Skip to comments.Controversial Radio Host Pete Franklin Dead at 77
Posted on 12/10/2004 7:07:31 AM PST by John W
Pete Franklin, Cleveland's most successful and controversial sports talk host, has died of cancer in central California. He was 77. He died Nov. 23.
Franklin was the first man to make a street fight out of Cleveland radio, using a mix of egomania, ho kum and cruel ty.
"Pete was the star, and he let everybody know it," said Dave Dombrowski, Frank lin's producer from 1980 to 1987.
Before he arrived in 1967, radio personali ties spoke quietly and courteously, in civilized tones. Franklin changed all that. He screamed and berated listeners, often calling them "creeps, jerks and morons." He would never talk to children, shouting at them to go to bed and stop bothering him. He was not above humiliating callers who were nervous or had slight speech problems.
He always was ready to attack sports personalities. Former Indians manager Frank Robinson, former Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien, general manager of the defunct Cleveland Barons hockey team Jack Vivian, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and the late Yankees manager Billy Martin were targets of some of his most unbridled diatribes.
"He orchestrated his show like a maestro," said Joe Tait, the radio voice of the Cavaliers, who met Franklin in 1970. "He knew exactly what he was doing at all times. He was a master of sports talk."
In 1983, Stepien retaliated by suing Franklin for defamation of character and by taking Cavs broadcasts off WWWE AM/1100, Franklin's station.
Franklin once said his on-air personality was purposely obnoxious, as a form of showmanship, but few believed him. He appeared to enjoy his attacks too much to be faking it.
Franklin's habit of attacking sportswriters was another ground-breaker. Until Franklin came along with his version of shock radio, Cleveland sportswriters never were criticized on the air.
Franklin added humorous touches to his talk shows. He would conduct mock funerals for Cleveland sports teams that had been eliminated from pennant and division races. He surveyed the sports scene through segments entitled, "As the Ball Bounces," in which he affected the voice of a lisping poet.
He gave nicknames to regular callers, such as "Mr. Sour Apple," "Mr. Know-It-All" and "The Swami."
Mike Trivisonno, who has a sports talk show on WTAM AM/1100, began calling Franklin's show in his late teens. After a few conversations, Franklin sarcastically nicknamed Trivisonno "Mr. Know-It-All." The nickname soon became a badge of honor. One of Cleveland radio's best host-caller relationships lasted 20 years.
"I respected the hell out of Pete Franklin, and he respected me as a caller," Trivisonno said. "There were times he'd have me on for the whole segment. I always wanted his job. . . ."
"Pete's the reason I'm here. He was just a fantastic talk-show host. He was such an honest guy; he didn't sugarcoat. And his retention was incredible. He was a genius."
His only weakness was in interviews, where he would lose his bluster and become strangely fawning, even when talking to raw rookies.
Franklin was often booed in public but said that did not bother him.
"I laugh all the way to the bank," he said.
In one memorable Stadium pressbox confrontation, a sportswriter who had been victimized by Franklin's slings and arrows called Franklin every obscene name in the book. Franklin just sat quietly and took it, his face flushed in embarrassment.
Cleveland was good to Franklin. It was the only place he ever succeeded in broadcasting.
"I talked to Pete once about the keys to his success," said Geoff Sindelar, who spent many years as a sports-talk host in Cleveland and knew Franklin for 30 years.
"He told me two things: 'If somebody calls up and makes an idiot of himself, tell him he's an idiot, but if the guy has a decent, solid point, talk to him; and stay away from the players and the GMs and those people, because if you get too friendly with them, there's no way you can go on the air and say they're garbage if they're garbage."
A native of East Longmeadow, Mass., where he was born on Sept. 22, 1927, Franklin's first broadcasting job was with Armed Forces Radio.
Before coming here in 1967 to conduct a 11 p.m.-midnight sports talk show at WERE-AM/1300, he was a wanderer seeking a pulpit, working for radio stations in Louisiana, North Carolina, Georgia, New Jersey, California and Texas, often as a disc jockey. He had just about given up as a on-air personality and was working as operations director of WOIO in Canton when WERE hired him.
