More than 200 friends, family members, co-workers and listeners gathered Saturday to celebrate the life and career of Kansas City broadcasting icon Walt Bodine.
And though most recalled their personal experiences with Bodine, Valeriya Somova spoke movingly about how his program and his voice made Kansas City a welcoming place.
Somova moved to Kansas City 10 years ago from Russia and was having trouble adjusting to a new place and culture. But when she turned on the radio, she heard his voice, which Somova described as warm and grandfatherly. With a voice like that, Kansas City didn’t seem so threatening, she said.
“He made the transition for me very easy,” Somova said after the service at Unity Temple on the Plaza. “He made that bridge and made it comfortable.”
Bodine, 92, died at his home in Prairie Village on March 24.
He concluded one of the great Kansas City media careers in 2012 when he signed off his last broadcast of “The Walt Bodine Show,” which he had hosted for almost 30 years on KCUR-FM at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
More laughter than tears marked Saturday’s service, which included an open microphone for listeners such as Somova to reminisce.
Eldest son Marty Bodine said he still could vividly remember seeing his dad on television for the first time as a boy in the 1950s. It was confusing, he said.
“I was completely freaked out, seeing him inside this little box talking and paying no attention to me,” Marty Bodine said. “Mom had to scrape me off the ceiling and explain a few things.”
The Rev. Sam Mann, the retired pastor of St. Mark Union Church, recalled discussing race and housing issues on Bodine’s recurring “Hellraisers” segment.
“As a preacher we’re supposed to be getting rid of hell, but he appreciated that I was a preacher raising it,” Mann said.
And Bodine’s perseverance through crushing ailments that robbed him of sight, much of his hearing and finally his mobility was a lesson to those who worked around him. Kristin Van Voorst, a Bodine producer in the late 1980s, said she learned that “age and disability is no excuse.”
“Thank you, Walt,” she said.
Bodine began working in radio in 1940 at a station in Sedalia, Mo., from which he was fired after a week because of his unfamiliarity with baseball teams and the correct pronunciation of Joe DiMaggio’s last name, said historian Monroe Dodd, a former editor at the Kansas City Times and Star who co-hosted some of the broadcaster’s last history programs.
In addition to his work in broadcasting, Bodine wrote columns for The Squire newspaper and several books, including “What Do You Say to That?” based on his signature signoff and “My Times, My Town.”
He interviewed hundreds of national and local figures, such as Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Harry S. Truman.