Local radio legend Milton Metz dead at 95

Andrew Wolfson

Milton Metz, a pioneer in broadcasting in Louisville and the longtime host of the talk show  "Metz Here" on WHAS Radio, died Thursday, according to former colleagues Wayne Perkey and Terry Meiners.

WHAS radio's Milton Metz signed off his show after 34 years last night. He'll be doing a 90-second commentary that will air twice a day. but it can't quite compare to three hours a night of "Metz Here."

He was 95 and died at Magnolia Springs, a senior living facility, Perkey said.

"El Metzo," as he was affectionately known, began at the station in 1946. “Metz Here” debuted July 30, 1959, with the title "Juniper 5-2385," after its phone number, and ended on June 10, 1993.

"Every time Milton Metz clicked on the mic, people across middle America were guaranteed wit, wisdom, and balance," Meiners said.

"On or off the air, Milton was first and foremost a gentleman, bringing grace and intellect into a sometimes inelegant media landscape," Meiners said. "Rest easy, brother.  You blazed a beautiful trail and we shall follow."

Perkey said Metz was a role model and father figure for a younger generation of broadcasters that included Meiners, Perkey and Jack Fox.

“He was not afraid to ask difficult questions, but he tried to be fair,” Perkey said. “He had a great wit and he showed it. I loved him because he was Milton.”

Bob Johnson, a retired political reporter on WHAS Radio and TV, said that unlike contemporary talk radio, his show never featured “talking heads shouting at each other.”

“He had a sweet, gentle nature and his graciousness carried over into his work on the air,” said Johnson, later a Courier-Journal reporter. “I was very fond of him.”

Perry Metz said his father enjoyed “a good joke, a long conversation and listening to different points of view.

“If civility is old-fashioned, you could say he was old-fashioned,” said the younger Metz, who followed in his father’s footsteps and now runs public radio and TV stations at Indiana University in Bloomington.

Metz could be serious on the air but at a roast held when he retired he recalled how a publicity agent had called plugging his client's appearance.

"She's written `Why Diets Don't Work,' " the agent said. "But if that doesn't appeal to you, we could talk about her new book, `The One-Hour Orgasm.' "

He also carefully guarded his age.

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In an interview with Courier-Journal columnist Tom Dorsey in 1993, he would only say, "Let's just say I'm older than Diane Sawyer and younger than Mike Wallace." Wallace was 75 at the time.

Sportscasting legend Cawood Ledford, who spent 22 years at WHAS with Metz, once recalled that when Metz started his program back in the 1950s the dial was full of talk shows.

Ledford joked that he would like to say that Metz's popularity drove the other shows off the air, but the truth was that Metz simply outlived them all.

He was born in Cleveland to a Russian-born father and English-born mother and started his radio career in the 1930s in Cleveland after graduating from Ohio State University.

After serving in the army in World War II, he joined the staff at WHAS radio in 1946. The same year, Milton began recording Talking Books at American Printing House for the Blind.

“Metz Here” became the longest-running show in Louisville and one of the longest-running in the country. On WHAS-TV, he co-hosted and co-produced “Omelet,” a talk and interview program for nine years and was the Channel 11 weatherman for 19 years.

He also interviewed countless celebrities on the first Saturday in May during WHAS-TV's traditional marathon pre-race show before the Kentucky Derby, where he was a fixture on "Millionaire's Row."

Metz was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 1989.

Joe Elliott, who took over Metz’ time slot after he Metz retired, said that Metz was a legend, not only in Kentucky but to listeners through the Midwest and up and down the East Coast, who caught his show on WHAS’s 50,000-watt clear channel transmitter.

“What I loved about Milton was that he was a master at everything he did,” Elliott said.

Elliott and Perkey said Metz would record shows in the afternoon on WHAS-FM, then a classical station, then do a daily business report on WHAS-AM, then the weather for TV, then his talk show, then the 11 p.m. news on television.

“He did everything and anything he needed to do,” said Elliott.

Perry Metz said his father was pained by the coarseness of contemporary talk radio.

“Anyone who listened to “Metz Here” knew it was a show based on listeners, not him,” Perry Metz said. “You could listen to him for years and not know his views.

“People would call him from across the country and across the political spectrum because they knew they could speak their piece and he wouldn’t  try to show them up or embarrass them.”

Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189 or Metro columnist Joseph Gerth contributed to this report. 


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