Ted Atkins - Captain Showbiz
|Ted Atkins passed away
on July 19, 2012. The following story appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette
on July 21, 2012...
Obituary: Ted Atkins /
'Captain Showbiz' leaves
July 21, 2012 12:03 am
By Emily Dobler / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
From being a disc jockey to general manager, Ted Atkins bounced around stations across the country during his 40 years in broadcasting.
Simply put, he knew radio. But he knew Pittsburgh radio better than anything.
"He had the magic touch," said Jeff Roteman, webmaster for the WTAE tribute site.
Mr. Atkins, nicknamed "Captain Showbiz," died Thursday at 72 from a two-year battle with pancreatic cancer.
He knew from a young age that he wanted to be a radio man; he jumped on the airwaves at 18 while attending Denver University and never looked back.
Mr. Atkins shifted around cities -- San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Detroit -- until, in 1973, he found himself in Pittsburgh. He was hired as general manager for WTAE-AM/FM, now split into WDDZ and WKST.
"Ted reshaped the radio station," Mr. Roteman said. "Ted knew the market and listened to what the audience was saying."
Before Mr. Atkins, the station catered to an older generation and had a poor following as a result.
Mr. Atkins tightened the news broadcasts and allowed the DJs more personality in their shows, he explained. He also brought in contemporary, Pittsburgh-centered music, playing songs from the region other stations wouldn't play, which gave WTAE a solid identity.
Mark Roberts, 64, served as the station's program director and worked with Mr. Atkins for 10 years.
"Listeners made a relationship with the station," he said of the on-air promotions, giveaways and contests the station introduced under Mr. Atkins' leadership. "A lot of the things Ted did were new."
Mr. Atkins' greatest contribution to Pittsburgh was through these radio promotions: the birth of the "Terrible Towel."
In 1975, he wanted to push a Steelers playoff promotion and giveaway, and brainstormed ideas with Myron Cope and sales manager Larry Garrett -- and so the Terrible Towel was born. It caught on, and the rest is Steel City history.
Mr. Roberts likened Mr. Atkins' changes to the innovative cinematography of "Citizen Kane." People watch the movie now and don't think much of it, he explained, but when it was first shown it was revolutionary.
"Ted put people in positions where they could excel," he said. "He helped them reach the pinnacle of their careers ... He brought out the best in people."
Notable radio personalities who worked alongside Mr. Atkins during his time as general manager include Larry Richert, John Garry, Larry O'Brien, Susie Barbour and Johnny Williams.
Mr. Garry and Mr. O'Brien in particular became close with Mr. Atkins while working at the station together.
The duo had a morning show from 1975 to 1991 and formed a long-lasting bond with their boss. Mr. Garry said he "wouldn't have predicted [the friendship] 25 years ago."
Mr. O'Brien admitted he, Mr. Garry and Mr. Atkins fought the most among the station's crew, but they always had fun with each other.
"He was different from any manager you could imagine," Mr. Garry said. "He organized everything to such fine detail that you could pull your hair out." He added, "[Ted] knew what he wanted to do and how to get it done."
In 1985, Mr. Atkins left WTAE and moved into broadcast consulting until 1992.
Mr. O'Brien recalled Mr. Atkins saying in one of their meetings, "There's absolutely nothing better than being on the radio."
Mr. Atkins is survived by his wife, Karen; two stepchildren, Brian Philbin and Laura Debruyn; and five grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday and 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday at Wolfe Memorial funeral home in Forest Hills.
The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Twin Valley Memorial Park in Delmont. The family has requested donations to the American Cancer Society.
Emily Dobler: firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from July 22 to July 23, 2012