CLEVELAND, Ohio — One day.
That’s how long Jeff Kinzbach says it took him to get used to not having to wake up at 4 a.m. after hosting morning radio for 30 years. The legendary disc jockey called it a career on September 30 after spending parts of six decades on the local airwaves.
“It’s a funny feeling,” Kinzbach says one week into his retirement. “But as every day goes on, you kind of pause for a second and say to yourself, ‘Wow, I don’t have to work. I don’t have to get up in the morning.’ That’s a damn good feeling.”
Kinzbach worked mornings on Akron’s 97.5 WONE since 2013 but is best known for hosting “The Buzzard Morning Zoo” with Ed “Flash” Ferenc on 100.7 WMMS from 1976-1994. He and his wife Patti are planning to literally ride off into the sunset by traveling the country in their recently purchased RV.
“We just started to realize that we really should retire and do a lot of the things that we want to do now because you just never know how long you have,” he says. “There’s a lot on my bucket list, from Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon and all the points in between. The radio business isn’t what it used to be. It’s not fun as it used to be. It was still very satisfying for me, but I realized it’s time to get off the stage.”
Kinzbach began his radio career when he was 16 years old, working as a gopher at WIXY 1260 AM.
“One night, somebody didn’t show up for work and they pointed at me and said, ‘You know how everything works, just run the radio station if you want for the next four hours. Just don’t say anything.’ So, I pushed all the buttons and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
From there, he landed his first on-air job doing the news on a tiny AM station in Saginaw, Michigan, while visiting his sister over the summer. He went on to work for stations in Detroit before returning home in 1973 when WMMS hired him as a production director to produce commercials, bumpers and stingers.
“Jeff was one of the best production directors in the country of any radio station,” says John Gorman, the program director at WMMS during its Buzzard glory days. “He could’ve easily gone to New York or L.A. or become an editor for motion pictures or TV.”
“I was doing morning drive at the time, so when my shift was done I joined him to record all the voice-overs,” remembers former WMMS disc jockey David Spero. “It was obvious of his talent that he wouldn’t last long-buried in that studio.”
It was then when Kinzbach met his future radio partner, Ed “Flash” Ferenc, who was reading the news for sister station WHK at the time.
“Jeff and I started at the station in 1973, maybe one or two months apart,” Ferenc recalls. “He grew up in Lakewood and I grew up in Seven Hills. We were both 19. We often worked together on weekends and quickly became friends.”
In 1975, WMMS hired Charlie Kendall, a popular nighttime DJ from Boston, to do mornings. But there was one big problem.
“Charlie Kendall was not a morning guy,” Gorman remembers. “By the time he got to Cleveland, WMMS was growing by leaps and bounds, and he was being invited to every party in town. The trouble is, when you get invited to every party in town, it’s very hard to get up the next morning.”
“I remember Charlie came over to my house one night and he had a young lady with him whom he met at the Brown Derby and she was just a knockout,” Kinzbach says. “Next thing I know, my phone is ringing at 4 a.m. ‘Jeff, man, this is Charlie. I can’t do the show, I think I have food poisoning.’ Yeah, right. So, I went in and did his show.”
“Jeff was always called to fill in because he lived 15 minutes away,” Ferenc says.
When Kendall left in 1976, Gorman went looking for someone with a particular skill set to take over the morning show. He realized listeners timed their commutes by what they heard on the radio, not according to a clock. So, segments on the show, whether it was news, traffic or a bit of some kind, had to air at the same exact time every morning so people would know if they were running on time or not.
“I really felt that we needed somebody on the air who has an incredible sense of timing, that was vital, but who also had a great voice, an authoritative voice who could relate to our audience.”
Gorman and his boss immediately thought of Jeff and paired him with Flash.
“We felt the fact that Jeff and Flash were the same age, they both grew up here, they know the market and they’re already working together at the same station. So, we put them together and created all of these bits, everything from ‘Token Jokes’ to ‘Blow Something Up’ and they would run at the same exact time every day. That’s what made Jeff and Flash so unique.”
“[When] Jeff became the morning guy, all his creative talents bloomed and he ended up having the highest ratings that Cleveland radio had ever seen,” Spero says.
Over the next few years, the show became increasingly popular — and bigger, taking on a morning zoo format even before a deejay at WRBQ-FM in Tampa coined that phrase. The new cast of characters included Len “Boom” Goldberg, Kenny Clean, Ruby Cheeks, and others.
“One thing I can say about Jeff is he is extremely disciplined,” Ferenc says. “As the show evolved, he became the traffic cop in the studio. His production skills and timing to contain the craziness of the show was a work of art. ‘The Buzzard Morning Zoo’ had it all — great music, current events, top-notch guests, sports, traffic reports and, most importantly, humor. Jeff was the glue.”
“You know how you are when you have a best friend and you’re always on the same wavelength?” Kinzbach says of his on-air partner. “We complemented each other. He had strengths that I didn’t have and I had strengths he didn’t. We were also both half-nuts, but at the same time very dedicated.”
Indeed, the two were close off-the-air, too. They were the best man at each other’s wedding and partnered together in three nightclubs.
“The Buzzard Morning Zoo” enjoyed a nearly 20-year run, dominating the ratings while Rolling Stone readers voted WMMS the Best Radio Station in the U.S. nine straight years. Jeff & Flash were radio royalty and lured some of the top names in the music industry to Cleveland, from Bruce Springsteen to the Rolling Stones.
“We were the soundtrack to northeast Ohio,” Kinzbach says. “The planets totally aligned. We hit it at the right time for music and for our age group. We were basically a bunch of 20-year-olds that really wanted to build a radio station that we wanted to listen to. Thank goodness the masses agreed.”
“The Buzzard Morning Zoo” became the voice of Cleveland, which gave it tremendous clout when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation went looking in the mid-1980s for a city to build its shrine to rock music. Gorman received a tip that San Francisco was being considered. That’s all Jeff & Flash needed to hear to spring into action.
“We went nuts on it. We went nuts on it on the air and off the air,” Kinzbach recalls. “We got together with local businesses, a lot of politicians. Thank God [Governor] Dick Celeste was from Lakewood… It was a daily thing we would talk about. We just wouldn’t let it die from the headlines.”
“When we first started doing the campaign for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, there was no guarantee we were going to get it,” Gorman adds. “If you remember, Cleveland had a history since World War II of coming up with all of these great ideas and none of them ever came to fruition.
“But having Jeff and Flash lead the campaign, it galvanized the community to the point where the rest of the country took notice and realized it had to be in Cleveland. It was the first crazy Cleveland project that actually happened,” Gorman says.
“I’m sure Jeff would agree, that was our greatest accomplishment,” Ferenc adds.
“The Buzzard Morning Zoo” ended in 1994 after WMMS was sold the previous year. Jeff & Flash teamed up again on 1100 WTAM for a time.
“They wanted us to be newsmen, so that didn’t really work out,” Kinzbach says.
He had a stint at 98.5 WNCX and was the voice of WOIO Ch. 19 before leaving the spotlight and doing consulting work. After several years off the air, he reemerged at WONE in 2013.
“It was really an ideal situation for me as far as being creative. They just left me alone. I could do as I please,” Kinzbach says.
Doing as he pleases is his full-time job now. That means gassing up the RV with Patti and heading south on the scenic route to Los Angeles, where their daughter, an aerospace engineer, lives. The open road will give Kinzbach plenty of opportunities to look back in the rear-view mirror at his truly amazing career.
“I never would have imagined any of this. To think 50 years have gone by, it’s a blur. But, my God, it was great.”
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