Tube City Almanac

January 26, 2011

A Note About Doug Hoerth

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By

I was a weird kid, and those of you who know me as a weird adult won't be surprised. But I started listening to talk radio in 1985 or 1986 --- I was a big fan of Lynn Cullen's feature stories on WTAE-TV, and when she moved to the radio side of the operation, I moved with her.

That's when I started listening to Doug Hoerth, who died Tuesday at 66. I even called his show a few times when I was in high school. But mostly I listened to him. I've told many people that much of what I know about pacing a radio show, I stole from Doug Hoerth.

In my mediocre backwater radio career, working at college and suburban stations, I've often used "Doug-isms" on the air. For instance, I've caught myself saying, a la Uncle Dougie, things like "I hope you know what your name is. If you don't, you're in big trouble --- I don't know who you are, either."

I stole his habit of dropping in little off-mike comments and soundbites (including some from one of his favorite movies, "Blazing Saddles"). I stole some of his taste in music. (I've also tried to acknowledge those things on the air, at WRCT and elsewhere.)

. . .

I wish I could have stolen his interview technique (or his guest list). I loved his interviews. He was a great interviewer, and one of only a few broadcast journalists I've ever heard who actually prepared for interviews. (Larry King's complete lack of preparation drove Hoerth nuts, and it drove me nuts, too. I couldn't watch Larry King without thinking of Doug Hoerth.)

One hot, miserable summer, I was cutting lawns for spending money. I remember wearing headphones and a Walkman tuned to the old WTAE (1250), so that I could keep up with Hoerth as I worked. One day, he was interviewing one of my comedy heroes, Stan Freberg, who was pimping his then-new autobiography.

Freberg --- never one to mince words --- essentially claimed credit for inventing comedy records, funny commercials, and a bunch of other things, probably also including the Internet and wrapped gum. Hoerth tried to interject some questions, and Freberg just kept gassing on and on.

Finally, Hoerth wrapped up the interview, said goodbye, then asked his producer, "Is he off the phone? He is? Good ... modest son-of-a-bitch, ain't he?" And BAM! He went right into a WTAE jingle and a commercial. I laughed so hard, I thought my pants would never dry.

. . .

There were many great Doug Hoerth on-air moments. There was his notorious, oft-repeated segment with poor Mrs. Gertrude Wilson, who accidentally called WTAE radio while trying to get a pumpkin pie recipe from WTAE-TV, and was tortured by Hoerth for several agonizingly funny minutes.

And there was "Jane," an elderly, slightly demented lady who called regularly to sing her self-penned songs about death. And there were his marathon sessions with former Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht, rambling about politics, pop culture, presidential assassinations and everything in between.

Shortly before he was let go from his last radio gig, at McKeesport-licensed WPTT (1360), Hoerth was using the last hour of his three-hour show for monologues about his life. I suspect they were actually chapters from the book he was supposedly writing.

I wish I had been able to tape those monologues, because few people have done personal radio storytelling better than Doug Hoerth, except for Garrison Keillor and the late Jean Shepherd, who was one of Hoerth's radio heroes. Certainly no one in Pittsburgh radio has done them better in my lifetime.

The last time I talked to Doug, I told him the monologues very much reminded me of Shepherd's, and he seemed genuinely touched by the comparison.

. . .

I interviewed Doug a few times, and even hung out with him on two occasions --- once while I was working for Kennywood, another time at a DJ remote in Wilmerding. He was wickedly funny, foul-mouthed, and amazing observant, offering a pointed, running commentary on the parade of Mon Valley humanity we were watching.

But I never really got to "know" him. Several times I invited him out to dinner at one of his Bellevue hangouts, like the Eat'n Park or the Rusty Nail, but he always begged off.

I always sensed that only a few people could penetrate his inner circle, and I certainly wasn't one of them. I envy the people who did get admitted into that elite group. I enjoyed basking in his attention, even for a few minutes.

. . .

Because of his encyclopedic knowledge of radio, I always thought Doug would have made a marvelous teacher of broadcasting and communications.

But Doug once admitted to me that he lacked a certain "drive" --- to escape from radio's shackles or to escape from working in the Pittsburgh market, which has steadily declined in size and prestige over the last 30 years.

As Doug would have pointed out, when he arrived to work in Pittsburgh radio, KDKA was the flagship of the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and Pittsburgh was the seventh-largest media market in the United States. Now, KDKA is a minor cog in the CBS wheel and Pittsburgh is barely in the Top 25.

I always sensed that Doug lacked a certain self-confidence, which is a shame. But then again, so many creative people doubt their own talents. (And so many completely un-creative people are completely uncritical of themselves.)

. . .

