoes to fill

He has been Mark Elliott for the years of his still-going radio career. But when he started at WIZE in Springfield, he was Mark Hansell, son of a Springfield train dispatcher instead of a welder, as in Barry's case.

He'd not worked with Barry at WIZE. But when hired at Cincinnati's Q-102 FM in the 1970s, Elliott found "a guy who made every possible use of his talent."

More so than anyone Elliott would meet.

"Pat wasn't an entertainer. Pat wasn't a performer. But Pat was a guy on the radio who you got to know as a guy on the radio. Pat had so much natural ability. (He) was a born salesman in that respect, and Pat's best product was himself."

That's why when Barry made the jump to TV weather, "he figured it out and did a great job," Elliott said.

"It's the only part of a TV news show that isn't scripted," Elliott explained, "You have to adlib the whole thing, and the guys that do it on the radio are the best guys to do it on TV."

Elliott said that Barry, who helped Q-102 immensely before making the jump to TV, left behind a parting gift the size of his contribution.

"The guy who replaced him was Mark Sebastian. And the last day of work, Pat nailed a pair of shoes in Mark's mailbox and said 'Try to fill these.'"

Don't tell The Penguin

Gary Stephens was a Xavier University student working at Channel 4 in Cincinnati in March of 1975, when Q-102 FM was an upstart "stuck down in an old shack on the other corner of the parking lot, as an afterthought."

Still, he was interested in radio sales, so he entered the shack, met Pat Barry "and we were friends ever since."

Barry 'always had a big role of money on the turntable" from personal appearances made around town. And each week, he'd ask the kid working his way through college the same question: 'How are you fixed for the weekend?" He'd then tell him to "Get the roll, take what you need and catch up down the road," Stephens said.

"He never knew what I took or whether I made it up to him down the line," Stephens said.

But there was a down the line when the two worked together at WOKV 103.5. Although licensed in Hamilton, the more import fact is "we were the first disco station."

In that same era — the date was in March of 1979 — their late radio friend Jim Fox got Barry and Stephens into "a party of epic proportions" the night the Blues Brothers closed down the Radio and Records Convention at the Century Plaza Hotel in Hollywood.

"We got off the elevator, past security and there were the Blues Brothers and Bette Middler and the cast of Saturday Night Live," Stephens said.

Soon, Barry rose to the occasion and, to make room for a dance floor, "put together a squad to throw sofas and tables off the balcony into the swimming pool," Stephens said.

Circumstantial evidence supporting both claims is a black-and-white photo of the three Q-brothers with a Blues Brother John Belushi.

Don't tell The Penguin.

Getting some respect

Dale Maloney remembers the drive to his parents' home in Madeira to snag his dad's Hawaiian shirt so Barry would have something with a collar on it to wear on Skip Ryle's Bowling for Dollars.

But he'll never forget Barry's hour-long battle for respect with comedian Rodney Dangerfield.

Maloney had moved to California in 1974, and Barry had never visited Lake Tahoe.

"He immediately wanted to go gambling," Maloney recalled, "and Rodney Dangerfield was playing that night.

"He went over to the house phone and asked to talk with Rodney and told him he'd emceed one of his concerts in Cincinnati. Rodney got us front row seats, and then invited us into his private dressing room after the show.

"The room was full of people (and) immediately, Rodney and Pat got into (this) back-and-forth, bantering for over an hour. It was like a private concert, neither giving into the other."

Maloney did see Barry's giving side when the Maloney family moved back to Cincinnati.

"With us having no remaining family (there), Pat invited us to his parents' house (in Springfield) for Thanksgiving for several years.

'"As we got older, he decided to forego our annual Christmas gifts and he would go to a local store where there were a lot of layaway toys. He would randomly pay those off, and he would redirect his gift from me to those families."

The same generosity showed itself in his work for the Ruth Lyons Fund — and with people in general.

Near disaster above Riverfront

Chris O'Brien was so skinny when he returned to Q-102 in 1979, "I looked like a hockey stick with hair."

At that time the station seemed to be the model for the sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati," complete with motorcycles occasionally driving down the hallways.

On their car CB radios, O'Brien was "Desperado" in a tribute to the Eagles, and Barry, "The Big Kid," the name Johnny Bench had given him.

Brinke Guthrie, who became Barry's designated board-operator during that time said that to station manager Jim Fox, Barry was "a go-to guy."

"Pat knew everyone," Guthrie said. "He was so wired in (to the community) that we could get anything done."

Which brings to mind Jell-O Jump, a promotion that buried various cars in dumpsters a food-deep in Cherry Jell-O, two of which started two brand new Mustangs.

Much of the panic was result of Barry's faulty claim that he had mixed the Jell-O powder with cold water instead of hot when he did the promotion at a Tampa station. The eventual solution to turning cold, red soup into Jell-O was to remove a heating unit from the station's garage to cook the Jell-O.

But for Guthrie, the crowning moment of craziness came the day Cincinnati hosted baseball's 1988 All-Star game. He and Barry were in a hot air balloon above Riverfront Stadium, which was restricted air space because the vice president was in the stands.

"We were 1,200 feet up, and I hear this roaring sound, and it gets louder and louder." Guthrie said. "We don't know what that sound is (and suddenly) the stadium was gone" from sight, hidden by a wall of white fabric.

"It was the Fuji blimp right below us, literally right there."

In those days, "We knew we were bigger than life, we knew we could get away with it, and we did." Guthrie said. "And Pat was the ring leader."

Big heart 1

He's now the TV/Media reporter for Cincinnati public station WVXU-FM.

But John Kiesewetter spent years working the same beat for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

And he found the mastermind of the Jell-O Jump to be a go-to source for news, too.

"He seemed to know everybody in town and what they were doing. He'd tip me off to things a long time before they were announced. He was that well connected."

The Great Connector

Bina Roy Baldwin adds one more thing about Barry's generosity: "He didn't ask anything in return."

Baldwin was an early female reporter at WLWT and said Barry was one of the first to welcome her.

"I love characters, and that was what drew me to him."

And nowhere did Barry's character shine more brightly than when he was around children.

"It gave him permission to be a big kid," Baldwin said, "because it was a new audience for him, and they hadn't heard any of his jokes."

The man she calls "the great connector" also appreciated those who had helped him, she said.

"Pat kept what he called a gratitude list of things he was grateful for and people he was grateful for. He had written a paragraph about each of those people. And (last Christmas) he sent it to each of those people so they knew what they meant to him."

In that spirit, Baldwin helped to organize a scholarship fund in Barry's memory.

For practical reasons, "I had to limit to a scope to an area," she said.

One was Cincinnati, where the city council last week voted to give the portion of Hatch Street between Louden and Wareham streets the secondary name Pat Barry Way.

The second was Springfield.

"I knew Pat was from Springfield and had his start there," she said.

And the Big Kid recently returned to be interred next to his parents, in Glen Haven Cemetery Mausoleum.

Note: Donations can be made to the Pat Barry Scholarship in his name at www.cincinnatischolarshipfoundation.org.