Area Broadcaster puts Voice to Work for Charity

By Larry Lewis

That voice. Deeply resonant and articulate, the stuff of DJ dreams. On a recent weekday, it fills the air in Dick Crippen’s fourth-floor office in Tropicana Field, home to the Rays. Down the hall, crisply attired millennials pour over player stats in rooms framed by expansive views of the ball field.

Dick Crippen talks on the phone in his
office at Tropicana Field. He has been a senior advisor to the Tampa Bay Rays for 17 years, responsible primarily for community outreach. Inset photo is of his plaque for supporting Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
Photo by Larry Lewis.

Surrounded by memorabilia and awards, Dick has a story to tell of five decades in broadcasting and countless hours devoted to charitable work throughout his beloved Tampa Bay.

Today, he is senior advisor to the Rays, a job he’s held for 17 years. The title, he says, “is more for the grey hair than the advice.” He conducts community outreach on behalf of the team, an understated job description. “I set my own schedule; whatever has to be done.” He emcees events, speaks at clubs and puts groups together with the team for benevolent causes. “I’m a facilitator,” with the blessing of team owner Stu Sternberg, whose support continues that of orig- inal owner Vince Naimoli. Dick says, “I worked to bring the team here, and I ended up working for them. It’s unreal.”

His people skills, creative mind and boundless energy were the bedrock of his career in radio and television, dating back to the later 1950s, when the teenaged Tenafly, New Jersey native worked as a page at NBC in New York while studying psychol- ogy and advertising at Johns Hopkins. “I worked the last ‘Howdy Doody’ episode,” when the ever- silent Clarabell Clown uttered his only words, “Goodbye, kids.” Dick also paged for “The Jack Parr Show,” “The Price Is Right” and Perry Como. He once refused Bob Newhart admission into a studio, unaware that he was a guest.

Still, “I never envisioned broadcasting until relocating to St. Petersburg to study business at the University of Tampa, around 1960. I got off the plane, looked around and said, ‘Where has this been all my life?’” He soon found radio work on WDAE, doing a split shift of early mornings and late shutdowns. Thus began an alphabet soup of station call letters.

A young Dick Crippen gives a weather forecast on WFLA-TV in the mid-‘60s. Back then weathermen had to do their own annotations on the map. Photo courtesy of Dick Crippen.

Dick meets Tarzan’s Johnny Weissmuller dressed in his Commander Astro outfit; what he wore as the host of the children’s show “Space Station” on WLCY. Photo courtesy of Dick Crippen.

When channel 8 (WFLA) needed a booth announcer, Dick signed on, eventually being trained as a weatherman. When JFK was shot, Dick told Tampa Bay while on-air at WINQ-AM. After that station closed, he landed at WILZ radio, atop Guy Lombardo’s Port O’ Call resort on Tierra Verde.

“The entertainers there had little to do during the daytime,” he recalls. “This fellow wandered into the station to watch us. He asked if he might read an ad spot. ‘Sure,’ I said. It mentioned people like Jimmy Stewart and Edward G. Robinson. And, this guy starts doing their voices, spot on. ‘Who IS he?’” thought Dick. “It was impressionist Rich Little, in town from Canada for his first-ever American show.”

In 1965, Dick joined then ABC’s channel 10 (WLCY) as a weatherman at the upstart’s first studio on Central Avenue. And his career ignited. When their sports director, Vince Malloy, ran for Tampa city council, Dick took over the job. “I co-owned a football team, the St. Pete Blazers, which played at Northeast High. Plus, I was doing the public address announcing at the Sunshine Speedway drags. So, they said we’ll give five bucks more a week to be sports director. I’d met a girl at the station and asked her to marry me, so I could use the five bucks.”

Dick Crippen (left) with the Channel 8 anchor team including Suzanne Bates, Bob Hite, Bill Ratliff and Jim Smith. Photo courtesy of Dick Crippen.

He also hosted “Space Station,” a children’s show there as Commander Astro. “We had a talk- ing rock. I never knew who’d come on. It was all ad-lib, which was great training for later doing satellites (remote live work).” He did radio news, too. “WLCY-AM was THE station. It was a torch; it burned up this area.” Dick imitates his radio voice, adding, “We sounded like we had adenoids.”