At one time in Cleveland, he had both a sports talk show and a late-night general talk show.
"If you sat down with Pete and threw the sports out the window, he was really a learned person," Sindelar said. "You could talk with Pete about anything. His knowledge of jazz, in particular, was unbelievable."
Franklin was with WERE until 1972, when he switched to WWWE (the station later switched its call letters to WTAM), where he remained for 15 years.
"Pete was a classic," Dombrowski said. "He was before his time. I learned so much from him. The best times I had with him were when we weren't on the air. The knowledge he had - about everything, not just sports - was amazing."
In 1979, WWWE took Franklin off sports talk and made him the host of the morning drive-time show, in which he failed. He was soon back on sports. He was also ineffective in a short stint on NBC-affiliated WKYC Channel 3. The station dropped him in 1976 because he made critical remarks about NBC in a newspaper interview.
In May 1987, at the peak of his fame here, Franklin announced he was leaving WWWE to take a job at New York's WFAN radio, beginning July 1. A few days later, he suffered a heart attack, necessitating a quadruple bypass.
After recovering, Franklin joined WFAN, which billed him as the leading sports talker in the nation and gave him a massive publicity buildup. But Franklin never caught on in New York. He ranked 21st in his time slot in his last ratings, capturing only slightly more than 1 percent of the total listening audience. New York critics loathed him. Several refused to mention him in their columns. On July 19, 1989, two months before his contract was up, Franklin resigned, saying he did not like the WFAN format.
Franklin returned to Cleveland for a press conference, in which it was announced he would do commentary for WWWE from his retirement home in San Diego.
"I'm doing this for the Pete Franklin Retirement Fund," he said, looking thin and weak.
Franklin sounded out of touch with Cleveland sports on his remote telephone commentary. After a year, WWWE dropped him. He later landed at KNBR in San Francisco, where he spent several years in the 1990s.
He worked briefly for WTAM AM/1100 in 1998 before resigning.
Franklin is survived by his wife, Pat, and two children.
Plain Dealer reporter Dennis Manoloff contributed to this report.
that sucks, but Jim Rome is better....and funnier too....
Peace to his soul, prayers for his family.
Too bad. I always liked Pete.
I've met Joe Tait. Good guy.
"that sucks, but Jim Rome is better....and funnier too...."
I think you missed the point. Rome may or may not be better, but Franklin was first. Originality gives you extra points.
I listened to Pete for years. Pete owned Cleveland sports. And when a trade was made, we'd all listen to Pete to hear his reaction, (take). And no one, not even Rome, could skewer an idiot faster, or more thoroughly than Sweet Pete. RIP Pete Franklin.
I don't care for basketball that much but do listen just because he is announcing. He can do ANY sport and has done baseball and hockey. He is superb.
This raises euphemism to a new level. What really happened, and I heard it live on the radio, was that Franklin went nuts when Don Imus was hired at WFAN. He spent his entire segment screaming about working with this drug-addict alchoholic and shouting "Fire me, fire me, fire me" over and over again on the air.
Pete Franklin was also replaced by Mike and the Mad Dog and that was when WFAN really took off.
"Pete was the star, and he let everybody know it,"
Ahhh, if you are a REAL star you don't have to tell people.
I really think it was Imus. At the time he wasn't syndicated. He only worked at WFAN. By bringing in that big morning crowd, enough people got their dials tuned to WFAN to stay with it throughout the day to listen to the sports talk.
I remember when Mike Breen first started doing the sports reports on the Imus show, and I think he genuinely hated Imus at first. But eventually that made his career.
Posted on Fri, Dec. 10, 2004
Franklin `controversial, but fair'
Late sports talk radio host powerful voice on Northeast Ohio teams
By Gary Estwick
Beacon Journal staff writer
Pete Franklin, the abrasive and controversial radio personality whose sharp tongue entertained sports fans in Northeast Ohio and beyond for more than 20 years, died Nov. 23 in California after a long illness. He was 76.
Franklin passed without much fanfare, unlike his tenure behind a microphone.
``Sweet Pete'' was the inventor of local sports talk radio in the 1960s, and one of the first in the nation.
