A Tribute To Rod

A Tribute To Rod

Robert Ray “Rod” Roddy was a consummate broadcasting professional, and a very sensitive soul.

Although in his private life his razor sharp wit could be peppered with biting sarcasm, the longevity of his friendships is a testament to the purity and warmth in his heart. Among his closest friends are kindred spirits whose relationships date back to the 1960s when Rod was a vital part of the exciting world of top-40 radio.

Long before his 17 year run as the announcer on CBS-TV’s hit “The Price Is Right” Rod was a gifted, well respected radio personality in one of broadcasting’s most vibrant eras. He enjoyed both a professional and personal relationship with fellow Texan Gordon McLendon, one of the men credited with the creation and propagation of the style of format radio that reigned supreme during most of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Rod’s talent for exploiting that medium enlivened the airwaves of many of the country’s most prominent stations. His fearless creativity helped to set new trends in radio that survive to this day in the personage of Howard Stern, among other high-profile broadcasters. Rod’s colorful radio career was the subject of many newspaper headlines and occasional police intervention.

Rod’s personal courage was further in evidence when he walked away from radio to move to Los Angeles to take on new and bigger challenges. His was not the cliché story of overnight success. In reality, Rod struggled for years to establish himself in the fiercely competitive word of voice-over. The turning point in his career came at the moment in 1977 when Casey Kasem learned that the ABC-TV television pilot for which he provided narration involved controversial subject matter with which he preferred not to be associated. When the sitcom “Soap” was picked up for series Casey’s agent at the time, Don Pitts of Don Pitts Voices, looked to quickly find a replacement capable of emulating Casey’s performance style. It was a brief search as Rod, another of Don’s clients at the time, was sufficiently versatile to fill the bill. Although his part was recorded at a post production facility after the episodes were taped, because of his emotional connection with the show and its cast Rod often sat in the audience during the Wednesday night tapings.

Rod’s announcing skills also made him a natural for television game shows, and he established himself in that genre with several network and syndicated shows including “Whew”, “Battlestars”, “So You Think You've Got Troubles”, “Hit Man”, “Press Your Luck”, “Dream House”, and “Love Connection”. Again his versatility combined with the intangible gift of synchronicity, being at the right place at the right time, lead him to what would become his longest-running signature role. Following the sudden death of “Price Is Right” announcer Johnny Olson in October of 1985, Mark Goodson Productions auditioned several of the most established game show announcers for the position. When the search failed to find a suitable replacement, a CBS programming executive played a tape of another CBS game show featuring an announcer not previously considered for the job. It was a moment that proved to be fortuitous for Rod, and led to his high profile and lucrative 17 year run as the sidekick on TV’s most successful network game show.

Rod treasured the job and adopted a persona that endeared him to his coworkers and the show’s legions of fans. The lasting admiration and respect among the CBS crewmembers is a testament to Rod’s sensitivity, empathy, good spirit and professionalism on the set of “The Price Is Right”. Host and Executive Producer Bob Barker said "He was devoted to the show and all of us were deeply fond of him, as were his many television fans. He never complained during his long battle with cancer. The courage he showed during those difficult times was an inspiration to us all."

Rod and I were first introduced in the mid 1970s by mutual friends we shared in the world of radio. I was immediately drawn to his intuitive wit. But our relationship grew over the ensuing decade when I got to know the sensitive soul behind the often cynical and boisterous veneer. Only now, living in Los Angeles, do I fully appreciate his generosity in meeting me at the airport and touring me around the city on my first trip to Hollywood.

After my permanent move to L.A. in 1979 Rod and I shared countless hours at the Calabasas home of our friends Joey and Carolyn Reynolds. Reflecting on some of our adventures will always evoke a smile. Among the most memorable was our evening in the company of Wayne Newton in Wayne’s Las Vegas dressing room at the Frontier Hotel. It was a long night that ultimately developed into an employment opportunity with Wayne in the promotion of his recordings and public profile in the years prior to his purchase of the Aladdin Hotel. Rod would remain involved providing the voice for television commercials advertising Wayne’s records.

Over the years we enjoyed many conversations, usually over elaborate restaurant meals or in his dressing room at CBS. Memorable was the lengthy 2002 discussion of his battle with colon cancer. I was touched by Rod’s frank discussion of the factors under his control that he attributed as contributing to his medical condition. His caring was again obvious in the way he doggedly evoked a promise from me to have annual colonoscopy examinations starting when I reached age 50.

During a 2003 visit with Bob Hamilton, another long-time mutual friend of Rod’s and mine, I was advised to pursue the opportunity for fill-in work during Rod’s progressing medical challenges. While I felt it could create an awkward situation, I was counseled that Rod’s tragic illness was creating an opportunity that he might actually prefer be kept in the family of his friends. It has proven to be a job that has enhanced my respect for Rod’s abilities, and has made me feel closer to him than ever as I stand where he stood, work with the people he worked with, and am constantly challenged to maintain Rod’s high level of professionalism. I remain indebted to Bob for the motivation,

Rod always loved working to a live audience and has been inspired by the flashier performers with well developed senses of classic showmanship; don’t be surprised to see him on a Las Vegas stage in a subsequent life. The fascination with performing started early for Rod. As a small child he first felt the thrill when he called Bingo at one of his stepmother’s Eastern Star meetings. By age seven he was giving occasional piano recitals. Rod later appeared as a regular on the local TV show, “Teen Times” with Pat Boone.