Dick Crippen reports from the sidelines of Tampa Stadium during the 1969 Lion’s American Bowl aka American Bowl College All-Star Game.
Photo courtesy of Dick Crippen.

Sports announcing mushroomed into stints on Q-105, “The Morning Zoo” and 17 years calling Bucs games. “At this point, I’m doing anything.” The drag strip races led to calling hydroplane races all over Florida. “Lake Maggiore was the fastest closed hydroplane course in the U.S. Racers would come to St. Pete from all over.”

He switched to NBC’s channel 8 (WFLA) in 1981 as sports director and, when that stint ended in 1999, Naimoli landed Dick as Rays’ senior advisor, encouraging him to cultivate outreach to charities and non-profits he’d begun in his media years.

Today, his personal efforts focus on two inter- ests close to his heart: education and veterans. Doing so calls on all 43 skill sets listed in his LinkedIn profile; he serves on 11 boards.

As a director for the Pinellas Education Foundation (PEF), he champions the value of vocational training. “Too many people today think that college is the answer, but a lot of kids aren’t ready for it or at that level.” He helped PEF create academies within county high schools that blend traditional classes with technical training and certi- fication. “A master mechanic makes six figures. Try to get an electrician or plumber. There’s no shame in those professions.”

Dick and NASCAR’s Bobby Allison pose for a photo. Dick’s move into sports took him all over the country covering drag strip and hydroplane races. His job took him to 10 Super Bowls and several world series. Photo courtesy of Dick Crippen.

He also aided PEF in creating “Future Plans,” an interactive, online program to identify interests and abilities matched to jobs. “It’s hooked with Job Corps and Career Source, so it gives you available jobs in your area and nationally, should you move.” The program is being franchised to Hillsborough County, as well as Georgia and California.

Dick is passionate about PARC, the St. Petersburg non-profit helping children and adults with developmental disabilities. “I know a lot of the clients. At last year’s PARC auction, a painting by a disabled child pulled in $8,000.”

Dick emcees the 47th Annual Evening of Inspiration, a fundraising gala for PARC, a non- profit helping children and adults with developmental disabilities. He is on the boards of 11 nonprofits. Photo courtesy of PARC.

His education efforts mesh well with his devotion to members of the armed services. “I just really got into enjoying the military. I work a lot with vets and their biggest problem is they can line up a computer target for a bomber in a war zone, but how do you translate that to civilian life?” His answer: adapt that Future Plans program for veter- ans, picking apart their skill sets. “This is what they do. What does it take to DO that?” Testing is now being assessed.

Dick is a director for Remember • Honor • Support, a St. Petersburg non-profit dedicated to preserving the memory of the events of 9/11 as well as helping veterans, first responders and their families in need. They host the annual Patriots Day Memorial Event each Sept. 11 at the Coliseum.

Some five years ago, Dick recommended a charity he assists to the golf committee at Isla del Sol Yacht and Country Club…the Tampa-based Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF), a 4- star charity which guarantees post high school education to the surviving children of military special operators who died in the line of duty, among other benefits. “Last year, my neighbors realized $125,000 from a single tourney and here’s the kick, they haven’t opened it to the public–it’s all Isla.”

A plaque sits in Dick’s office signed by 18 beneficiaries of SOWF’s largesse. A sample from “Michelle” reads: “Thank you so much for the support for me and my family! Because of you, I am able to honor my dad and what he did for us, by getting a college degree.” Dick’s reaction, “I am blessed.”

The Marina Bay resident who helped bring five Super Bowls to Tampa (one scheduled in 2021) knows how lucky he’s been. He and Penny, that bookkeeper he met at WLCY, just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary, and he’ll turn a young 77 next month. He’s not going anywhere soon, either.

“I just love this area. I’ve had job offers in 10 markets. CBS offered me an apartment in New York City and fantastic money, but it always came down to lifestyle. We can have a sunset latte in St. Pete Beach and then go downtown. I’m 12 minutes from work.” Commuting to Tampa on the old two-lane Howard Frankland Bridge didn’t faze Dick Crippen. “When there was a backup, I’d roll down the windows, put some jazz on the radio, tilt the seat and watch the dolphins play in the sunset. It’s a lifestyle that has preserved me.”
“I’ve always believed that, if I weren’t working here, I’d be volunteering somewhere. The day I don’t, that will be a bad day.”