By Deb Patterson
His voice is recognizable when he speaks, that is if you listened to WOWO radio in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
Chris Roberts, who resides on Medusa Street, Syracuse, has been in television and radio broadcasting since the age of 14. He is adding a new chapter to his life. He is the incoming president of the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation.
“Kosciusko County and specifically Syracuse and the Lake Wawasee Watershed are a big part of my life, having been a recreational destination for our family for 43 years,” said Roberts. That started in the summer of 1976 when Roberts started coming up to Wawasee. He said what brought him here was the fact he had bought a larger boat that was difficult to trailer from lake to lake and Wawasee marinas had all of the amenities he needed to spend a weekend aboard. In fact any spare time he can find is taken up with activities at the lake.
“Sometime ago I came to the realization that the clarity and health of the water in the lakes was not guaranteed nor was it accidental. About the same time, Bart Culver of Bart’s Watersports, asked if I’d be interested in serving on the WACF board. The timing could not have been better, especially since clean water is what the organization is all about. The board is made up of extremely dedicated people who want to be sure the area remains pristine for generations to come.”
Roberts’ legal name is Rick Ford. The name he is most known for was assigned by a radio station in Akron, Ohio, in 1972. “It was typical in radio back in the day to change the names of the personalities,” Roberts said. “Sometimes that was done because the station had a specific reason, such as they already had a jingle with a certain name or a personality that had previously been on the air enjoyed high ratings and they didn’t want to risk losing that momentum, so they just had the next guy use that name,” he explained. “Even my family calls me Chris when other people are around since hardly anyone knows me by any other name.”
Roberts grew up in the Cleveland area and graduated from Valley Forge High School in 1968. “Since I was already working in television and radio broadcasting, having started in public TV at the age of 14, I was already working in my chosen profession so college was not a consideration,” he said.
It was his interest in broadcast transmitters and audio that set him on a course to find a station that would hire a 14-year-old teenager. “WVIZ-TV Channel 25 in Cleveland was willing to take a chance and so that was where it started,” Roberts said. It was 13 stations and eight years later he started at WOWO as its afternoon DJ. “I stayed with WOWO for 24 years, ending up in management and doing the morning show following the retirement of long-time personality, Bob Sievers,” he said. For nearly 10 years he hosted “Jukebox Saturday Morning,” sometimes from his home on Lake Wawasee, playing “oldies before oldies were cool.” Roberts retired from the station when the format switched to talk in the mid-1990s.
But he really didn’t go into what we would think was retirement — enjoying his days, traveling, playing golf, puttering around the house. “In 1995 I bought two local radio stations in Ohio and added a third in 2016. Currently, I operate these stations along with a small daily online newspaper that I partner and I started in 2001.”
Roberts noted his background is broadcast engineering. “Broadcast technology has advanced rapidly in today’s digital world and I have always had a deep interest in keeping up with the latest and employing the changes into my own broadcast facilities. That combined with owning three Ohio radio stations keeps me very busy — almost on a 24-hour, seven-day per week basis.”
He and his wife of 31 years, Debbie, have three grown children and one grandson.