Veteran KDKA (1020) personality Fred Honsberger died this morning at his home in Monroeville.
Honsberger, who was 58, earlier this year celebrated his 30th anniversary with the CBS-owned news-talker.
A native of Philadelphia, where he worked at KDKA’s then-Group W sister station, KYW (1060), Honsberger came to KDKA in 1979 as a field reporter, winning an Alfred I. duPont Award for his part in the station’s coverage of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant accident.
“His love for, and dedication to, his listeners in Pittsburgh cannot be duplicated,” said Dan Mason, president and CEO of CBS Radio. “We couldn’t be more proud of the work Fred has done as a dedicated broadcaster over the past three decades.”
“Our sincere condolences go out to Fred’s family,” Mason said.
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Before joining KYW, Honsberger worked as news director at WKBO, Harrisburg, and as operations manager at WRSC and WQWK, State College.
After stints as news anchor for former KDKA personalities Roy Fox and John Cigna, Honsberger was named the station’s news director in 1984. He became a talk-show host in 1989.
Honsberger battled various health problems for years. In 2005, after dropping 140 pounds through gastric-bypass surgery, he went public with his lifelong battle to control his weight, which had led him to struggle with diabetes and high blood pressure.
In 2007, Honsberger began doing his talk show from his Monroeville home after falling and breaking his leg; the following year, he fell and broke his shoulder.
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Yet his illnesses rarely slowed down the dynamic (some would say bombastic) and hard-working Honsberger, who four times was named best talk-show host in Pennsylvania by the Associated Press.
For the past four years, Honsberger had been named one of Talkers magazine’s “Heavy One Hundred” list of the top 100 talk-show hosts in the United States.
His last KDKA broadcast was a little more than one week ago — Tuesday, Dec. 8.
From 1999 to 2007, Honsberger also hosted a daily talk show on WPXI-TV’s Pittsburgh Cable News Channel. He gave up the slot after complications from breaking his leg made it difficult to get to the station’s studio.
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“Fred was a terrific broadcaster,” PCNC station manager Mark Barash said in a statement posted for WPXI’s website. “He had the ability to make people stay and listen to his show, because he was so compelling.”
In an era when few local radio hosts are still household names, the distinctive voice and forceful personality of the self-styled “Honzman” earned both legions of fans and some prominent detractors.
Beginning in 2004, Honsberger earned a distinction accorded to no other Pittsburgh talk-show host when two local bloggers began tracking what they considered his half-truths and misstatements at a website called “Honsberger is a Liar.”
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Those bloggers, David DeAngelo and Maria Lupinacci, have expressed their own condolences.
“It probably goes without saying that Fred and I had real philosophical differences,” DeAngelo wrote today. “I was a frequent caller and we argued pretty much all the major issues of the day. And, that goes to one thing that I highly respected about Fred: he wasn’t afraid to hold up his opinions to criticism … Fred relished the challenge. He was also extremely gracious when I met him in person.”
Barash said Honsberger “never backed away from an argument, debate or discussion with people who didn’t agree with him, and I think that’s one of the things that made Fred so great.”
“Whether you loved what he was saying or hated what he was saying, you listened,” he said. “He will be missed.”
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In a prepared statement announcing the death, Michael Young, senior vice president and market manager for CBS Radio Pittsburgh, praised Honsberger’s “immense passion and the enjoyment and pride he took in preparing and producing his shows.”
“Fred truly loved the Pittsburgh area, the KDKA listeners and his colleagues at the station,” Young said, adding that the KDKA family “is deeply saddened … Fred’s family has the station’s deepest sympathies during this difficult period.”
WPXI today quoted a spokesman for the Allegheny County medical examiner’s office as saying that heart disease was suspected as a factor in Honsberger’s death.
An active volunteer with and member of The Salvation Army, Honsberger is survived by his wife, Christine, and two sons. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.