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Lewis W. Dickey, Sr., who rose from radio advertising sales to manager to hard-charging owner of broadcast stations, including WOHO-AM and WWWM-FM in Toledo, died Thursday in Piedmont Hospital, Atlanta. He was 86.
He’d suffered a stroke two days earlier, said his son Lewis, Jr., chief executive of Cumulus Broadcasting, which owns hundreds of radio stations around the country. Among the firm’s first acquisitions in the late 1990s were the stations of Mr. Dickey, Sr., and his Midwestern Broadcasting Co.
“I never worked for him,” said his son, whose first radio station was in Milwaukee, “but always worked with him. He was my mentor and adviser and No. 1 fan.”
Mr. Dickey’s children grew up on Deepwood Lane in South Toledo and helped out at the radio stations, even mowing lawns on the properties. His son John is a co-chief operating officer of Cumulus, while son Michael runs Modern Luxury, a magazine publisher, and son David is in charge of an Atlanta sports radio station owned by the separate Dickey Broadcasting.
An early radio job for Paul W. Smith, now morning radio host on WJR-AM in Detroit, was selling advertising for the former WXEZ-FM in Toledo, owned by Mr. Dickey and Midwestern Broadcasting.
“He understood the power of radio and the magic of radio,” said Mr. Smith, an inductee last month into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
“Lew was a hard-charging, hard-driving brilliant broadcaster,” Mr. Smith said. “I learned so much about radio and radio sales from Lew. I learned how you can balance working hard and running a business and being a good father. He was always concerned about his children and setting a good example for them.”
In 1972, The Blade and Mr. Dickey and his firm became owners of WLIO-TV in Lima, Ohio. The partnership lasted about a decade. WLIO is owned by Block Communications Inc., parent firm of The Blade. In Toledo, Mr. Dickey and the firm were civic boosters and sponsored community events, son Lew, Jr., said.
He and his wife, Patricia, moved away in 1980 and for several years divided their time between North Palm Beach, Fla., and Atlanta.
He was born July 19, 1927, in Steubenville, Ohio, to Pearl and Michael Dickey. He was a graduate of Yorkville High School and received a degree in business from Ohio State University. During summers he worked for a Wheeling, W.Va., radio station owned by Storer Broadcasting. After graduation, the station hired him to sell advertising and in time promoted him to sales manager. He became a sales manager for KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh and then WAGA-TV in Atlanta.
“He was really the rising star in that side of the company,” son Lew, Jr., said.
But “he had the bug to be an entrepreneur,” Lew, Jr., said, and he bought a moribund station in Wheeling that he had competed against. “Over a couple years, he did a remarkable turnaround and took it to No. 1,” his son said. He bought WOHO-AM in 1965.
Mr. Dickey had been a member of the Toledo Country Club, Inverness Club, and Toledo Club.
He was home every night for dinner at 6. On Sundays after returning from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Maumee, the family gathered for long brunches during which “he took time to understand was going on in everyone’s life and week,” son Lew, Jr., said. “His family was his absolute No. 1 priority.”
Surviving are his wife, Patricia Dickey, whom he married Dec. 28, 1956; sons, Lewis, Jr., John, David, and Michael Dickey; daughters, Pat Dickey and Caroline Oberg, and eight grandchildren.
Memorial services are pending. Arrangements are by H.M. Patterson & Son-Oglethorpe Hill Chapel, Atlanta.
Mr. Dickey had Parkinson’s disease, and the family suggests tributes to Parkinson’s research at Emory University medical school in Atlanta.
Contact Mark Zaborney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6182.