Stu Kerr: a good man, a funny man, a man who'll be missed

THIS JUST IN...

July 20, 1994|By DAN RODRICKS

We sat in his house as spring came to Baltimore and Stu Kerr, trussed into a steel brace that supported his upper body, talked almost breathlessly and told jokes and stories about radio days, and it was as if we were old friends.

He spoke of his father, back in New York, and how that hard-working Scot didn't understand his boy's interest in broadcasting. He spoke of Manhattan, breaking out in the biz, picking up a job, playing with microphones, working on his delivery, landing at a station in Annapolis, working with men who later became legends of Maryland broadcasting themselves. He recalled doing every job a young man could do in a radio station -- news, weather, sports, spinning records, writing and reading commercials. Stu loved radio, he said. He only went into TV because he believed that was the future of broadcasting. And none could call him a fool for making that choice, way back when.

I told Stu that, regrettably, I hadn't been around when he was performing on kiddie TV in Baltimore. Television's magic signals came from Boston when I was a kid. We had Rex Trailer, Major Mudd, Big Brother Bob Emery, Captain "Scupper My Uppers" Bob. From Providence came a guy named Salty Brine.

It sounds corny, but those local TV jesters were our surrogate uncles, the happy and eccentric ones who made you smile.

When Americans were still getting used to television -- not understanding, completely, its impact on our lives -- parents let us have a little time with these harmless, fun-loving characters who, for a while anyway, seemed larger than life. "I had to take my sister to see Professor Kool [Stu Kerr] at the Woodhome Recreation Center," a Parkville guy said after hearing of Stu's death this week. "She was totally in awe of him."

It's not simply Baby Boomer nostalgia getting to Baltimoreans who mourn Stu Kerr's passing. This was a genuinely good man -- you can't fake that on TV -- who liked the sound of laughter, especially from children, and especially if he had something to do with it. He was Bozo.

I got to know Stu a little, meeting him here and there, after WMAR had canned him and rubbed just about everyone the wrong way in doing so. Someone said Stu was bitter about that. If so, it was understandable. But in my encounters, he was never that way, never consumed with self-pity. Life went on. He kept working in the biz. He knew people remembered his early TV work. He knew people loved him. And, as Richard Sher of WJZ-TV said yesterday, "Stu belonged to Baltimore, not to any one station."

"I was 30 years old and Stu was still on TV and that helped me keep the kid inside me alive," said an aging Boomer who was happy to see the former Professor Kool get a gig on "54 Space Corps" in the mid-1980s. That day at his house this spring, Stu's demeanor would suddenly darken the way a sun-splashed lawn darkens when a cloud blows swiftly across the sun. But he didn't dwell on his cancer. He wasn't consumed with self-pity. He told jokes. He talked about radio days. He spoke in comical voices. I was awed.

Then, I sat Stu at the kitchen table and put a microphone in front of him, and he taped a little shtick for me. He was vigorous, he was charming and clever. He was really funny. I left his house grateful, and giggling like a little kid.

Lawyers without a clue

Anyone who doubts that the National Football League has been transformed from a gutsy game of mud-sopped athletes to a corporate enterprise of lawyers and high-salaried bureaucrats should have checked out the scene in Indianapolis last month.

The NFL, fighting to keep Baltimore's Canadian Football League franchise from calling itself the Colts, brought so many New York lawyers to a federal court hearing that, were it a game, they would have drawn a penalty for having too many men on the field. But it wasn't a game, and there was little evidence that the league has very much to do with games anymore. Suit after suit testified about market strategy, consumer awareness and growth patterns.

The contrast with the sport of Johnny Unitas was most apparent during the testimony of John Ziemann, head of the still-marching Baltimore Colts Band. Ziemann, an uncomplicated man of uncommon decency, sat nervously in the witness box in a modest, out-of-fashion suit and described decades of rich football heritage and how the team had abandoned Baltimore. The NFL's lawyers could barely contain their arrogance. They snickered and passed notes to one another throughout Ziemann's testimony, and demonstrated not a clue of understanding that their boring league desperately needs more men like Ziemann and fewer like themselves.

The disdain was mutual. During the cab ride from the Indianapolis airport -- a virtual journey into the heart of darkness for Ziemann -- the band leader said he hadn't been in the city that stole his team since his high school days. "I'd have rather been on Devil's Island during a plague," he said.

About Mr. McLean

During June, with local media floodlights on Jackie McLean and her Circuit (or was it Circus?) Court trial, the former city comptroller's husband stepped into a job at Parks Sausage.

During a reception sponsored by the Economic Development Consortium at the Forum, Raymond Haysbert, chairman and CEO of Parks, announced James McLean's appointment to vice president for market development.

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