Harry R. Shriver

[ Age 74 ] Baltimore radio executive brought `shock jocks' to Baltimore, created `Conference Call' program

"In that era, he was our own P.T. Barnum of radio in Baltimore," said Stan "The Fan" Charles.

August 14, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

Harry R. Shriver Jr., the legendary Baltimore radio executive who brought such personalities as Johnny Walker, Peter Berry -- "The Flying Dutchman" -- Charlie Eckman, Ron Matz and Tom Marr to WFBR-AM, and created "Conference Call," an innovative lunchtime radio current events discussion program, died Satuday of heart failure at Sinai Hospital. The Owings Mills resident was 74.

"He had his pulse on the radio business in Baltimore during the 1970s and 1980s, and took chances in an era when broadcasters weren't taking chances. After all, the people he had working for him, like `The Dutchman,' Walker, Eckman and me, weren't exactly choir boys," Mr. Matz, now a WJZ-TV personality, said yesterday.

"He created `Oriole Magic' after the station acquired radio broadcast rights for the team in 1979," Mr. Matz said. "He knew the type of person to put on the air who would attract an audience, and with a guy like Walker, which was groundbreaking, he helped pave the way for today's shock jocks."

Stan "The Fan" Charles, a longtime sports talk show host who now publishes PressBox, a weekly Baltimore sports tabloid, was given his start in radio by Mr. Shriver in 1981.

"Today, we call it thinking out of the box, but in those days, Harry was simply forward-thinking. He knew the power that a radio personality could have on a community and the power of radio marketing," Mr. Charles said.

"You could see with Walker and the Orioles, for instance, that he was way out front. In that era, he was our own P.T. Barnum of radio in Baltimore," he said.

"Harry Shriver was a pleasant, down-to-earth individual who rose to management positions without ever offending anyone. He was a low-profile guy who brought high-powered talent to town," said Royal Parker, a veteran Baltimore broadcaster.

Harry Roland Shriver Jr. was born and raised on his family's farm in New Bern, N.C., where he grew up during the 1930s and 1940s listening to the network radio adventures of such characters as Little Orphan Annie, Andy Hardy and the Green Hornet.

While attending high school, he wrote and produced a weekly radio program that featured school news and activities.

Because he was a baseball fan, that led to a job as a public address announcer at a local ball park that was home to the New Bern Bears, a Carolina League club.

After graduating from high school in 1950, he borrowed $300 to attend the National Academy of Broadcasting in Washington, and eight months later, he went to work at a small station in Washington, N.C.

During the Korean War, he was an Army disc jockey assigned to the demilitarized zone, where he played popular music for the troops over the American Forces Korea Network.

After being discharged in 1953, he returned to his old job at WFTC-AM in Kinston, N.C. He was 23 years old when he joined WFBR as a news broadcaster in 1956.

During his spare time and off hours, he covered the Colts and Orioles and football and basketball at the University of Maryland, before being promoted to program director at the station in 1966.

From 1964 to 1979, he was the voice of the Colts at Memorial Stadium, where he introduced the players and announced play-by-play action.

In 1970, Mr. Shriver was promoted to president and general manager, a position he held until the station was sold in 1988.

When the Flying Dutchman departed in 1973, Mr. Shriver told The Sun in 2004, he was looking for someone "crazier than him" for the morning drive-time slot and found that person in Johnny Walker, who at the time was working in Chattanooga, Tenn., and brought him to WFBR.

It wasn't long before Mr. Shriver realized he had made the right decision. While sitting at a traffic light on North Avenue one morning, he heard Mr. Walker crack, "We've just been listening to Elvis the Pelvis. Good thing he wasn't named Enos," and looked around to see nearby motorists howling at the suggestive wisecrack.

Mr. Walker's on-air antics and madcap exploits sometimes caused legal problems for WFBR.

"Nonetheless, Harry stood behind Walker even though he kept him up to his neck in lawyers," Mr. Matz said.

Mr. Shriver purchased radio broadcast rights in 1979 for the Orioles from WBAL, and WFBR remained the team's flagship station until the rights were sold to WTOP-AM in Washington in 1986.

When asked about his politics, Mr. Shriver explained in a 1988 interview in The Sun, that he "leaned to the conservative side," and that the on-air personalities he hired were not there to "promote my personal viewpoints."

After the sale of WFBR, Mr. Shriver managed stations in Ocean City, Pittsburgh and Beaver Falls, Pa., which were owned by Baltimore Radio Show Inc., until the company sold them and went out of business in 1995.

In the mid-1990s, he became part-owner of WWLG-AM, and in 1997, became general manager of WCBM, an all-talk station.

He moved "Conference Call," which he had established on WFBR during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, to the station and remained a panelist on the show until retiring in 2000.

"All and all," Mr. Shriver said in the 1988 interview, "radio has given me a good ride."

His daughter, Catherine Poole Shriver, who died in 2004, was brain-damaged at birth and unable to learn to speak, which resulted in his becoming a tireless advocate for the mentally challenged.

He began volunteering for the Association of Retarded Citizens, now the Arc of Baltimore, and had later served as its president and was a board member for 30 years.

He was an avid reader, genealogist and gardener.

A memorial gathering will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, followed by services at Loring Byers Funeral Home, 8728 Liberty Road, Randallstown.

Surviving are two sons, Harry R. Shriver III of Parkton and Casey Hamann of West Lafayette, Ind.; and five grandchildren. His marriage to the former Patsy Poole ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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