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After Nearly 50 Years on Air, a Local Radio Voice Signs Off

by on April 02, 2018 5:00 AM

Today begins a new era. Kevin Nelson, local talk radio host, local celebrity and all around good guy, retired last week. The mornings won’t be the same.

For most of the past 49 years, Kevin, or “Uncle Kev” as he is known to many, and his assortment of co-hosts have provided us with the opportunity to hear about and weigh in on the issues that were important to our community.  Local issues, the occasional state or national topic, plus a whole lot of silly stuff, were debated and discussed, with Kevin offering his perspective, the occasional outrage and a lot of humor.

His career in radio was almost predestined.

Kevin came to State College as a Penn State freshman after graduating from Cumberland Valley High School. His family had moved to the Harrisburg area from Baltimore when he was in fifth grade. An early reader, Kevin has shared how he used to “announce” the things he read, even as an elementary schooler.

He arrived at University Park the fall of 1968 with the intention of majoring in math.  

With experience doing the daily announcements in high school, he joined the staff of WHR, the radio station at West Halls. While at WHR, a friend who had landed a job at local station WRSC encouraged Kevin to apply as well.  In 1969, Kevin sent an audition tape to WRSC and was hired by Wendy Williams.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Kevin started as a disc jockey, spinning records, first on the weekends and then around his classes. He played oldies on an early afternoon show called “Remember the Gold.” By the time he graduated from Penn State in 1972 with a degree in broadcasting, his radio resume was pretty strong. He eventually moved to weekday mornings, reading the news on Wendy Williams’ show. As their chemistry became evident, they started talking more and playing less music.    

Kevin remembers the day that WRSC station owner Bob Zimmerman came in and started pulling music cartridges off the shelves and putting them in a box. When asked what he was doing, Bob said they were moving the morning show to a talk format. The “Wendy and Kevin Show” was born.

For those who may not remember, Wendy and Kevin covered just about everything. They would get things running and people would call in to join in the conversation. Serious topics. Local issues. National concerns. Some days it was just the inane.  For one whole week, the hot debate was whether or not bananas should be kept in the refrigerator. “It just kept going,” Kevin said. Another was oatmeal. People tuned in just to be a part of the fun. Along the way, the community discussion on WRSC became an important part of the local landscape.

When Wendy left the show in the early 90s, a number of co-hosts followed, each bringing their own unique talents and personalities. Dave Shannon. Scott Geesey. The late Pat Boland. Tor Michaels. The last rendition of The Morning Guys partnered Kevin and Jeff “Ironhead” Byers.

Kevin Nelson and 'Morning Guys' co-host Jeff Byers.

The shows over the years have covered all the issues, played game shows like “Anybody’s Guess” and even at one point had a swap-shop segment where people could call in to sell or buy items or services. Those calls alone were worth a few good laughs.

With brief stints in Georgia and then Indiana, Kevin dedicated the bulk of his career to his Centre Region listeners.

In 2000, Kevin and Jeff were unceremoniously fired by station management who decided that local talk radio wasn’t the direction they wanted to go. Two years later, Kevin was working as a financial advisor when the vice president of the company that owned the station and the station manager asked to meet with him. Kevin said the station was reportedly losing money and they hoped he might have ideas to make it work.  “Make it local,” he said. “You have to make birthday announcements. Have the hosts talk about themselves. Give it a local feel.” The solution to their problem was obvious. Kevin and Jeff were soon back on the radio and the local talk was back on air.

As a local myself, I’ve been listening to Kevin and his assorted co-hosts for years. When the community came together to fight the State College school board in 2006, I had the opportunity to meet Kevin and Jeff in person. We needed to get the community engaged in the debate and The Morning Guys were willing to help. They gave both sides of the issue time on-air to help facilitate the community conversation. I consider them both friends.

Sue Paterno, Kevin Nelson and Theresa Nelson on Kevin's last day at WRSC.

I learned then that Kevin always says what he believes, not necessarily what you want to hear.  From the proposed diverters in College Heights to the disappearance of Ray Gricar, we could always count on the morning talk show and Kevin Nelson and his co-hosts to keep us informed. His no nonsense, often hilarious, take on what was happening around him made for great radio. Kevin recently reflected on the impact that the show had on our community.

“Whatever anyone was talking about, they were talking to us.”   

Kevin served our community beyond the airwaves. He was an adjunct instructor at Penn State for eight years. He served as an announcer for Penn State basketball for many years and actually proposed to his wife, Theresa (referred to on air as “the lovely and talented”), at the Bryce Jordan Center. Kevin’s lifelong dream to be a game show host serves him well as the host for “Battle of the Minds,” an annual event supporting Centre Volunteers in Medicine. He has humbly played the role of local celebrity in many local charity golf tournaments.

When the Borough of State College passed the “no cruising” ordinance in the late 1970s, Wendy and Kevin were responsible for the “first”Last Cruise – people from all over came to lap the downtown one more time.  That Last Cruise has been a major annual fundraiser for the Youth Service Bureau in the decades since.

Radio talk show host.  Community contributor. And now, retiree.

I was honored to be invited to the retirement party that Theresa Nelson, his wife of 19 years, organized last week at Duffy’s Tavern. The outpouring of support, the laughs and the tears were an amazing testimony to Kevin’s tenure in Happy Valley. On air last week, friends and supporters called in to wish Kevin well. Former co-hosts like Wendy Williams, local radio greats like Jeff Brown, and notable local figures Sue Paterno and Senator Jake Corman all stopped by the studio to congratulate Kevin – on air — on a job well done.

Kevin Nelson talks on-air with state Sen. Jake Corman.

On his last day, Kevin described his life as one big game of Jenga. If any piece, including the firing in 2000, had been pulled from the stack, the outcome, he said, would have been different. Kevin used terms like “grateful” and “extremely lucky” to describe his career. In fact, it has been our community and his listeners who are grateful.

Thank you Kevin Nelson. You are living proof of the impact that one human can have on this planet of ours. Best wishes for a great retirement.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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