WIBW-TV's Ralph Hipp about to sign off from 51-year broadcasting career: 'It was always a joy'
An Indiana newscaster who looked like the late Groucho Marx was among two finalists in 1990 for the news anchor's job at Topeka's WIBW-TV Channel 13, says Ralph Hipp.
The other was Hipp, a native of Gainesville, Fla.
Hipp got the job, and the rest is Topeka TV history.
V-100 opportunity first drew Ralph Hill to Topeka
Hipp has been a WIBW-TV news anchor for 30 years, more than 40% of the nearly 69 years the station been on the air.
Now, at 68, he's preparing to retire. His last day will be Friday.
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Hipp talked this past week with The Capital-Journal about the time he's spent doing what he calls "the best job in the world."
"It was always a joy," he said.
Hipp's retirement ends a 51-year broadcasting career, which he said began when he started working in radio during his last week in high school in Gainesville.
Hipp's career path included coming to Topeka in the late 1970s as part of the group that transformed a former Christian radio station into the rock station KDVV-FM, also known as "V-100," where he did news and sports.
He said his experiences there were much like those of the characters on the sitcom "WKRP in Cincinnati," which aired from 1978 to 1982 on CBS-TV. Series star Gordon Jump also worked at WIBW-TV before he transitioned into acting.
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Ralph Hipp's career brought him to Topeka and back again
Hipp then worked as a TV news anchor from 1981 to 1987 in Gainesville and in 1987 to 1990 in Springfield, Mo., before returning to Topeka to work for WIBW-TV.
At the time, WIBW-TV used one anchor for each newscast. Hipp handled those that took place at 10 p.m. In 1994, the station had Hipp and Mary Loftus team up for newscasts.
"It worked," Hipp said. "It keeps the show moving, and you can go back and forth."
Hipp moved to Nashville in 1998 so his wife, health care executive Sheila Hipp, could establish call centers to handle patient information.
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While there, he said, he helped out at a local TV station, appeared on the Shop At Home Network and cared for the couple's three children, who are now grown. He also has one grandchild.
Hipp returned to his anchor's job at WIBW-TV in 2000, this time teaming up in newscasts with anchor Lori Hutchinson.
"I just walked back into the building and picked up where we left off," he said.
The red couch takes off
Hipp was part of WIBW-TV's staff when it moved in 2001 out of the building where its studios had been located since 1953 on Menninger Hill in west Topeka.
In January 2012, Hipp rushed in to cover the fire that destroyed the building, which by that time was abandoned.
Meanwhile, Hipp was active in the community, emceeing local events and co-hosting the former scholastic quiz bowl program "High-Q" and the former, long-running Jerry Lewis telethon held each Labor Day to raise money to fight muscular dystrophy.
Coincidentally, he said, his contract expires this year on Labor Day.
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In 2006, Hipp began doing live interviews on what became known as the "red couch" during WIBW's 4 p.m. weekday news program.
While sitting on that couch, he talks to people who are often from groups that are hosting events, raising money or both.
"It just evolved and really took off," Hipp said. "It lets the station be ingrained in the community."
Hipp said, "I was on the red couch with you" is one of the two comments he hears most often when he's recognized out in the Topeka community. The other is, "I've been watching you since I was a kid."
Hipp said he's had some memorable experiences.
Those include joining three other journalists in interviewing President Bill Clinton in 1994 and covering former President Richard Nixon late in his life as he accompanied Sen. Bob Dole during a political campaign.
Hipp said he also interviewed Jimmy Carter on a Gainesville radio show before Carter was elected president.
"He did a ton of those radio shows," he said.
Hitting the 30-year mark at WIBW mattered to him
Hipp, who lives in Lenexa and commutes to Topeka daily, said he considered retiring in 2020 but decided to keep working, at least until the COVID pandemic ended.
He also wanted to attain 30 years of service at the station, which required staying through this year.
"Getting the 30 meant a lot to me," he said.
Hipp said he looks forward to his last few days on the job.
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"A lot of people don't get that chance to say 'goodbye,' so I think it will be very enjoyable," he said. "And we're going to have a little fun on the last red couch show."
Once Hipp retires, he said, he intends to do some audio and video narrations, some audiobooks and perhaps some radio.
Hipp's replacement as anchor will be David Oliver, a Wichita native who began working at WIBW-TV in 1996 and was co-anchoring its newscasts in 2000 when he left for a news job in Idaho. Oliver has most recently worked in public relations in Colorado.
Hipp is a northeast Kansas institution, said Melissa Brunner, who is WIBW-TV's managing editor and has been his co-anchor since 2007. She will take his place on the red couch.
"You don't replace a Ralph Hipp," Brunner said. "You simply name someone to succeed him."
While Hipp is one of many talented broadcasters to have worked at WIBW-TV, what sets him apart is his "incredible tenure," said Brunner, who's been at the station since 1996.
""People know Ralph," she said. "People love Ralph. And rightly so. So it's going to be hard to imagine this place without him."
Differing personalities make Ralph Hipp, Melissa Brunner a good fit
Their contrasting personalities have helped make Brunner and Hipp a great team, Brunner said.
Brunner tends to be "more Type A, million-miles-an-hour, 'Let's do X, Y and Z and let's get it done yesterday,'" she said.
"Ralph is more laidback, and that doesn't mean that he doesn't have intensity," Brunner said. "He does. It's just with a different style — and that tempers me a bit, which is very good, and it helps us work so well together."
Hipp's personality enables him to "kind of unplug and recharge between newscasts," Brunner said.
"There was a tornado warning, and people were going, 'Where's Ralph?' so we could get the news anchors out there in case our meteorologist needed support," she said. "Well, we look out the window — and Ralph was sitting under a tree reading a book! He was relaxing.
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"And we're like, 'Ralph, there's a tornado warning,' And he said 'OK,' and then he came in."
Hipp is "super smart," Brunner added.
"He has all of this knowledge about history, specifically historical figures and politics," she said. "And that adds so much to the things that we're able to do around the newsroom, especially when we're in situations where we have to ad lib or provide background about things. Ralph remembers it all."
Hipp struggles when he tells viewers about homicides or fatal car wrecks, he said.
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"Every one takes a little piece out of you, but it's especially sad for me when we have a child or a young girl just out of high school who's killed in an accident," he said. "It just tears me up."
Hipp is a kind, genuine person who cares about the Topeka community and its people, Brunner stressed.
"He is someone who champions the accomplishments and achievements of young people and celebrates their successes," she said.
Ralph Hipp masters Jimmy Stewart and Bill Self impersonations
Hipp is a huge sports fan who loves baseball, particularly the Kansas City Royals, Brunner added.
"He's getting game updates during the newscast, many times," she said.
Hipp also has a great sense of humor and does excellent impersonations of University of Kansas basketball coach Bill Self and the late actor Jimmy Stewart — though some of their younger co-workers aren't familiar with Stewart, Brunner said.
"It's hard to imagine this place without Ralph Hipp," she said. "It's hard to imagine walking out there at 6 and 10 every night for longer than a week's vacation without having Ralph next to me. So I'm going to miss him."
Tim Hrenchir can be reached at email@example.com or 785-213-5934.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: WIBW's Ralph Hipp is retiring after 30 years as their TV news anchor