Metro-East News

St. Louis Public Radio personality dies suddenly at 55

Erin Gerrity

Gerry Rohde worked at Washington University and collected classic cars, but he was best known as the evening host with the unusual accent at St. Louis Public Radio.

The station (KWMU-FM) announced Monday afternoon that he had died suddenly at 55.

"Gerry was a reliable and beloved character around the station," according to its Twitter post. "He will be missed."

Executive Editor Shula Neuman said Rohde's cause of death is unknown.

"What we were told is that his body was found this morning in the biology lab (at the university)," she said. "Emergency vehicles were called in, but he was unresponsive."

By day, Rohde served as stockroom manager and lab safety officer for the biology department, according to campus spokeswoman Sue Killenberg McGinn.

Rohde worked 33 years for St. Louis Public Radio. Most recently, he was on-air host from 7 to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday.

St. Louis Public Radio host Gerry Rohde in his bio portrait.

"He was the most conscientious person in the world when it came to his job," said Mary Edwards, an employee since 1974 who now is executive producer for the talk show "St. Louis on the Air." "You didn't bother him the first 20 minutes of his shift because he had to get all his ducks in a row."

Rohde took naps on the floor at the radio station between his day and night jobs rather than drive back to his house in Overland, Missouri.

Neuman described the mood among employees on Monday as "subdued."

"He was really a well-loved character around here," she said. "... He could always make you laugh. He could always make you think."

Rohde grew up in Germany, and his parents still live there, Neuman said. He had a sister in the United States. He wasn't married and had no children.

Rohde first came to America as a foreign-exchange student in high school, Edwards said. Then he returned for college at University of Missouri-St. Louis.

According to his KWMU-FM bio, "Rohde became radioactive in his hometown of Bremen, Germany, during the Reagan administration’s first year. After his move to St. Louis in 1983, Gerry resumed his radioactivity with St. Louis Public Radio in 1985 as a weekend jazz host.

"Since then, and following a news internship in 1987, he has hosted a variety of programs, including classical music. He began his current role as St. Louis Public Radio’s weeknight evening host in 1996. Gerry has spent so much time with the station that he is in the beginning stages of emitting public radio waves himself."

Rohde joined the Washington University staff in 1993, according to a profile published two weeks ago in The Record and The Source, two online campus publications.

"Despite his easygoing nature, Rohde takes his responsibilities seriously," wrote Marta Wegorzewska, a science writer for the biology department. "As the lab safety officer, he ensures sharps, chemical waste and biological waste are disposed of properly."

Wegorzewska described Rohde as a tall man who wore bell-bottoms, aviator-style sunglasses and a baseball cap with a snout in front and pigtail in back.

Rohde told Wegorzewska that he grew up listening to his dad's radio in Germany.

“It got stuck on the American Forces Network, which was (broadcast) in American English, playing American music," he said. "As a little kid, I was glued to the radio. I had a real love for American English and the music."

As an adult, Rohde collected classic vehicles.

"When he moved to the United States to attend University of Missouri-St. Louis, he bought a 1971 Ford Torino four-door," according to the profile. "He paid $75, and half the driver’s door was rusted away. Out of necessity, he started learning how to fix that car."

Later in life, Rohde traveled all over the country to get cars, and he once owned eight of them, Edwards said. Some of his favorites were Lincoln Continentals from the 1970s.

Rohde built a giant garage next to his house, where he worked on his own vehicles and those owned by friends who couldn't afford costly repairs, Edwards said.

"At one time, he prided himself on never spending more than $150 on a car," she said. "He would get cars that people were ready to give away, and he would fix them up."

The Twitter announcement of Rohde's death prompted a series of tweets by former St. Louis Public Radio employee Bob Hudgins, who called him "exceptional" and a "consummate pro, always on time and prepared."

"He devised little tricks to be more efficient and to make his shift sound better," Hudgins wrote. "I marveled at his creativity, his knowledge of what to do to make his performance more enjoyable for the listener. Unless you worked there, you wouldn't have known these things."

Hudgins also addressed Rohde's unusual accent.

"He had a few idiosyncrasies, but I thought he was quite felicitous with English, being that he was a German who had become an American broadcaster," Hudgins wrote. "Could you go to Germany and speak the language so well that you could be on the radio and most listeners couldn't tell that you were American?"

Teri Maddox: 618-239-2473, @BNDwriter