Tuesday, September 9, 2008

You can't keep Rob Reider down


Local TV icon is soaring in his career as air show announcer

Clipping along at 110 mph some 2,000 feet above Cincinnati, Rob Reider sounds more like a 6-year-old on his first plane ride than a 60-year-old instrument-rated pilot who has been in the air since 1982.

"Look over my shoulder -- it's Lunken Airport. Isn't that cool from up here? Look how different the Mill Creek looks from up here. And wow, out your window, see all the tracks leading to Union Terminal? Who knew?"

Reider, decked out in a blue flight suit with a Blue Angels patch on the chest, is living his life doing the two things he loves most:

On weekday afternoons, it's soaring the friendly skies in buddy Phil Schmidt's Cessna 182 with N6936M on the tail.

On weekends, it's making a living as an air show announcer.
Air shows, such as this weekend's Blue Ash Airport Days, when he'll climb atop a wobbly platform and tell 15,000 or so people what's going on in the wild blue yonder - rolls and tumbles, loops and spins.

"Rob's probably the best in the business calling a show, even for newbies who don't know what's going on and why it's difficult to do this and that in the air," said Cheryl Popp, a fellow pilot and Airport Days producer. "To my knowledge Rob's the only one in the country who makes a living doing this full time."

Reider of Montgomery is a local TV icon and a beloved figure who played guitar, sang, did commercials and cracked mischievous jokes as a regular on Channel 5's now defunct "Bob Braun Show" for 13 years. Later, he used that same musical talent to direct the choir and music programs for nine years at Vineyard Community Church.

Today, he calls at least 23 shows a year in states stretching from California to Maine and has the honors to prove his mettle. In 2007, he won the Oscar of the air-show world, the Sword of Excellence by the International Council of Air Shows, on the same night the Blue Angels got the award. It marked the first time since 1996 that the Council awarded two swords in one night. Only 34 swords have been awarded since 1981, 30 to aviators and four to announcers.

Reider has been on a platform craning his neck upward since a 1978 incident at Lunken Airport when announcer Todd Hunter, then of Channel 9, canceled at the last minute. Someone shoved a mike in Reider's hand, he did the show and within a year he went pro.

"I've been in love with flight since I was little and saw 'Sky King,' on TV," he said, then going on to prove his devotion by mimicking the Saturday morning series intro: "Out of the clear blue of the western sky comes ... Skyyyyyyy Kiiiiing.

"I don't know how many, but I'd bet that Sky King and his niece Penny inspired hundreds of fliers. Ever since I saw the show I wanted to be a pilot."

But time changed that.

Reider left Columbus as a college student and moved here to study broadcasting at the College-Conservatory of Music.

"I heard Cincinnati was a good TV town, and I knew I could make it in production," if the guitar and vocal licks didn't measure up. Midway through CCM, something big happened.

"I was asked to sing at a party for UC's birthday. Marian (Spelman, cast member on "The Bob Braun Show") was there and she told the Braun staff about me. Later, Murg (Dick Murgatroyd, the show's producer) called and I joined the cast in 1970, unpaid for the first few months. I stayed 13 years and yeah, we were kind of corny, but I can say with all sincerity that we don't have to be ashamed of anything we did on that show.

"Nowdays people stop me and say, 'I remember you from when you were on Ruth Lyons' show.' I was never on her show and I used to remind them it was the Braun show, but not anymore. I'm honored to be lumped with people like that."

Cast member Mary Ellen Tanner recalls doing the show with Reider.
"We worked together a lot and he was a joy to be around, always up even when things went wrong. .

"I don't know if I agree that we were corny, but I agree completely that we have everything to be proud of and nothing to be ashamed of. I admire Rob greatly for so many reasons."

Says Reider: "I look at myself today and realize that I have a great life."

But not a life without turmoil brought on by a series of unhappy events. He lost Gaile, his wife of 36 years, in August 2007, after a lingering battle with cancer. Eleven months later on July 14, 30-year-old daughter Katie, an award-winning singer and songwriter, died of a rare cancer that robbed her of her voice and inflicted constant pain.

"Flying was a blessing when Katie was ill. I could jump in a plane and fly off to Montclair (N.J.), to visit her when she needed me. But the truth is, I was the one who needed her."

Two years earlier, son Robbie lost a 2-day old infant to a rare disease that caused fluid to collect in tissue and constrict blood vessels so badly that the heart couldn't pump hard enough to push blood through.

"Things like that, Gaile, Katie, Robbie's baby, you never get over it. It gets easier, but it never goes away."

"I have to say that God helped me through it," said Reider, who spent nine years as director of the choir, lighting, video and Internet services at Vineyard Community Church in Springdale. He left in 2006 to spend more time with Gaile.

Reider, who starts every flight with a prayer right after the required pre-flight check, admits those experiences "have affected my theology some. For me, I'm wondering about promises made in certain scriptures and about prayers that weren't answered as those scriptures promised. It has me wondering about how intimately God is involved with our lives.

"But one thing the past two years have done is made me more sensitive to the needs of others. When they ask for my prayers, they get them."

Illnesses weren't the first test of faith. That came more than 10 years ago when daughter Katie came out as a lesbian and announced she and partner Karen were to marry and that Karen would take the name Reider.

"I had trouble accepting it because we're taught that homosexuality is wrong, that it's a sin. But being around Katie and Karen I learned that there's so much more that defines love than gender. And I also know that God made us and He doesn't make mistakes. So how could I not get over it?
"Karen lives in New Jersey, and she's like one of my own, in frequent contact by video chat. She and Katie had two boys - Aiden is 4, Kain is 2 - and they light up my life."

When Reider's not on the road with air shows or home in Montgomery, he's chilling out at his home off the coast of Maine on Isle au Haut.

"It has a population of 45 in the winter and 250 in the summer. Gaile and I cut a road in, added a bathroom and septic system and have high-speed Internet. I inherited it when my brother Brent passed away. It's expensive to keep up, but it's something I won't part with.

"Everyone loves it there. Gaile and Katie spent the last healthy days of their lives there and that's one reason I want to keep it forever - so my kids and their kids can enjoy it and also remember Gaile and Katie and the happiness we shared together there."

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