He gave sports fans an avenue to vent and celebrate the successes and failures of the Browns, Indians and Cavaliers.
``He was the first, and everybody else is just riding along on the wave he began,'' said Bill Needle, a local sports radio personality.
His callers gladly waited on hold for 90 minutes. Those that were too young were quickly rushed off the air.
``You should be in bed, you snot-nosed kid!'' Franklin often joked.
His funeral shows on Cleveland teams which tanked early in the season and soap opera spoofs delighted audiences in 38 states and Canada.
He later worked in New York City and California.
By then, Franklin had already mentored a generation of future radio personalities.
``There's some guys that try to be like him, there's a few that are close, but nobody's quite like him,'' said Dave Dombrowski, the Cavaliers' vice president of broadcasting.
Dombrowski, as well as Needle, tutored under Franklin.
Franklin didn't have a classic radio voice, but it didn't matter to the thousands of listeners who gathered in their living rooms, riveted to their radio for an entire evening.
His niche was creating a mystique that he knew everything. Maybe he did.
He once said that he ``played'' callers the same way disc jockeys played records.
He was flashy, calling himself the ``Ninth Wonder of the World.''
He was stimulating.
``He could take the most mundane, boring, uninteresting topic, and do four hours or six hours, and make it interesting, and make it riveting and just keep the show moving,'' Dombrowski said.
Everyone wanted to know his opinion, from team officials to moms.
He had his list of regulars: The Swami, The Prosecutor, Mr. Negative and Mr. Sour Apple. Mr. Know-It-All was later revealed to be Mike Trivisonno and became a local sports radio personality in Franklin's old radio spot.
Former Cavaliers star Campy Russell believed that Franklin was ``controversial, but always fair.''
Steve in Brooklyn always wanted to talk about the Milwaukee Bucks.
``This guy was trying to be serious and Pete was making fun of him the entire time,'' Needle remembered. ``And the guy never caught on.''
His most controversial statements were aimed at then-Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien, who sued Franklin and WWWE radio for defamation of character. The case was eventually settled.
Needle's also remembered a segment of ``Pigskin Pete Predicts,'' when Franklin finagled one caller into a bet on an NFL game that was played the day before. As the caller picked the losing team, Franklin sounded off.
``I gotcha! I gotcha! I finally gotcha!''
Posted on Fri, Dec. 10, 2004
Akron Beacon Journal
Pete first, last word in sports
Franklin was pioneer in talk radio
By Terry Pluto
``My wife only listened to me once on the radio. She got so frightened, she never did again.''
-- Pete Franklin
The first time I heard Pete Franklin, I was in a car with my father. We were going to a Tribe game, and Franklin was doing his old Clubhouse Confidential pregame show.
I hadn't thought of Clubhouse Confidential for years until I heard of Franklin's death Thursday. He died Nov. 23 at age 76.
I don't remember what he was talking about that day in the late 1960s -- just the yelling.
He started rational, got worked up over something -- probably the Tribe's pitching. He used to say, ``Three things win games: Pitching, pitching and more pitching.''
And the Indians had none, which led Franklin to the doorstep of a nervous breakdown as I swear, Franklin's voice was shaking my dad's purple Chrysler 300.
I was ready to crawl under the seat. But my father roared with laughter, and he was not a man given to such outbursts.
I was 12 years old, and I loved my father, the man who took me to ballgames. And my father loved Pete Franklin from the moment he hit the Northeast Ohio airwaves in 1967.
Franklin was an original voice, a prophet howling all night on old WERE 1300-AM.
It really was all night -- 7-11 p.m., he did sports, then midnight-4 a.m., it was all-night talk on everything from your favorite ice cream to Vietnam to hippies.
``One night, I left the station and a bunch of Hell's Angels were waiting for me,'' Franklin once told me. ``I thought they were going to kill me. Instead, they came by to say they liked the show.''
Franklin was used to the long hours. He broke into the business in Oakdale, La., in 1952.
``I worked 70 hours a week, and my main job was to get to the station early and kill the snakes with a baseball bat,'' he told me. ``They came out of the swamp to the heat of the generator. And I read the farm news. The glamour of show business.''
Anyone who heard him will never forget him, because no one did sports talk back then like Pete Franklin.
