Baltimore radio personality Bob Lopez, an iconoclastic newsman and talk-show host at 98 Rock (WIYY-FM) for 27 years and member of its popular Kirk, Mark & Lopez morning team, died of lung cancer yesterday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. He was 52.
Mr. Lopez, who preferred to be called by his last name, had first informed the station's listeners of his illness in an on-air interview from a hospital bed 14 months ago.
He had since undergone chemotherapy and other treatment while continuing to take part in the morning show -- often using his illness as a source of humor -- when his health permitted.
Jean Lopez, his wife of 21 years, said he was listening to rock music and cracking jokes until he lost consciousness a few hours before his death.
"His philosophy was to live life and not to live the cancer, and he did that," she said. "He was just so direct with everything, so what you saw was who he was."
Mrs. Lopez said one of her husband's last wishes was that everyone drink a shot of tequila in his memory.
"He really battled up until the very end. We're all in awe," said Ed Kiernan, vice president and general manager of WBAL-AM and WIYY. "He really [was] part of the brick and mortar of 98 Rock. We accomplished so much with him."
"98 Rock has lost a family member and a friend today, and we'll all be mourning," said Dave Hill, the station's program director. "Our airwaves will never be the same."
"I think the one thing people might not realize is what a pioneer he was," said Chuck DuCoty, program director at 98 Rock from 1981-1991.
A graduate of the University of Maryland, Mr. Lopez joined 98 Rock in 1978 -- the station's second year on the air -- as the morning newsman, after three years at WLMD in Laurel.
At that time, said Mr. DuCoty, most rock station newscasts consisted of fluff about Mick Jagger's escapades or what Ted Nugent had shot while hunting.
"Lopez wrote about serious news and serious issues ... but he wrote it in a way that the target audience -- specifically 18-to-24- year-old males -- liked," Mr. DuCoty said. "It resonated with those guys."
Soon, he said, it was Mr. Lopez rather than the disc jockeys who emerged as the No. 1 personality at 98 Rock.
"I'd go out and do appearances at bars or remotes or concerts," Mr. DuCoty said, "and invariably the person that people wanted to talk about was Lopez."
In the notoriously peripatetic world of radio, where job longevity can sometimes be measured in days and buying a home is considered an act of unbridled optimism, Mr. Lopez worked with 13 different morning show teams before the Kirk, Mark & Lopez show debuted eight years ago.
"He had a very dry sense of humor ..." said 98 Rock personality Sarah Fleischer, who worked with Mr. Lopez for 26 years. "His little side comments and commentary added so much to the show."
"Lopez [was] one of the smartest guys I've ever known," said Kirk McEwen of the KML show. "If I was going to be on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and get a lifeline, I'd say [call] Bob Lopez in Baltimore."
"He could be caustic, sharp-tongued and very opinionated," said fellow KML host Mark Ondayko. "But his opinions were always ... well thought-out."
Mr. Ondayko recalled his first day in the 98 Rock booth, when he sat in with Mr. Lopez before making his official on-air debut.
"I sat there for about two hours and he didn't say a word to me," Mr. Ondayko said. "Then he finally looked over at me ... and said: `Who the hell are you?'
"I said, `I'm your new partner.' Then he went right back to typing. But he was someone who, once you got past that exterior, there was a very special person there."
Colleagues said Mr. Lopez's devotion to newswriting was mixed with a whimsical sense of creativity, which occasionally manifested itself in on-air hoaxes.
Mr. DuCoty recalled a memorable hoax that began at 6 a.m. one April Fool's Day, when Mr. Lopez read a brief piece at the end of the newscast reporting that scientists had detected what might have been an explosion on the surface of Mars.
As the day went on, Mr. Lopez moved the piece higher and higher in the newscast, making the results of the explosion sound more and more ominous.
Soon, said Mr. DuCoty, Mr. Lopez was reporting that Mars was wobbling on its axis, then that it was threatening to spin out of control. By the end of the morning, Mr. Lopez was reporting that Mars had disintegrated, and that pieces of the planet were now orbiting on their own in outer space.
"I got calls from Goddard [Space Flight Center in Greenbelt] that day because they were getting so many phone calls from listeners," Mr. DuCoty said.
"In a world where the phrase is often over-used, Lopez was a true original," said Denise Oliver, who, as 98 Rock's first program director, hired Mr. Lopez in 1978.
"I also felt that Lopez should be nationally syndicated, because I felt he had that much talent. But maybe it's best that he wasn't, because very few broadcasters today have had ... the kind of relationship with the community that he had with Baltimore.