Several people, including Cullen, have remarked that Doug lived to be on the radio, and that when radio didn't want him any more, he essentially died of a broken heart.

I don't know about that. But I do know that my heart broke a little bit on Wednesday morning when I heard he was gone.

See you around, Uncle Dougie, the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, a ricky-ticky-cha-cha-cha. Wherever you are, I hope the diet pop is ice cold, and that the supply of Frank Sinatra records is endless.

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Your Comments are Welcome!

I was saddened to read in Laurence Gaines’ obit little over a year ago that Doug had thrown out many of his tapes from his career. I can understand him not wanting to hold onto memories from a past life, especially one that threw him into the cold and made him feel wanted towards the end (especially in a market that does so much G**damn recycling of on-air talent that Greenpeace should give us an award I mean, really, Stan n Guy are on their 23rd radio life and we couldn’t get Hoerth a DJing job at WJAS or 3WS or somewhere. Man knew more about oldies and doo-wop than all of the local DJs combined Okay, rant over). Unfortunately it also all but guaranteed that those radio moments are gone forever.

Some of the most entertaining radio were the five years Hoerth and Gaines were paired together at WTAE from 1992-1997. As far as I was concerned, the same over on WPTT. He told you he didn’t want to do “blue radio” anymore, then you’d be outside on a cigarette break with him and most of what he discussed was blue. It always seemed like he was convincing himself that he didn’t want to work blue anymore because (I suspect) Renda prohibited it.

Like you, Jason, I discovered Hoerth as a fourth grader when I was bored and trying to fall asleep and stumbled across this guy on KDKA who didn’t sound like us and was just making fun of more or less everything. From then on I was hooked and listened when I could, interviewed him once for a school paper in college and was part of the “Doug and the Group” segement twice.
Keith P. - January 27, 2011

I was a listener to Hoerth in afternoon drive on WPTT. One thing I remember, as you might expect given my appreciation of the business, was his telling listeners about when the station was going to power down from the daytime 5,000 watts emanating from Calvary Cemetery to the nighttime 1,000 watts from the towers across the Yough from Olympia Shopping Center. Like any talk show host Hoerth had moments of brilliance, along with moments when one might want to pull out one’s hair or pull out one’s radio and toss it off the Jerome Bridge. I did not agree with all of his politics but clearly he was sincere in beliefs developed through the life he lived. And he was entertaining, a lesson for any talk show host regardless of his or her political stance. He will be missed. Requiescat in pacem, amen.
Does it matter? - January 27, 2011

I suspect the best articles always come straight from the heart.

Good job.
BarryG - January 27, 2011

I remember when Frank Sinatra died and Doug talked for the entire morning show about him. I was on a trip up in the Allegheny mountains shooting photos of trains. I did not stray too far from the car as not to miss any of his show. The last I heard him was his one time internet show and he told many of his old stories and played the Gertrude Wilson bit. And I became a Blazing Saddles fan because of him, too.
Bill - January 27, 2011

Loved Uncle Dougie…a real void to talk radio when he left…especially enjoyed the segments with “elaine”..on household tips…lol…She was so serious..and Doug was…well..he was just Doug!!....really miss him!!!
Jan Savko - January 27, 2011

An hour and a half of Doug’s program has been posted on YouTube. Really to hear him once again. Great listening!
Bill - January 28, 2011

Absolutely tremendous article Jason wrote about Doug. Some insider stuff only
someone in the business would know. Any idiot could figure out that Jason liked Doug …. and admired his abilities. Radio has changed so much over the past few years and not for the better! That’s a real shame.

Doug Hoerth was a non-renewable resource and should have been given
every opportunity to continue in his craft. Along with Jason, I will miss him.
His knowledge of Rock and Roll was unsurpassed. If he didn’t know it,
it wasn’t worth knowing!

Thanks, Jason for the great send off you gave him. You can really write and make people eager to read your thoughts and feelings. You might be a weird
adult, but, take it from another weird adult, you did an absolutely fabulous job on that article. We “weird ones” have to stick together.

RIP “Uncle Dougie”
Dave R. - January 28, 2011

This is just the saddest news I’ve had lately. I’m an expat from Atlanta, GA, and I LOVED Uncle Dougie, he said it like it was. I enjoyed his interviews with Dr. Cyril Wecht. So intellectual and stimulating!

Blessings upon you, Uncle Dougie, I have missed you so.
Lane in McK - January 29, 2011

There are 2 new YouTube clips posted with Doug Hoerth
These are from the WTAE days. Good to hear Alan Boal’s, Neal “Sky Puppy” Spence’s and Joe DeNardo’s voices again. Hopefully he has some with Laurence Gaines with some crazy drop-ins.
Bill - January 30, 2011

- March 28, 2014

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