Q: I guess this may be a little out of date, but I really wish you could tell me what happened to Ralph Graczak on KMOX. I still miss his style on the station’s overnight show.
T.L., of Belleville
A: When it came to teeing up a job change, the man who glided you through the wee hours with his mellifluous voice landed a hole-in-one that few men would dare dream of.
After more than 30 years in St. Louis media, Graczak left the 50,000 red-hot watts of AM-1120 to concentrate on his job as general manager of the Riverside Golf Club in Fenton, Mo., where local duffers still can find him monitoring its fairways, traps and greens.
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“Well, you figure about 1,200 weekends, and I’ve only missed about a dozen of them,” Graczak said, describing a 26-year stint at KMOX to Charlie Brennan shortly before he signed off for the last time. “I’m tired. I’m ready to relax at a golf course named Riverside, where I’ve been working for a couple of years full time. You know, seven days a week is rough.”
But why a local golf course when you had untold thousands of listeners throughout the country hanging onto your every word?
“Well, there’s more future for me playing golf,” Graczak joked. “It’s more fun.”
But if you dig a little deeper, the story gets even more interesting. Graczak turned off his KMOX mic for good at 7 a.m. Aug. 3, 2014 — 17 years to the day after his father had died of a heart attack at age 87. And who was his dad? I hadn’t realized that for a half-century it was Ralph Graczak Sr. who drew the “Our Own Oddities” comics panel, the local equivalent of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not,” in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
As it turned out, perhaps it was the elder Ralph who taught his son a thing or two about radical career changes. With no formal art education, Dad had started out as a secretary to the traffic manager at the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas (Katy) Railroad. But as a boy, he and another future well-known Post artist — the late Amadee Wohlschlaeger — would sit outside a South Side neighborhood grocer and copy comic strips of the day, such as The Katzenjammer Kids.
He continued to develop his skills in his spare time, drawing caricatures of his co-workers at the railroad, for example. His talents were soon discovered by the St. Louis paper, which hired the 23-year-old in 1933. For seven years, he busied himself with the usual chores of a staff artist — retouching photos, drawing maps, etc. But that changed on Sept. 1, 1940, when he drew his first “St. Louis Oddities” panel.
“Pulitzer wanted something that could get people in the paper beyond the time of their birth and their death and their marriage, so he said, ‘Come up with something,’” Ralph Jr. told Brennan. “So Pop came up with the oddities.”
The feature caught on in a flash, so it didn’t take long before Ralph Sr. was getting more mail than any other staff member. They were filled with reports of eggplants that looked like Richard Nixon, a Stephen Lord who lived on Church Street and eggs with 12 yolks. As he reportedly smoked more than a dozen large cigars a day, he checked out each oddity personally, even once finding himself locked in a cemetery while hunting down tombstone epitaphs.
He retired from full-time work in 1980, but continued his “Oddities” panel from home for another decade. In 2013, he was inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. And in 2009, a daughter and Post-Dispatch Weatherbird artist Dan Martin put together “Fifty Years of Our Own Oddities,” a paperback collection that is still available.
In the meantime, his son began popping up at some of the “28 different radio and TV stations” that hired him on at one time or another, including KEZK and WRTH. He started working for KMOX in the early 1980s, but it didn’t last because station G.M. Robert Hyland frowned on any of his employees working at other media outlets.
“I had about five radio stations I was working at at the same time,” Grazcak said, then adding proudly. “but I never did say the wrong call letters. Every station got its own call letters.”
Finally, in 1988, Graczak started subbing overnights for Tony Oren, which turned into the permanent gig. But after two decades of the overnight routine, a more normal lifestyle was just too inviting. So, after a praise-filled sendoff on Brennan’s show (in which he admitted having someone run for him so he could pass basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in the early 1970s), Graczak was off to prepare his final show before hitting the links for good.
“Major plans will be (wife Brenda) teaching me how to use my free time,” Graczak said. “Yeah, we’ll look forward to weekends, which we haven’t had. You prep Thursday, Friday and into Saturday with no sleep. Then you come home, sleep again, go to church and then come back in here about 11 (p.m.) It’s a long time.”
Now, of course, he invites you to come out, shoot a round and say hi if you see him (just $7.50 to walk the 9-hole par 3; golfriverside.net).
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Answer to Feb. 9 trivia: The most valuable piece ever brought to an “Antiques Roadshow” appraisal may have been a pristine 1914 pocket watch crafted by famed Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe. During a 2004 appraisal in St. Paul, Minn., it was estimated at $250,000, but this was raised to $1.5 million in 2016. Runners-up were a set of early 18th-century rhinoceros-horn cups valued at $1 million to $1.5 million and a set of original 1871 Boston Red Stockings baseball cards valued at $1 million. Don’t forget to see what St. Louis area residents brought for appraisals last year on shows at 7 p.m. Monday as well as Feb. 26 and March 26 on KETC, Channel 9.