A colorful era in the world of local media ends this week. Walt Bodine retires after a more than 7 decades in the business.
To many Kansas Citians, Walt Bodine is a living legend. He embodies the gravitas, authority, and experience old time news men once had. They describe him alternately as “an institution, a tradition, and a treasure.”
When Walt retires today, he’ll have earned recognition as an award winning radio and television broadcaster, a pioneer of the talk show, a newspaper man, author, columnist and commentator.
In commentaries he colloquially called “What Do You Say To That” for Channel 9, Walt covered topics ranging from food to politics. In one example, Walt is in a barber’s chair, talking about political polls.
“Well, the political season is upon us again, and we have the Washington Post poll, the ABC poll, and here in Kansas City I have the one I always do because I go out to the barber shops to find out what people are talking about. We call it the 'barber pole.'"
Walt cut his teeth on TV when the medium was brand new. He started with WDAF in 1947 and worked there almost 20 years.
When Walt worked for Channel 9 in the '80s and '90s Alan Ball was his photographer. He said Walt was from what he called “the old school.
"Police scanners were his life. When he worked at Channel 9 and he’d get in the cars, he’d listen along. He probably knew more policemen as friends than politicians.”
But radio has long been Walt’s passion. His storied career includes a show called NIGHTBEAT on WHB, the Walt Bodine Show on KMBZ, and, of course, on KCUR. Many public radio luminaries have stopped by. In September 2001 Garrison Keillor was Walt’s guest. Walt asked if he does his own writing, for iconic sketches like “Guy Noire, Private Eye,” and if it’s lonely.
Keillor immediately slipped into the Guy Noire persona and voice- and said yes, he does his own writing and he is alone when he does it. Walt gave forth with his signature nasal laugh at Keillor’s spontaneous performance.
Walt’s appreciation for Garrison Keillor mirrors his own love of the story, and storytelling.
In the late '80s I asked him to share some of his experiences in a piece on the sounds and smells of Kansas City.
He talked about Sanderson’s Café, for years a late night downtown eatery.
“I was in there one time,” he said, "this is a fact, I was in about 3am and sitting on my left was a federal judge, and on my right a wrestler. Just next to him, a couple of stools down, was a lady of unknown reputation and profession, but you could kind of guess it.”
This wasn’t the first time I mined Walt’s exhaustive memory for color commentary or historical detail.
And I wasn’t the only one.
In his decades at KCUR, Walt was a resource, and mentor to many producers and reporters.
General manager Patty Cahill says his last broadcast is a milestone.
“While we are excited about the programming we are bringing to our listeners, the 10 to 11 o’clock hour will never be the same on KCUR.”