Joseph A. Denisch, 92, ship's radio operator, WBAL engineer


Joseph Arthur Denisch, a retired WBAL radio and television engineer and former ship's radio operator whose tales of the high seas enlivened many a gathering, died Thursday of leukemia at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 92.

The personable Long Green Valley resident was born in New York City and raised in Brooklyn.

The lure of the sea and the great passenger liners and lowly freighters that arrived and departed from the Hudson River piers caught the young man's imagination and fired his wanderlust.

In the early 1920s, he graduated from the Radio Corporation of America Institute and later went to work as a ship's operator for the RadioMarine Corp., a division of RCA that placed radio operators on ships.

"On his first trip aboard the Surricho, which left New York bound for Los Angeles via the Panama Canal, the ship had a 12-degree list from being improperly loaded," said Bruce Brough of Santa Cruz, Calif, Mr. Denisch's nephew. "It was so bad that it took three weeks to arrive in port. He decided to leave the ship and came back to New York aboard a passenger liner."

In what he liked to call his "horror story," Mr. Denisch relished telling of his last voyage, in 1928, when the Huron, a Clyde Line vessel with 400 passengers and freight steaming to the tropics, ran head-on into a severe winter storm off New Jersey.

The ship rolled and pitched, and the wind snapped the antenna, causing the radio to go dead.

"With the snow and rain coming down and ice on the deck, he was able with the help of several deckhands to make a new shaft," Mr. Brough said. "While they were installing the new antenna, he fell and nearly rolled off the ship until being saved by a deckhand.

"I think that's when he decided to give up the sea," Mr. Brough said with a laugh.

Other adventures included taking aboard the S.S. Roosevelt two trans-Atlantic aviators who crashed into the sea trying to follow the path of Charles Lindbergh's solo flight and rescuing all hands from a tugboat that was rammed and sunk off Atlantic City by the fully loaded tanker Mr. Denisch was on.

"He was normally a quiet guy, but once he started his tales, there was no stopping him. He loved to talk about Havana during the balmy days of the 1920s, the well-dressed crowds, the pink sandy beaches and Cuba's famed cigars. On his 90th birthday, he smoked a cigar and still proclaimed the island's Corona Corona the best cigar he ever had," Mr. Brough said.

After leaving the sea, Mr. Denisch worked in the telegraph and cable department of the Guaranty & Trust Co. on Wall Street.

During the great 1929 stock market crash, he witnessed something that he would talk about the rest of his life.

A distraught broker in the Equitable Building next to where Mr. Denisch was working jumped from a window to his death several floors below, hitting a truck.

Mr. Denisch came to Baltimore in 1941, settled in Ednor Gardens and went to work as an engineer for WBAL Radio, then in the Baltimore Gas and Electric Building on Lexington Street, later moving to its studios on Charles Street and, with the birth of television, to Television Hill. He retired in 1969.

"He was a very pleasant guy, who was very popular with everyone," said Jim West, who retired two years ago as WBAL's morning sports anchor. "Artie's smile always brightened my day."

In addition to a large vegetable garden at his 1830-era Long Green Valley home, he planted a few tomatoes, which he nursed with milk, under WBAL's Northwest Baltimore transmitters.

An avid golfer who played until he was 90, he often played at Pine Ridge or practiced on the driving range he had installed at his home. Mr. Denisch was married first to the former Ella Virginia Streett, who died in 1975.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete.

He is survived by his wife of 22 years, the former Mildred Elizabeth Bonham; a son, Dr. David A. Denisch of Towson; a niece, Jane Koethen Brough of Santa Cruz; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 4/06/97

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