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98 Rock's Lopez dies at 52

Baltimore radio personality Bob Lopez, an iconoclastic newsman andtalk-show host at 98 Rock (WIYY-FM) for 27 years and member of its popularKirk, Mark & Lopez morning team, died of lung cancer yesterday at GilchristCenter for Hospice Care. He was 52.

Mr. Lopez, who preferred to be called by his last name, had first informedthe station's listeners of his illness in an on-air interview from a hospitalbed 14 months ago.

He had since undergone chemotherapy and other treatment while continuing totake part in the morning show -- often using his illness as a source of humor-- when his health permitted.

Jean Lopez, his wife of 21 years, said he was listening to rock music andcracking jokes until he lost consciousness a few hours before his death.

"His philosophy was to live life and not to live the cancer, and he didthat," she said. "He was just so direct with everything, so what you saw waswho he was."

Mrs. Lopez said one of her husband's last wishes was that everyone drink ashot of tequila in his memory.

"He really battled up until the very end. We're all in awe," said EdKiernan, vice president and general manager of WBAL-AM and WIYY. "He really[was] part of the brick and mortar of 98 Rock. We accomplished so much withhim."

"98 Rock has lost a family member and a friend today, and we'll all bemourning," said Dave Hill, the station's program director. "Our airwaves willnever be the same."

"I think the one thing people might not realize is what a pioneer he was,"said Chuck DuCoty, program director at 98 Rock from 1981-1991.

A graduate of the University of Maryland, Mr. Lopez joined 98 Rock in 1978-- the station's second year on the air -- as the morning newsman, after threeyears at WLMD in Laurel.

At that time, said Mr. DuCoty, most rock station newscasts consisted offluff about Mick Jagger's escapades or what Ted Nugent had shot while hunting.

"Lopez wrote about serious news and serious issues ... but he wrote it in away that the target audience -- specifically 18-to-24- year-old males --liked," Mr. DuCoty said. "It resonated with those guys."

Soon, he said, it was Mr. Lopez rather than the disc jockeys who emerged asthe No. 1 personality at 98 Rock.

"I'd go out and do appearances at bars or remotes or concerts," Mr. DuCotysaid, "and invariably the person that people wanted to talk about was Lopez."

In the notoriously peripatetic world of radio, where job longevity cansometimes be measured in days and buying a home is considered an act ofunbridled optimism, Mr. Lopez worked with 13 different morning show teamsbefore the Kirk, Mark & Lopez show debuted eight years ago.

"He had a very dry sense of humor ..." said 98 Rock personality SarahFleischer, who worked with Mr. Lopez for 26 years. "His little side commentsand commentary added so much to the show."

"Lopez [was] one of the smartest guys I've ever known," said Kirk McEwen ofthe KML show. "If I was going to be on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and get alifeline, I'd say [call] Bob Lopez in Baltimore."

"He could be caustic, sharp-tongued and very opinionated," said fellow KMLhost Mark Ondayko. "But his opinions were always ... well thought-out."

Mr. Ondayko recalled his first day in the 98 Rock booth, when he sat inwith Mr. Lopez before making his official on-air debut.

"I sat there for about two hours and he didn't say a word to me," Mr.Ondayko said. "Then he finally looked over at me ... and said: `Who the hellare you?'

"I said, `I'm your new partner.' Then he went right back to typing. But hewas someone who, once you got past that exterior, there was a very specialperson there."

Colleagues said Mr. Lopez's devotion to newswriting was mixed with awhimsical sense of creativity, which occasionally manifested itself in on-airhoaxes.

Mr. DuCoty recalled a memorable hoax that began at 6 a.m. one April Fool'sDay, when Mr. Lopez read a brief piece at the end of the newscast reportingthat scientists had detected what might have been an explosion on the surfaceof Mars.

As the day went on, Mr. Lopez moved the piece higher and higher in thenewscast, making the results of the explosion sound more and more ominous.

Soon, said Mr. DuCoty, Mr. Lopez was reporting that Mars was wobbling onits axis, then that it was threatening to spin out of control. By the end ofthe morning, Mr. Lopez was reporting that Mars had disintegrated, and thatpieces of the planet were now orbiting on their own in outer space.

"I got calls from Goddard [Space Flight Center in Greenbelt] that daybecause they were getting so many phone calls from listeners," Mr. DuCotysaid.

"In a world where the phrase is often over-used, Lopez was a trueoriginal," said Denise Oliver, who, as 98 Rock's first program director, hiredMr. Lopez in 1978.

"I also felt that Lopez should be nationally syndicated, because I felt hehad that much talent. But maybe it's best that he wasn't, because very fewbroadcasters today have had ... the kind of relationship with the communitythat he had with Baltimore.

"He loved Baltimore, and Baltimore loved him back."

In addition to his newsman duties, Mr. Lopez was host of a Sunday morningtalk show for 20 years that was first known as The Spanish Inquisition andlater The Sunday Lopez.

The show was marked by Mr. Lopez's acerbic wit, cynical world view and anunfettered liberalism in his politics.

In 2000, when he decided he needed a break from the show, Mr. Lopezdescribed it to Sun columnist Dan Rodricks as "your antidote to right-wingradio," and said it aired only once a week because "liberals need time tothink."

But it was the preparation of his news reports that seemed to give him themost pleasure, colleagues said.

"I can tell you at the top of every hour" -- when Mr. Lopez delivered hisnewscasts -- "that was his time," said Mr. Kiernan, the station manager. "Thatwas really important to him."

Mr. Kiernan said Mr. Lopez was behind the microphone in the uncertain hoursimmediately following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the station wentcommercial-free and song-free from 8:46 that morning.

"He stayed on the air all day," Mr. Kiernan said. "Lopez was our chiefreporter. And he stayed on the air until 8 o'clock that night.

"That was his idea, just a natural reaction to the [events]. We were luckyto have a guy of his stature doing that."

Mr. Lopez is survived by his wife and his 13-year-old daughter, Leandra, ofSparks.

Public visits are scheduled tomorrow from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Wednesdayfrom 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. when a memorial service will beheld, at Peaceful Alternatives Funeral and Cremation Center, 2325 York Road inTimonium.

Sun staff writer Childs Walker contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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