Barry Keefe, longtime radio newsman in Chicago, dies at 62

 Barry Keefe, longtime radio newsman in Chicago, dies at 62
Radio newsman Barry Keefe was known for his deep-bass voice. (Provided by family)

Barry Keefe spent 30 years as a news anchor at WTMX-FM and its predecessor, WCLR-FM, bringing an authoritative, deep-bass voice and a friendly, chatty manner to a raft of morning radio shows.

"Radio is a gypsy business — especially in the cutthroat morning slot — but Barry was a constant," said WBBM-AM reporter Bob Roberts. "He had that deep bass, old-school voice of authority yet mastered the art of conversational news broadcasting long before it was common."


Keefe, 62, died of complications from pancreatic cancer at his Wheaton home Sunday, said his son, former WBEZ-FM reporter and current Vermont Public Radio reporter Alex Keefe.

Born on the North Side, Keefe grew up in Niles, Mich. His first radio job, at 17, was at WNIL-AM in Niles. He earned a bachelor's degree in communications from what is now Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., and he spent three years during college as the news director of the college's radio station.

After college, Keefe spent about two years as a morning news anchor at stations in Grand Rapids and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before leaving in 1978 to take a job as the news and public affairs director at what then was known as WCLR-FM in Skokie.

Keefe stayed with the station, which took the call letters WTMX in 1989, for three decades through multiple format changes and morning hosts. He was the first news anchor of the popular "Eric and Kathy" show, which debuted in 1996 and is hosted by Eric Ferguson and Kathy Hart.

"My first memory of Barry didn't involve seeing him. Fittingly, it involved hearing him — his deep, full bass of a voice booming from down the hall," Ferguson said. "That voice, like the man, had a presence. A big voice, but a gentle and kind man with a good heart."

Hart said, "While most knew Barry as the consummate newsman, he had this quirky sense of humor and goofy side that I wish everyone could've seen. That is the Barry Keefe I will remember forever."

Former Chicago radio newsman Steve Scott, who now is an afternoon co-host at New York's WCBS-AM, said Keefe had a gift for communicating stories to his listeners.

"First of all, that voice is the first thing that most people would probably notice about Barry, and it is just a big, beautiful melodious voice, but once you listen more, you would hear that he was a gifted writer and a fabulous storyteller," Scott said. "He didn't just write words on paper, he was telling stories, and I thought he was really good at that."

In Keefe's early years at the station, his news staff included Doug Cummings, whom Keefe hired as a rookie reporter in 1980. Cummings, who later reported for WGN-AM and WMAQ-AM before becoming a crime novelist, called Keefe "a raconteur on and off the radio."

"Barry matched his (great voice) with writing so skillful he could take the most arcane piece of copy and boil it down to two or three memorable lines," Cummings said.

Keefe hosted many public-affairs programs at the station, including "Insight," a weekly show that Cummings also hosted.

During his career, Keefe won or shared more than 75 awards for his work, according to his family. Some of his honors included winning The Associated Press' award for best enterprise and investigative reporting in 1982, the AP's awards in 1986 for best editorial, best documentary and best public service announcement, United Press International's award for best newswriter in 1991, and the Illinois Broadcasters Association's Silver Dome Award in 2008 for the best public affairs program.

Keefe was involved in a variety of volunteer activities, including working to save the Wheaton Grand Theater in Wheaton, forming WTMX's volunteer fair and offering his time to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the DuPage County Suburban Emergency Management Project and the Glen Ellyn-based Teen Parent Connection.

After leaving WTMX in 2008, Keefe worked for several years as the assistant director of admissions at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago.


In addition to his son, Keefe is survived by his wife, Kathy; and another son, Aidan.

Visitation is set for 1 p.m Saturday at the Williams-Kampp Funeral Home, 430 E. Roosevelt Road, Wheaton. A service will follow at 3 p.m.

Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.