Tuesday, April 20, 1999
Bob Braun's life at 70
Though in ill health, the popular broadcast personality is not the retiring type
BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Bob Braun apologizes for walking so slowly as he leaves his WSAI-AM studio in Mount Adams after his five-hour morning show.
Bob Braun at home with photographs that depict his career, holding one with Red Skelton.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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It takes about an hour to get my legs back in shape after I stand up in there. It's the arthritis, says Mr. Braun, who alternates between standing and sitting on a stool during his 5 a.m.-10 a.m. broadcast.
Age has not been kind recently to Mr. Braun, who turns 70 today.
Cincinnati's most popular TV personality, after taking over Ruth Lyons' daily noon variety show on Channel 5 (1967-84), beat the cancer near his left collarbone two years ago. But the 39 radiation treatments, chemotherapy and medicine has taken its toll on the former weight-lifter and Coney Island lifeguard.
His left arm is swollen and his speech is sometimes slurred. A driver takes him to and from work. Before cancer he could bench-press 165 pounds; he doesn't lift anymore.
Braun with Ruth Lyons on the "50-50 Club" in 1961.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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I'm not as healthy as I used to be, he says. But I think the strength that I had built up all my life helped me get through it. I didn't miss a day of work.
It's been tough.
He's always defined himself by his looks, and he can no longer do that, says his son, Rob, Channel 12 news anchor.
Physical inconvenience has not dampened his enthusiasm for getting up at 3 a.m. for his weekday Bob Braun Show on WSAI-AM (1530) and on Jacor stations in Dayton, Springfield and Lexington.
In the Mount Adams studio, overlooking downtown Cincinnati, he enjoys playing the hits of Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Rosemary Clooney and Perry Como artists who sang on his Channel 5 show.
Fifty years ago, he was pantomiming to these tunes in the first days of WCPO-TV. Later he spun their records at Tristate sock hops on WLW-AM. The radio station had hired Mr. Braun the day after he won first prize on Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show in 1957.
Retire? Are you kidding? The show must go on.
Retire to do what? he asks. People retire and find out they don't like golf and don't have any place to go.
I'm certainly not continuing just to hang on, or for greed. I'm enjoying doing this. I'd be foolish to retire.
As the music fills the airwaves, Mr. Braun often sings along (off-mike) in the studio.
If I wasn't down here, I'd be home singing, he says after humming to Yesterday When I Was Young by Sadler & Young.
Mr. Braun couldn't do this show without a devoted family member at his side, co-host John Bucks Braun. The nephew he often took to TV shows at Crosley Square and record hops runs the control board, clicks the computer, researches and writes the celebrity profiles, gets the coffee, and cues news anchor Don Herman.
He's the reason I got into this business, says Bucks, 49, a former Dayton radio personality who commutes from Xenia daily.
Much has changed since Mr. Braun made his radio debut at 13, hosting a Saturday morning knothole baseball show on WSAI-AM in 1942. There's not a record album or turntable in the studio.
All the songs are on the computer. No records! Mr. Braun says.
But the most important part of the show is what you can't find in the computer. That's when Bob tells his stories about a lifetime in show business, says Bucks, who was a 15-year-old Finneytown High School student when he followed his uncle's footsteps into radio on old WAEF-FM (now WRRM-FM).
Mr. Braun chuckles recalling how much trouble Bob Hope had trying to reach him during a personal appearance at a Seymour, Ind., Holiday Inn. Some guy claiming to be Bob Hope keeps calling for you, the switchboard operator said.
When the comedian and frequent Braun TV show guest finally got through, he said: Do you know it's easier to get through to the president?
Mr. Braun, who has played most county and state fairs in the Tristate, doesn't get around much anymore.
The trouble with personal appearances is that I never know how it's going to be, he says, rubbing his left hand. Sometimes it swells so much I can't even get a suit coat over it. Sometimes I can't button my shirt.
His candor has been constant throughout his career. He has the right of refusal over potential radio sponsors, as he did on TV. His loyal fans trust him.
I don't want to lose that, he says.
His TV commercials for the Craftmatic Adjustable Beds, taped 16 years ago, still air on cable.
They think it's my son, Mr. Braun says.
Even in Los Angeles, the plastic surgery and hair dye capital of the world, I never tried to lie about my age, he says.
Stint in L.A.
After Channel 5 canceled his show, Bob and wife Wray Jean spent 10 years in Los Angeles, where he was forced to audition for the first time since Arthur Godfrey. Yet he managed to carve out a successful career hosting local TV talk shows and specials, doing infomercials, and acting in TV shows and movies.
At one audition, he was shocked to see a once-famous Hollywood personality I know his name, but I won't mention it come in wearing rumpled clothes, worn-out shoes and a tattered sweater.
I went home and told Wray Jean, "It's time to go home.' I suddenly pictured myself at 70 going to auditions trying to look 50.
About that time WSAI-AM called and asked him to launch the original hits format in 1994.
I never thought that I'd be so well-received when I got back.
It's funny. I started my career on WSAI-AM. And I'm going to wind it up with WSAI-AM.
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