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Thomas W. Cole III, 75, served as 'Duckpins for Dollars' TV host


Thomas W. Cole III, the former host of the popular WBAL-TV show Duckpins for Dollars who later sold real estate, died of cancer Thursday at Brightwood Center in Lutherville. The Towson resident was 75.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Windsor Hills, he was a 1947 Loyola High School graduate and earned a business degree from Loyola College. He served in the Army in Korea before attending the University of Baltimore Law School.

In the 1950s, Mr. Cole went into management training for Sealtest Dairies on Loch Raven Road. As part of his duties, he worked a delivery route.

"People kept telling him, 'With a voice like yours, you ought to go into broadcasting,'" said his wife of 47 years, the former Kathryn "Corky" Bonsall.

Mr. Cole got his start as an emcee of Sports Special, a show broadcast on a small Towson AM radio station, WAQE, then located on Allegheny Avenue. He moved on to WCBM in 1961 as an afternoon show host.

He broke into television at WMAR, where he worked briefly before becoming WBAL-TV's weekend sports reporter.

"He was an amiable and handsome fellow," said Vince Bagli, former WBAL sports anchor. "He had a great face for television."

Mr. Cole was chosen to host a Sunday evening-only show called Duckpins for Dollars, a 30-minute game show with multiple contestants. Mr. Cole chatted with each bowler, who bowled one frame - three balls - in the popular Baltimore style, duckpins.

"It became such a success that it went six nights a week," said Royal Parker, WBAL's retired staff announcer and longtime children's TV show actor. "Tom did an absolutely great job. The producers eventually took the show national."

A 1971 article in The Evening Sun said of the show, "The success is considered a unique phenomenon in the world of TV" and called Duckpins for Dollars "the highest-rated locally produced show in town." The article credited the show's success to Mr. Cole, described as "an average bowler" who "keeps things moving with his breezy, well-rehearsed interviews."

The article noted the time Mr. Cole asked a bowler her occupation. She replied, "I'm a fluid engineer. That means I mix drinks at Minnick's of Dundalk."

But when he asked contestants one night in 1971 whether Army Lt. William Calley's guilty verdict on a charge of murdering 22 Vietnam villagers was justified, he ran afoul of station executives, who took him off the show.

"Five people disagreed with the verdict, one said he got exactly what he deserved and one lady said it was 'nice.' I never asked what she meant by 'nice' because I hadn't asked anyone on the show to explain their opinions," Mr. Cole said in a Sun article about his removal from the show, which was later syndicated and produced in other cities under other names.

Mr. Cole remained at WBAL as a staff announcer and in 1976 joined Grempler Realty Inc. as a sales agent in its North Baltimore office. He retired about 10 years ago.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Roman Catholic Church of the Nativity, 20 E. Ridgely Road, Timonium, where he was a lector and member.

In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Thomas Wells Cole IV of Bakersfield, Calif.; a daughter, Kathryn "Kacey" Jackson of Towson; a sister, Adele Lyness of Sparks; and two grandsons.

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