``How can you wear a straitjacket and dial a phone at the same time?'`
-- Pete Franklin to a caller
In 1980, I met Pete Franklin. I was 24, the new baseball writer at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. He was the godfather of sports talk radio.
Franklin treated me like an equal. He was gracious, a good listener and a gentle spirit. I had heard this about Pete, but didn't believe it until that day when he had me on his show.
I admitted to Franklin that I once called him when I was a kid.
``What did you want?'' Franklin asked.
``I wanted to trade Joe Azcue for Clay Dalrymple,'' I said.
``What did I say?'' asked Franklin.
``You wanted to know why I wanted to trade one lousy catcher for another, then you hung up,'' I said.
``I see I didn't keep you out of the business,'' he said.
Then, we did the show. A guy named ``Mr. Sour Apple'' called, complaining about everything.
``Pete, I've been thinking about the Indians all night,'' he said.
``With your brain, I believe it,'' Franklin said.
Then he launched into a tirade, calling the guy a moron and asking him, ``When did they let you out of the home?''
Through it all, Franklin was smiling, winking at me as if to say, ``How can you take any of this crapola seriously?''
``Crapola'' was one of his favorite words, and talking about Cleveland sports for more than two decades from the '60s to the '80s, he had plenty of reason to use it.
``If dog racing is such a great sport, name the greatest dog trainer of all time.''
-- Pete Franklin
Franklin hated the ``minor sports.''
You didn't talk to him about auto racing, dog racing, horse racing, indoor soccer or volleyball. He loathed bowling, billiards and golf.
``If Uncle Louie can play it, then it ain't a sport,'' he told me.
He stayed with the Big Three: Baseball, basketball and football. He knew a lot about them. Not as much as he claimed, since he said he knew everything. But he had an impressive memory and a wonderful ability to make points clearly.
Every Cleveland pro team owner respected and perhaps feared him a little. There was no other radio voice that mattered. He had as much clout as any columnist or writer in the area. When a trade was made, a coach fired or hired, most fans wondered, ``What does Pete think?''
Today, there are many Pete Franklin imitators, even if they don't know it. He left Cleveland in 1987 for New York and WFAN, the first all-sports station. He later worked in California. He was never as popular as in this area.
Franklin had a huge collection of jazz records and old movies. He was married to his wife Pat for virtually his entire adult life. He treated her with almost a formal chivalry, much as he did almost anyone he met off the air.
Cavaliers broadcaster Joe Tait said his favorite Pete Franklin moment was about 15 years ago when he went to Franklin's home.
``Pete cooked this lavish Italian meal, everything from pasta to salad,'' Tait said. ``He took great pride in that, and waited on me as if I were a king. I took pictures to prove it, and he was a very good cook.''
Franklin said he never talked about sports with his wife, and I believe it. I spent several months at his home in 1987 helping him write his only book, You Could Argue, But You'd Be Wrong.
He said, ``When something happens, I'll tell them that I told them so -- even if I didn't.''
Then he laughed.
``Anyway, who cares, it's just sports!'' he said. ``It's not like someone died.''
Those are wise words I've always remembered.
Messages for Terry Pluto can be left at 330-996-3816 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for Terry's free, weekly e-mail newsletter ``Direct from Pluto'' at www.ohio.com.
"From 3WE, in Cleveland, this is Pete Franklin on The Sportsline, and I talk to more sports fans than anyone."
Pete always sat courtside next to Joe Tait at Cavs games when he was in Cleveland. No one is a better NBA radio play-by-play man than Joe, IMHO.
I was a faithful listener of Pete's for many years in Cleveland. Still can remember the words to the Jimmy Durante song he always played to close the show. Pete was always entertaining to listen to.
Jim Rome is also a pinko.
"From 3WE, in Cleveland, this is Pete Franklin. I see that my time is up. Thank you very much for your time."
It's true that Imus was getting good ratings in AM drive, but his show isn't really sports oriented and it was the only thing WFAN had going for them for Imus' first year at the FAN. Mike and the Mad Dog's success in PM drive gave credibility to the all sports format, which had never been tried on any radio station before.