He was born in the “little hick town of East Longmeadow, Mass., a suburb of Springfield... noted for the home of the National Armory, the Basketball Hall of Fame, Vic Rashi and Leo Durocher, if we want to throw in another obnoxious name...”
He spent high school playing baseball and chasing girls, “chasing, but not catching them,” he grins.
After high school he finally caught up with a War II John Wayne movie, got enthusiastic and patriotic in the same moment and wound up in the Marines. He began in ’44, saw Okinawa live in the third wave, caught a flesh wound and ultimately spent most of ’47 and ’48 chasing down pockets of Japanese soldiers on mainland China.
During the era he noted a fact of military life: ball players and armed services broadcasters got out of the “---- detail,” and since I wanted to be a broadcaster, I played ball until I got the chance on radio.”
He did both. But when he returned to the states, he played ball for a season for the Marines air station in El Toro, California “and managed to win 18 while losing 3 as a pitcher. So the Boston Red Sox sent me this letter...”
Franklin is no dummy. He also knew about the G.I. Bill, the scholarship it contained and the fact that Columbia University had a broadcast course two nights a week. So, to get the broadcast studies, he ignored the Red Sox and enrolled full time as a broadcast journalist, got his two nights a week plus his five days a week and bachelor degree – all by 1953.
A few days later he quit selling BVD underwear in New York (while a student) and joined a radio station in the Louisiana swamps.
“I did everything, broadcast, sell, write and sweep the floor. It was an interesting station and the most important piece of equipment was a broom. You see, the washroom was next to the transmitter. The transmitter was hot and the moccasins and rattlers liked to siesta there. So when you went to the toilet, you hoped it never was an emergency.”
Pete Franklin, that fearless marine, thus had a post-war course in combat. Him and a broom against swamp snakes. Naturally he won or you wouldn’t be reading this.
Fortunately a year earlier in 1952 Pete had met a girl at a church function (“can’t for the life of me remember what I was doing at a church function”) and the only initial contact was the fact she was born in Franklin Square, N.Y.C. and he was Franklin.
She was an American - born colleen, Patricia Jane Loughnane, “named after Lake Loughnane (loch - nane) in Ireland, and as Irish as paddy’s Pig,” said Franklin. “All the in-laws and out-laws are from the “olde sod” although she was born here.”
She gave him two children, “son John, 18, about to be paroled from Rocky River High School which is a break for all concerned, and a daughter, Susan, 13 at St. Christopher Catholic School and doing fine. We also have a mutt, Butch. He isn’t much but doesn’t take up much room, either...”
He points out that marrying Patricia Jane was “probably the wisest move I ever made. She’s the one stabilizing force in my life. She knows nothing about sports and has never asked me a question about it in our 23 years. Years and years ago she did listen to me, for a moment or two, but got nervous and emotional when I began telling people to ‘jump in the lake.’ She is the very opposite of me... civilized, warm, outgoing, congenial...”
And she is today why Franklin never says “after I left Louisiana, I worked a lot of stations south, west and east coast.” Instead, he subconsciously says “we came to Cleveland in 1967 to begin our broadcasting at WERE.”
His wife wasn’t at the station with him. But she was there in his mind, and there when the show got loud, boisterous and even obnoxious and he knew it was time to switch from the dueling trumpets, horns and base viols to violin and harpsichord.
* * *
He liked Roger Kahn’s “Boys of Summer” and devours John O’Hara for his characterizations. He likes Irwin Shaw novels and even the writings of “that obnoxious ego-maniac Norman Mailer. I like Tennessee Williams at times, Thomas B. Costain, Carl Sandburg and that great storyteller Winston Churchill.
“I read and read and read and hope to until the day I die. But I guess in all this I’m taken by Disraeli’s statement that when a man realizes how ignorant he is, he’s taken his first step toward knowledge.
“And I find the more I learn about a subject, the less I know...”
This is the side of Pete Franklin that isn’t found on the air. He differentiates his public and private life as much as a minister differentiates his garb for a sermon in the pulpit and a shower in the stall.
Franklin continued, “I’m forever privately flabbergasted when people tell me I’m a walking encyclopedia. I may have more knowledge than most people, I won’t deny that, but what I don’t know frightens me.”
Franklin, of course, handled talk shows for years on subjects far beyond mere sports which, even now, he calls “light pastry” in the face of life. He worked for a time with America’s number 1 controversial talk show host, Joe Pyne, and they began their show in New Jersey on the note “Why are you a communist... why are you for, or against, abortion... who do you go to see a stripper.”
Despite the overtones of all three categories, they learned answers and researched questions until they both, today, could talk endlessly for hours on a vast variety of topics. Franklin likes, digs, loves sports... but it isn’t his first love, not by a long shot.
“My first love is and always has been music.
“People who have written beautiful music have done far more than trite politicians. I’m talking variety, some classical, good pop concert stuff... I may have one of the world’s largest jazz libraries. What turns me on is a lyric by Cole Porter, some of Duke Ellington’s great sounds.”
“In the mornings, after I get up and walk a couple of miles, I come home to my apartment here in Rocky River and listen to music for an hour every day.”
What turns him off? You can guess.
“Alice Cooper... a guy getting $200,000 for getting on stage with a snake and wailing away in discordancy. Why he’s got a name like a broad and that turns me off to begin with...”
He loves professionalism and will match his own, in his field, with nearly anyone else in any field. His basic philosophy is to be true to himself and in his professional life it is stiffer than the goal posts at a football game. Furthermore, his goal posts have never come down.
“Look, Vincent Price played monsters, bloodsuckers, and yet in real life he’s a fine man, an art collector, a gentle man. Yet he, like Frank Sinatra, is professional. You can hire Sinatra but you don’t tell him what to sing or make his arrangements for him...
“So when I work I say, “look, I’m going to do it my way and if you like it, fine. If you don’t, get somebody else. I never argue.
“A lot of guys have listened to management’s suggestions and where are they today – out of the business or somewhere else. I’m still here.
“As I see it, the audience is there for me to use, essentially, for my purposes. If one caller is kookie, it’s not because they’re kookie but because we (meaning “I”) allow them to be kookie and set the tone, the pace of the show. And we can change it any time.
“The host controls the tempo, the mood. He has the ability to change it any time and in a split second. When I tune in, I want a few laughs, I want to be entertained.
“What I strive for essentially is what a good major league pitcher wants when he pitches a game, a curve, fastball, change of pace, spot the ball... and that’s what I’m doing, essentially, with my audience... a variety of things.”
Pete Franklin is a host of things and yet always and inevitably the same six-foot-one, overweight at 215 pounder. He doesn’t raise his voice off radio, seldom tones it down while on.
He is, of course, something radically different to everybody.
Because everybody sees this Pete Franklin in the context they invented in their mind.