Don Spatz, 85, longtime commentator on WBAL Radio

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For more than 30 years, in his role as a morning commentator on WBAL Radio, Don Spatz tried to get Baltimoreans off on the right foot.

Through witty, inspirational commentaries that often stressed respect for others, Mr. Spatz and his avuncular presence were a welcome companion for harried commuters, frenzied mothers and senior citizens in need of a reassuring voice.

Mr. Spatz, whose retirement from WBAL in 1991 ended the longest-running daily radio commentary in the nation, died Wednesday from complications of Alzheimer's disease at Charlestown Care Center. The former North Baltimore resident was 85.

"He was one of the great contributors to the Baltimore radio scene," recalled Brent Gunts, who first worked with Mr. Spatz when the two were at WFBR Radio in the late 1930s. "I don't know if there is anyone quite like him in radio today."

A native of Reading, Pa., Mr. Spatz had been a newspaper columnist, drama critic and author of several mystery and detective novels and stage plays, which he once described as "flops."

Getting into radio during the golden age of the 1930s, Mr. Spatz was a writer creating radio dramas for such stars as Maurice Evans, Tallulah Bankhead, Fred MacMurray and Ethel Barrymore.

For 12 years, he was public relations director of the Peabody Conservatory of Music and conducted his classical music programs on AM and FM radio.

But it was his five-minute, five-day-a-week commentaries delivered in a carefully modulated baritone -- ending with his admonition "Make this a good day" -- that brought Mr. Spatz wide acclaim.

"The farmer has the rooster to awaken him in the morning and the soldier the bugle. Marylanders are vastly more fortunate -- they have Don Spatz," said Theodore R. McKeldin, the late Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor.

In a final on-air interview with WBAL reporter Dave Durian, Mr. Spatz explained his "Make this a good day" sign-off.

"It suggests that you have to work at it yourself to make it a good day," he said. "We just can't sit and expect the world to be kind. We all have to be generous and contribute."

The source of his commentaries, he said, was "whatever pops into my head. If I can find a good reason, I use it."

His modesty belied a deep intelligence. He read anything he could get his hands on.

His house teemed with books, magazines and reference materials.

Jack Shaum, WBAL anchorman, reporter and radio personality for 25 years, said: "Don was a very gentle soul of a guy whose writing and commentaries contained an enormous amount of wisdom, which helped a lot of people get their day going."

Mark Matthews, WBAL news director, recalled him as "our in-house grammarian" who was considered by station staffers as a "language expert."

Mr. Spatz published "Make This a Good Day," "Look At It This Way" and "A Few Kind Words," which were based on his commentaries. He also contributed the humorous "Terse Verse" feature to The Evening Sun for many years.

Services were held Friday in Reading.

There are no surviving relatives.

Pub Date: 3/07/99

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