For forty years, Jerry Thomas entertained Greater Cincinnati listeners on WKRC-AM with “punchlines you missed” and jokes about his “granny” persona. He also helped turn WKRQ-FM (Q102) into a rock powerhouse by employing a young programmer called Randy Michaels.
He passed away at the age of 83 on Thursday morning. His son Brian Thomas, who took over the morning show on WKRC-AM after his father retired in 2006, made the announcement.
“Dad passed away this morning. He was a wonderful father and husband. Thank you everyone for all your thoughts and prayers during his battle with Alzheimer’s. i love you dad 11/11/1939 – 12/8/2022,” he wrote.
The 1957 Elder High School grad was a fixture on WKRC-AM for 44 years, even when his morning show dominated the 1980s despite the station’s lower power of 5,000 watts (compared to WLW-50,000 AM’s watts) and inferior AM sound quality than FM radio.
Thomas adapted to the business by playing Madonna songs on the radio in the 1980s—she was by no means one of his favorites—then going home to listen to jazz musicians like Stan Kenton.
Thomas continued to be heard on Cincinnati radio for years after retiring in 2006 at the age of 67, frequently on his son’s morning show.
“I think he was the best pitcher in the business,” says John Phillips, the longtime traffic reporter and radio host who began his career at WKRC in 1974, You could bank it.”
Price Hill, who was born John Gerald Crusham on November 11, 1939, started his broadcasting career in 1957 as WLWT-“Floor TV’s Boy” and was instrumental in launching Bob Brauns bandstand show and Ruth Lyons’ 50-50 club.
On May 1, 1962, when WKRC-AM started broadcasting 24 hours a day, he worked at Kentucky radio stations in Paris, Lexington, and Louisville before returning home for the station’s 1-6 p.m. shift. Before Brian was born, he legally changed his name to Jerry John Thomas in 1965.
He did everything over his four decades with the former Taft Broadcasting, which originally owned WKRC-AM, WKRQ-FM, and WKRC-TV. He was a morning host, conservative talk show host, DJ, radio program manager, Q102 station manager, salesperson, sales manager, morning personality, and morning show partner with Craig Kopp. He co-hosted PM Magazine on Channel 12 from 1984 to 1985.
Thomas is best known as Cincinnati’s well-liked morning anchor, who sang funny songs as “Granny” (inspired by Jonathan Winters’ silly Maude Frickert character) and told listeners the “punchlines you missed” on jokes, as well as Usual Lee Wong, a Chinese weatherman, who provided politically incorrect forecasts. He dressed as “Granny” and went to the annual Delhi Township Softball Rock game.
When WKRQ-FM switched from automated rock music to live DJs in the early 1970s, Thomas worked as the station manager there after finishing his 9–12 shift at WKRC–AM. He hired Chris O’Brien in March 1974 to work alongside Pat Barry, Jim Fox, and Ted McAlister at FM. Soon after, he hired Buffalo native Michaels as the program director.
O’Brien remarked that Thomas, who was then in his early 30s, “truly loved being station manager for this new company.” Our studios were next to each other afterwards, when he was no longer the station manager and just rode ‘KRC in the mornings, while I was working on the Q. He constantly hung in front of the glass window, attempting to split me apart. He occasionally visited my workshop and attempted other types of practical jokes on me. Being with him was enjoyable every time.
Newspaperman Richard Hunt, traffic reporter Nancy McCormick, AccuWeather meteorologist Elliott Abrams, Sport by Paul Sommerkamp or Phil Samp, and Paul Harvey’s syndicated news and commentary made up his morning lineup during the height of his popularity in the mid-1980s.
He gained notoriety in 1992 when he abruptly quit WKRC-AM after 30 years. He claimed that the station’s owner, Great American Broadcasting, had suggested a 40% wage cut and he had been unable to get a contract extension.
He informed me he quit WKRC-AM because it was losing money years later. He stated, “I could see the station going down the tubes.
But after the station was acquired by Clear Channel, the proprietors of rival WLW-AM, and run by Michaels in late 1992, he went back to hosting the morning show on WKRC-AM.
Thomas was so well-liked that he contemplated entering politics.
The Republican Party occasionally spoke with me about various topics (and ran)… After 40 years on the air in Cincinnati, he said in 2002, “I’ve thought about it a lot.
His previous workers regarded Thomas as a kind mentor.
“Jerry knew everybody and he knew the city like the back of his hand. He helped me understand what it meant to keep the broadcast local, according to Janeen Coyle, who previously co-wrote WKRC-AM-Morning with Thomas from 1993 to 1995 and co-hosted the morning program for WGRR-Married FM’s to Microphones with her husband Chris O’Brien.
He was a live advertising expert. He taught me a lot about delivering, actually. They never read the advertising; you should describe the product to the listener and explain why you adore it, she said.
He offered advice to Chad Pergram, a nighttime journalist in his early 20s who is now Fox News’ senior legislative correspondent, and to Phillips.
“Jerry went above and beyond to help me out and offer guidance. He came up with strategies to motivate me to be authentic and not pretend to sound like someone else when I was on the radio. Sincerity couldn’t be faked; it had to be real, he taught me. He made it seem simple, but it wasn’t, according to Phillips.
I don’t recall him ever being judgmental. He called you out for doing something right when he saw you doing it, frequently in front of other people. You felt like a mile away when he winked and grinned at you, according to Phillips.
Pergram, a Butler County native and Edgewood High School alumnus who grew up in Jacksonburg, remembers being a tentative 20-year-old while working with Thomas on the station.
I was too afraid to approach him in the hallway. Pergram, whose nightly news stint ended when Thomas appeared on the air, said, “But he was quite nice, and I spoke to him about moving deeper into radio.
I adored his “punchlines you missed” line. They needed to get the humor, according to Pergram.
Thomas would recite a selection of joke punchlines that were typed as a single line across 15 pages every morning. He once said to me, “They’re all real. I did indeed hear them all.
Despite the fact that Thomas knew a ton of jokes, according to Phillips, “what made him unique was his ability to perceive the potential to commercialize it. He enjoyed listening to the radio as much as the rest of us did, but he was good at selling it. He greatly increased the company’s profits.
Thomas, who was celebrating his 40th anniversary in 2002, acknowledged that when Michaels took over the 50,000-watt station in 1983, he nearly switched to WLW-AM.
“I imagine what may have happened if I had joined WLW-AM back then sometimes. Would I hold shares of stock? In the morning, would I still be at work? “Would I try to find a job?” he asked. But I don’t regret it.
His employers offered him eight weeks of paid time off in 1999, when he was 60 years old and ready to retire and spend the winters in Florida.
They treated me well, he said. But I did earn them some cash.
And he made a lot of his listeners smile.