Probably like everyone else, when I heard of the recent passing of former Akron radio icon and one-time Portage Lakes resident Matt Patrick – he died just days after announcing that he was discontinuing treatments for esophageal cancer – I was completely numb.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
Sad, very, very sad, and disappointing, disheartening. He was only 58.
Unfortunately, cancer wins too many times and once Matt publicly said he was giving up treatment to listeners at KTRH-AM in Houston, where he had worked since 2011 after leaving Northeast Ohio, it was nonetheless devastating that the end came so soon. Many of us were still trying to deal with the first shock when the second shock snuck up on us.
As such, it was a one-two knockout punch of terrible news, the kind that really takes the wind out of your sails.
But as soon as I came to grips with what happened – sort of, kind of, anyway – I thought of a story.
Well, actually, two stories that are related.
Matt was on the air for more than 30 years in Akron at WKDD-FM. His show every weekday morning was a big reason why the station’s ratings were through the roof.
I’ve had this conversation several times with Jim Donovan, who has been on Cleveland TV for, similarly, more than 30 years as the sports director at WKYC, and on radio as the play-by-play announcer for Browns broadcasts for nearly 20 years. When on-air personalities are in a market for that long, they become trusted friends with lots of people they’ll never really get to know, and will rarely meet.
Those, of course, are the viewers and/or listeners. To them the personalities are welcomed guests into their homes. For those who live alone, the visits are just that much more important, anticipated and appreciated.
Donovan lives in Medina County’s Hinckley Township and stops at a nearby convenience store for a cup of coffee on his way up to Browns headquarters in Berea every morning during the football season. The locals know him there, and he knows them, and more often than not, someone will spot him and engage him in a brief conversation.
"Hey, Jim, I was out on the tractor all day Sunday and you kept me going with your call of the Browns game."
"We were on our way to a family get-together a couple hours away and listening to you do the Browns game shortened up the trip for us."
"I don’t have a TV, so I just listen to the games. You do a great job. I always know exactly where the ball is and what’s going on."
The personalities’ connection with the audience is truly special, and they know it. It is a responsibility, one that they don’t take lightly.
And so it was, too, with Matt Patrick in Akron for all those years. While people were climbing out of bed and getting themselves, and perhaps their family members as well, off to work or school, he was the guy who was in the house with them making them laugh or think, informing them of traffic and weather, or simply being a companion.
He was so much more than just a voice. He was a great person and a kind, generous and honest man, all of which was evident over the airwaves. You didn’t need to see him to grasp any of that. It came across loud and clear in his voice, and his delivery. He was sincere.
With that having been said, then, here’s the other story.
As good as his in-studio shows were, Matt did his best work as the host of the "Have A Heart, Do Your Part Radiothon" to benefit Akron Children’s Hospital. The event, which is held around Valentine’s Day, raised more than $1 million in the 10 years that he did it. His interviews with patients stricken with serious illnesses and their parents tugged at listeners’ heartstrings.
I know a friend who would listen to that radiothon every year with his family. They would call in to make a pledge, and then perhaps the kids would call a second time to make another pledge.
It became a rite of passage for his family. They all looked forward to it.
Then one day, everything changed. The guy lost his job when the economy collapsed in 2008-09. And all of a sudden, making that pledge to the radiothon became an even bigger deal for the guy, for it came only after determining if it were still in his budget.
It was, but only barely. The amount was so small compared to what it had been that it humiliated the guy to hear the amount come off his lips as he called in with his pledge. He explained all that to the volunteer taking his call.
The woman listened patiently and respectfully, and after the guy was done, she asked him to hold on for a moment. Instead of her coming back on the phone a moment later, it was Matt, who apparently had a few seconds to talk since the station was on a commercial break.
"Hey, don’t feel bad, or embarrassed, by what you’re giving this year. Not at all," he said. "Whatever you’re able to donate, we’re thrilled to get it. We appreciate it so much. Every dollar – every penny – is used to help the kids here at Children’s. It is such a worthy cause.
"We all go through difficulties in our lives. None of us are spared that. But you’re going to come out of this. I know that. Now keep your chin up.
That guy said those words meant more to him than anyone could ever know.
Those are the same words of comfort that Matt Patrick’s family, and all of his legions of faithful listeners from back in the day, need now.