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COLUMN: Remembering Hank Brown

Joe Kelly
Columnist
Posted 5/22/22

Hank Brown — who was called the dean of local radio broadcasters because he was — died last week. He was 91. He started in radio as a young man and retired 55 years later, which surprised me …

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COLUMN: Remembering Hank Brown

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Hank Brown — who was called the dean of local radio broadcasters because he was — died last week. He was 91.

He started in radio as a young man and retired 55 years later, which surprised me because I thought he would never stop working.

He loved radio. Correction. He loved talking to people and radio was the way he did it.

When I read he had passed I thought of the story he told me years ago. The story is so great I hope it is true. 

Hank had many stories because he did many things. He was a boxing ring announcer at the Olympics and other boxing matches and met Howard Cosell. He had a story about Cosell and I remember laughing but can’t remember the story.  

Hank also announced local sporting events and was always at the annual National Baseball Hall of Fame game in Cooperstown.

He was a religious man and often talked on air about his Catholic upbringing in his hometown of Philadelphia and the Rosary beads he always had with him. 

He was never at a loss for words, whether it was on the radio or off. I never saw him read from a script, though. It was always off the top of his head. He was articulate.

The Hank Brown Show was, at one time or another, on almost all the local stations, including WIBX, where we crossed paths. He was talented behind the microphone, comfortable, and always looked and sounded happy doing his show. 

Behind the microphone was his place. If he ever did anything else besides radio, I don’t know about it.

Hank played Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, big band music, 1950s music, but it was his talk between the music that made his show. He talked about local events, birthdays, anniversaries, his sponsors, his listeners, and himself. 

His radio show, on whatever station it aired, was always in the morning. For many years Hank had a billboard on state Route 5S with a big picture of himself. The message was “Your Host For Coffee and Toast.” For many people he was. 

And he was never too busy to raise money for a charity or donate his time for a good cause. 

I asked him once if he was interested in showing up for an American Heart Association event. I hadn’t finished explaining the details, and he said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” 

There was one time Hank asked me if I could get the great runner Bill Rodgers, who was in town to run the Boilermaker, to come on his show. Afterwards, Bill — who had been interviewed thousands of times over the years — said Hank was a great interviewer. 

Which reminds me of the Utica Sports Hall of Fame. Hank devoted many years to that organization.

As for that great story which I hope is true, Dick Clark, the great Dick Clark, worked at local radio station WRUN at the start of his career. He was known as Dick Clay on the air so as not to be confused with his father Dick Clark, who also worked at the station. 

Dick was also at WKTV for a short time, the same time Hank was hosting his Twist-A-Rama dance show there. The show featured high school kids dancing to the latest hits.

Dick Clark moved to Philadelphia and started a show there called “American Bandstand,” which soon went national.

“Guess where he got that idea,” Hank Brown said to me on more than one occasion. 

On a poster for Twist-A-Rama, which showed Hank smiling next to a WKTV camera, he is referred to as “Mr. Personality.” And he was.

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