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Tom Abernethy was an icon, and a nice guy

July 16, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
The loss of Tom Abernethy is one that should be felt by people of a certain age of or from Steubenville.

He was The Voice, the soothing baritone who said, “Good morning e’vrybody!” on WSTV-AM, the big dog of the city’s airwaves in its heyday. His was the first human voice I heard a lot of mornings when I was in school. And when he was out Krogering at the same time as my family, I can recall my mom saying quietly when we’d hear The Voice, “Look, that’s Tom Abernethy” as if one of the biggest stars I was ever going to meet just happened to be looking at cereal at the same time as us.

He played music. He delivered the weather. He soothed the getting out of bed that nobody really wants to do most days, especially schoolkids. And he often was the deliverer of great news: A delay or cancellation. In those days of the 1960s and 1970s, we didn’t tune to the TV with a crawler of cancellations undramatically going by. We waited for The Voice to tell us to go back to bed or stay home. He hosted “The Treasure Island Show,” another icon that’s gone. He was the voice of countless ads (nobody could say “Pietro DiNovo and Sons” with quite the lilt as he. Also gone.) He played The Doobie Brothers. He played Simon and Garfunkel. He played Big Band music. Lou Rawls. Whatever, it all melded together in his show, something for everyone.

As I grew up, as the formats of the station changed, I migrated to FM (itself now undergoing changes unimaginable to me as a kid -- FM all sports, and news talk? The Radio Apocalypse.)

And when I got the chance to go to work in radio — my dream sidetracked by the newspaper after just four years half a lifetime ago — I was blessed to do my internship at WSTV, the big dog of the local airwaves. I got to talk to Tom Abernethy. I got to sit in the studio and observe The Voice at work. And he was the nicest guy ever. The city loved him and he loved the city back.

While some announcers and TV folks become full of their own hype, Tom Abernethy delivered good advice and friendship in that same measured baritone that came out of the little speaker. And he always, always, had a smile. Run into him on the street, there’d be a smile and a how’s it going and a couple quick words of wisdom and he was off on another sales call -- his afternoons were spent selling and his mornings spent announcing, in case you didn’t know. After I started at the newspaper, I often had to remind myself not to tell Tom what I really was doing that day, lest his newsfolks would find out, so easy it was to just talk about stuff with The Voice.

He did talk radio before there was “talk radio,” listening to his callers, responding gently, perhaps agreeing to disagree, but never shouting and bellowing his opinion at the top of his lungs. I’d be hard pressed to know his political affiliation from his radio show. “Phone Party” seems from another age now.

And his loss picks the wound off the loss of the radio station that was, at its height, a part of the image of the city. We, like every community with a decent AM station in that era, had our version of WCBS and WLS and WCFL and WABC, the AM giants, when AM was king. Cue up Harry Chapin’s “WOLD” and Queen’s “Radio Ga Ga” here. Nostalgia for the airwaves as they were.

At one time, Walter Cronkite and Johnny Carson ruled TV because they were the best and the audience wasn’t fragmented by countless personal options.

Every town with an AM station had its own version of Tom Abernethy, the guy everyone listened to because he did a great job, entertained, soothed, was accurate and concise, and gave character to his community. He was ours, and he was the best.

Steubenville’s voice, like the station where he worked, has gone silent.


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