After his mother’s death when Rod was only four years old, he went to live with his great aunt Kitty whom he credited with being a major influence in his life. When Rod was nine years old his father remarried; Rod’s love for his stepmother Doris grew quickly and they remained close for the remainder of Doris’ life. He was devastated when he had to close her home following her death from pneumonia in the 1990s. Rod told me that he even transported a section of a wall from her home in Texas to his home in North Hollywood.

It was during the 2 years he spent at Texas Christian University that Rod found that he had an affinity for radio. He ultimately became one of the most flamboyant of that era’s broadcasters, and the story of his career has its share of up and down chapters. He enjoyed tremendous successes and deep depressions through a journey that included alcoholism, sexual escapades, an FBI investigation, and bankruptcy. That chapter of Rod’s accomplishments is remembered and was celebrated almost 30 years later when he was inducted into Texas Radio Hall of Fame in 2002.

From WXOL-Ft. Worth in 1953, Rod’s radio journey took him to WQAM-Miami, WABR-Orlando, KXLR-Little Rock, WTIX-New Orleans, KOMA-Oklahoma City, KQV-Pittsburgh, KYW-Cleveland, WJJD-Chicago, WQXI-Atlanta, and WKBW-Buffalo. In 1968 he returned to Dallas/Ft. Worth as morning man on KLIF where his work with radio legend Gordon McLendon led to a friendship with Gordon’s wife, Susan Stafford. Susan was instrumental in Rod’s move from Dallas to Los Angeles. In L.A. he first established himself on-air briefly at KGBS and KDAY in 1967 and was then named Program Director at KOST. Curiously, years later, the paths of Susan’s and Rod’s careers would intersect in the world of game shows. Rod was becoming one of the genre’s respected announcers while Susan became the original letter turner during the early years of “Wheel of Fortune”.

Rod worked as a wedding photographer during his high school and college years. While finding his niche in show business Rod had brief stints performing as a musician and as a nightclub comic. In the 1970s he appeared in colorful silks complete with a riding crop as “the world’s largest jockey” in a national TV commercial for Texas based Meineke Mufflers. I also vividly remember Rod’s excitement in 1975 when he mailed an 8 by 10 photo of himself covered only in a Roman toga, reclining and eating grapes! Only later did he confess that the photo was from a movie entitled “Posse From Heaven” in which he had been cast as “The Deity” opposite Argentine stripper Fanne Fox. Ms. Fox had recently made headlines in a Washington DC sex scandal-involving politician Wilber Mills. Good luck finding a copy of the movie; it might be among the biggest flops in motion picture history!

Most recently, Rod played himself in a 1998 episode of the CBS series “Martial Law”, as well as in a 1999 episode of Fox’s “That 70’s Show”. He also provided the voice of “Mike the Microphone” in the Disney Saturday morning cartoon “House of Mouse”, and in the video “Mickey’s House of Villains”. Rod made several appearances on CBS’ “The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn” which tapes one flight up from the Bob Barker studio at CBS Television City. His final on-camera appearance was on the premiere of “The Price Is Right’s” 32nd season on September 22nd, 2002.

Rod died at approximately 4:45PM on Monday, October 27, 2003 following a two-year fight with the spread of colon cancer. Rod said he experienced a period of weakness and intestinal irregularities in the late summer of 2001 that he attributed to his extensive travel schedule and stress at the time. A fall while exiting a Los Angeles recording studio led to an emergency room visit during which the cause of his anemia was investigated; the cancer was subsequently discovered.

A colonoscopy was performed on September 10, 2001. The presence of tumor the size of a small orange was confirmed and emergency surgery was scheduled for the next day at Century City Hospital. Although all other surgeries were suddenly canceled because of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers that morning, Rod’s doctors proceeded with the scheduled operation as his condition was determined to be life threatening. In addition to the tumor, 13 malignant lymph nodes were extracted during that first surgery. Subsequently, through several additional surgeries, as well as radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Rod returned to “The Price Is Right” stage at every opportunity. He amazed staffers with the boundless energy he was able to summon in the finest traditions of professional entertainers. Although a valiant fighter for many months, the spread of Rod’s cancer to his prostate, breast and stomach ultimately proved too great a challenge.

As Ambassador for The Entertainment Industry Foundation's National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance (EIF NCCRA) Rod devoted himself to urging people to get colonoscopies. Katie Couric, co-host of the “Today Show” and co-founder of EIF's NCCRA, said, “Rod selflessly devoted his last years to educating the public about colon cancer, even as he struggled with the disease that ultimately claimed his life. Openly discussing his own diagnosis in PSAs, Rod focused attention on one important fact: through screening and early detection, colon cancer can be cured. We are grateful for Rod's commitment of time and energy and for his candor, which undoubtedly saved lives. He will be sorely missed."

Rod lived a life rife with experiences adequate to fill a book. I think the difficult times in his life helped Rod to find more joy in his successes. They certainly added to the quality of his relationships by enhancing his gifts of empathy and compassion. I guess when our time is done the measure of a man is not in inches, dollars, pounds or even time. It's in the positive impact our thoughts; words and actions have had on others. While all of our memories will ultimately be washed away like footprints in the sand after high tide, our memory can live a little longer in the hearts of those whose lives we've touched. If so, Rod will certainly live on for quite some time. His rapier wit will be sorely missed, but the warmth of his caring heart will survive in his many friends. I hope we meet again.

Rod Roddy

September 28, 1937 – October 27, 2003

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