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The longtime voice of Toledo radio is signing off.
Bob Kelly, a near-constant presence on local airwaves for more than 40 years, is retiring from broadcasting at the age of 70.
"It’s time," Kelly said simply.
One half of the WRQN-FM Morning Show with Bob and Becky (Shock), Kelly’s last day at the station is Friday. Beginning Monday, Ron Finn, WRQN’s program director and afternoon disc jockey, will be paired with Shock for the morning drive time.
"I think he’s irreplaceable," Finn said. "Those are some giant shoes that I have to fill."
In a career spanning 50 years, Kelly — a member of the Radio Television Broadcasters Hall of Fame of Ohio since 2006 — started in Alliance, Ohio, working at a small station on the first floor of an old home. Rented apartments made up the second floor.
"One of my first days on the air, a lady came down and asked me if I could turn down the music because she was trying to take a nap," recalled Kelly, whose real name is Norman Plumer.
Several years later Kelly was "discovered" while working at a Canton station in 1965 by Toledo radio legends Bob Martz and John Garry, who were looking for disc jockeys they could "hire cheaply, and clean up and make into a star."
The young broadcaster was soon hired as the morning disc jockey at WTOD, an AM rock station, until it went country. Displeased with the change in format, Kelly left WTOD and worked for a year as Skippy the Scarecrow during Happy Time at WDHO-TV, Channel 24, in 1969, before moving to Detroit to anchor an evening sports show on WWJ-AM for five years.
Martz brought him back to Toledo, recruiting Kelly as the morning man on WCWA-AM in 1974. It was one of many moves along the AM and FM dial for Kelly.
"Since that time I’ve worked at every station in Toledo but Sunoco," he joked. Other stops include stints at WOHO-AM and WXKR-FM.
One time Kelly left a station after a disagreement with his program director over whether Tom Waniewski, now a Toledo City Councilman, should remain as his newsman. Other times it was purely a cost-cutting measure, with Kelly being replaced by cheaper talent or syndicated programming. No matter the reasons, Kelly said it was important for him to exit with grace and no hard feelings.
"I tell young people ... the one thing you don’t ever want to do is burn your bridges. I’ve been back to several stations I worked at," he said. "Just don’t burn your bridges. It comes around again."
And while he fielded offers from radio stations in larger markets, Kelly said he never considered leaving northwest Ohio.
"I’m remembering Bob Martz’s quote about Toledo being a hotbed of guys who have started here and gone on to bigger jobs," he said. "[But] I always thought Toledo was such a wonderful town, when I had my chances to move on I stayed here, and I’m glad I did."
Gifted with a clever wit that recalls Steve Allen, Kelly was the prototypical morning DJ, offering listeners good-natured fun and antics long before the radio reign of the shock jock.
He once lit on fire the news copy of radio newsman Bob Zraik while he was reading details about a local fire on the air. Zraik was forced to stamp out the small flames as he continued the news. Kelly attempted to call the pope when the University of Toledo played the University of Notre Dame in basketball. He got as far as talking with a woman who spoke mostly Italian.
Many will also remember Kelly’s daily lampoons of comic strip Mary Worth in the 1970s and 1980s. John Saunders, the writer of the strip, was so amused at the ribbing he created a radio disc jockey character in honor of Kelly.
In 1987, Kelly was teamed with Dennis Staples, a part-time disc jockey and full-time drug counselor.
Only a year after their pairing, Staples told The Blade, "My heart stopped when I found out I was going to work with him. Kelly to me is God. He is the primary talent in town."
The morning duo worked together on three stations until Staples retired in August, 2006, because of health reasons. He died in December, 2007, after battling diabetes, along with kidney and heart disease.
Shock was hired as Staples’ replacement nearly five years ago.
"It’s has been an educational experience every day that I’m in there," she said of working with Kelly. "We’re already hearing from people, listeners, and callers … of how much of an impact and how much he’s meant to them. He’s a legend here in Toledo.
"He doesn’t come in and have a bad day or an off-day," she added. "He’s always … smiling and entertaining listeners."
Monday won’t be Kelly’s first significant absence from radio. He once spent three months without a microphone in front of him, and just as quickly realized how much he missed it.
"I found I had a lot of things I wanted to say to somebody and I didn’t have the avenue to say it," he said. "Not that I’m a man of great opinions all the time, but I found myself saying, Gee, I wish I had a venue to express myself rather than just bore the occasional friend."
Boring his friends will have to wait, though. Kelly’s wife of 30 years, Linda, has already made post-retirement plans for her husband.
"She told me the bushes need trimming," he said. "That put me in my place."
A retirement party for Kelly, featuring acoustic duo Arctic Clam, is planned for 7 p.m. Friday at Fat Fish Blue, 6140 Levis Commons Blvd. in Perrysburg. Tickets are $70 per couple. For more information, call 419-931-3474 or visit http://www.fatfishfunnybonetoledo.com.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.