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Golden oldie broadcaster returns in new role

Veteran broadcaster Ron Rice, 68, is playing oldies again.

Rice, who was the general manager of WHTT-FM when it became Oldies 104, is now selling TV oldies such as "Hogan's Heroes," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Magnum," "The Rockford Files" and "The A Team" on WNGS, the independent TV station carried on Adelphia's Channel 11.

Since it was purchased for a reported $5 million by Equity Broadcasting, a Little Rock, Ark., group with 41 stations across the country, WNGS has been calling itself RTV for Retro Television. "I was going to call it Ron's TV Network," joked Rice.

There has been nothing funny about Rice's life lately. In the last decade, he has endured two heart attacks, prostate cancer, back surgery and the Oct. 9, 2005, death of his 42-year-old daughter, Catherine Scott.

"We were very close," said Rice. He became depressed after his daughter's death from a brain aneurism, which came months after she had made a miraculous recovery from injuries suffered in an April automobile accident. He turned down Equity's initial offer to run the station.

"It was so unfair after she fought and fought so hard to come out of [the accident]," said Rice, who still carries her driver's license. "She was tougher than me. I was in shock. I never left my house for months. I said to myself, 'why would it be her at 42 years of age with 40 or more years to live, and a guy like me who has had two heart attacks and is 68, what am I still doing here?' So I was in major depression. Still am, for that matter."

Rice is getting help and is on the road to recovery. And his new job is therapeutic as well.

Equity asked him again to jump-start the station. He agreed after friends convinced him it would get him out of the house.

"It has helped some," said Rice. "My title is general manager, but I'm doing what I've been doing all my life, which is out selling commercials."

Tom Shannon (no relation to the legendary DJ), who oversees sales, programming and promotion for Equity from Little Rock, said he hired Rice because, "I was looking for somebody with experience, who knew the players, had a good reputation and could hit the ground running."

Rice started his broadcasting career in 1968 at WBEN radio and has been selling ever since. He said he is selling ads at WNGS for about $20, a fraction of what they would cost on newscasts of a broadcast affiliates. He can't point to ratings because the old shows rarely register enough to be measured. On Monday, "The Rockford Files" hit .6, a decent number for WNGS, which is programmed and delivered from Little Rock.

Rice can offer his advertising clients frequency, low placement on the cable dial (Channel 11) and family friendly shows. He has heard some surprising comments from old clients.

"One guy said, 'Hey, Ron, I didn't realize you were still alive,' " recalled Rice.

Rice said the recent successes of NFL assistants in their 60s and the hiring of Marv Levy as general manager of the Bills has been inspiring.

"It seems to be a trend, not only in sports, they are looking for people in the business world with more experience," said Rice. "It was encouraging to me to see Marv Levy come back."

Rice said Levy offered him encouragement years ago when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He had some association with the Bills at WHTT, but Rice said he didn't really know Levy. Rice told another Bills employee about his cancer, who relayed it to Levy, who had battled it.

"About an hour later, Marv called," said Rice. Levy recommended his doctor and called him for Rice so he'd get a quicker appointment. He had an operation about a week later.

"Levy called me at the hospital after three days," recalled Rice. "He said, 'Ron, just checking to see how you are doing.' I thought that was fantastic."

Like Levy, Rice isn't the retiring type. He doesn't play golf, having tossed his clubs over the Peace Bridge decades ago after a tough round at the Cherry Hill Country Club.

"I tell people retirement isn't what you think," said Rice. "You are going to sit around and waste your life, you can only golf so much. To stay young, you have to stay in the mix."

Rice, who began the former Run for Your Life for the Heart Association, also is hoping to use his TV station to promote the Cathy Scott Memorial Walk for the Stroke Foundation on Sept. 19 to honor his daughter. He is hoping that Ron's TV will have a long run. He certainly can be viewed as the ultimate survivor, having been around as long as "The Rockford Files."

"If there's such a thing as somebody having nine lives, I guess I'm somewhat in that category," said Rice.

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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