Ronald A. Stratton, who boosted ratings and transformed radio stations he managed, died of complications from a stroke June 29 at Madonna Heritage Assisted Living in Jarrettsville. He was 72 and lived in Red Lion, Pa.
Born in Detroit, he broke into broadcasting in 1955 when his high school guidance counselor offered him credit if he would assist a local weekly children's TV show in Manton, Mich.
"He wrote and typed scripts and was the cameraman," said his daughter, Barbara Stratton of Baltimore. "He was a fast typist and clocked at a speed that secretaries would envy."
His daughter said he worked at Michigan stations as a disc jockey, salesman, copy writer, talk-show host and news director before landing the job of news director at WBEC in Pittsfield, Mass., in 1965.
"He was known for opening his programs with, 'Good morning, good morning, Ron Stratton reporting,'" she said.
Within two years, he became the station's general manager and later moved on and managed a Rochester, N.Y., station.
He arrived in Baltimore in 1981 to overhaul WITH-AM, then a struggling downtown station with a tiny market share. He decided to go after a middle-age demographic.
"When Dad became general manager of WITH-Baltimore in 1981, he changed the format to music of the '40s, '50s, and '60s called 'the Music of Your Life,'" his daughter said. "The station went from losing $192,000 a year to earning $1.4 million annually within four years."
Colleagues said Mr. Stratton set up big-band dances. He established a junior achievement program for city youths and hosted a dining-out club.
"The format he brought in was the music ... before rock 'n' roll. He would throw in Barbra Streisand, Herb Alpert and Neil Diamond, too. It was a huge success, even with the little power that station had," said WTTR disc jockey Jack Edwards, who lives in Reisterstown and once worked at WITH.
Mr. Stratton staged listener parties at Haussner's Restaurant in Highlandtown and at Phillip's Harborplace that drew hundreds.
"Ron was a good salesman, and he had the ideas, too," said former WITH morning host Alan Field, who lives in Columbia and now has a weekly program on WHFC. "He was an efficient manager, and the station was at its best in the Ron Stratton years."
Mr. Stratton also hosted a "Buddy Deane Show" reunion and visits to the station by Andre Baruch, the announcer of "Your Hit Parade" radio shows, and Baruch's wife, vocalist Bea Wain.
By the mid-1980s, the station had an audience share of 5.2 and was No. 1 among 40 stations in the 45- to 54-year-old age group.
Mr. Stratton went on to manage two other Baltimore stations, WWIN, an urban format station in Waverly, and WGHT in Glen Burnie, which targeted both city and county youths.
When Mr. Stratton took over the management of WWIN-AM, it broadcast from a tower at Greenmount Avenue and 29th Street and had its studio there as well. His daughter said he changed its format and increased ratings.
This time, he made the station No. 1 in the African-American target audience of 18- to 34-year-old women.
In Glen Burnie, he also took a small station and sought a broader audience. A 1987 Baltimore Sun article said that Mr. Stratton took a "primarily black-formatted station with a heavy ethnic flavor into a biracial format that will appeal to suburbanites in Anne Arundel as well as inner-city youth in Baltimore."
In the interview, Mr. Stratton said, "I can't see how the format could miss. This is the most exciting ride I've ever been on in my life. I think my excitement comes from my cynicism, because it's hard to come up with new ideas in radio."
Mr. Stratton retired from broadcasting in 1993 after managing stations in North Carolina for several years.
He enjoyed classical music and played the organ and accordion. A genealogist, he appeared on the "Today" show in 1977 to discuss family history. He was also a Rotary member.
At Mr. Stratton's request, no services will be held.
In addition to his daughter, survivors include his wife of 50 years, the former Shirley Wickham of Red Lion, Pa.; two other daughters, Julie Stratton of Abingdon and Cathy Stratton of Forest Hill; a brother, Dennis Stratton of Kansas City, Kan.; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun