CLEVELAND - Former WCPO anchor John Hambrick died Tuesday afternoon at Scott & White Hospital in Round Rock, Texas after a battle with cancer, according to his son. He was 73.
Hambrick anchored the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts from 1967 to 1975. He spent two years at WCPO before his career at Scripps station WEWS in Cleveland.
Hambrick took WEWS from a poor third place station to a dominant No. 1.
"The years spent with John on the news were arguably the best years of my life at WEWS," said Don Webster, who did weather as part of the Eyewitness News team at WEWS in Cleveland. "John was a true gentleman and a real pro. John was the captain of the ship but never tried to hog the spotlight. He knew we were a team and he steered the ship admirably. He loved his work and his family, and will always be remembered by me as one of the good guys."
Dave Patterson joined WEWS in 1970 and would become Hambrick’s co-anchor.
"His dynamic approach to the newscast came naturally and was a key factor in the success we had," said Patterson of his co-anchor. “We were a mixed bag of personalities and styles that apparently attracted viewers from a wide set of demographics. It taught us all how important a team can be, greater than the sum of each individual talent."
Hambrick grew up in East Texas and Louisiana. His father worked for Humble Oil in what were known as oil camps, small towns that popped up during the oil boom.
"His lifelong dream was to be an actor," said Hambrick’s son Jack.
He studied theater in high school and at the University of Texas. He dropped out of UT and went out to Hollywood to become a star in the late 1950s early '60s. Among roles he landed were small parts in General Electric Theater and Playhouse 90.
"My dad was a creative person, an artist. He approached anchoring the news and writing copy as a creative process. Whether it was writing scripts, anchoring the news or recording a country album, it was all about creativity with him," Jack Hambrick said.
Hambrick began anchoring in Wichita Falls, Texas, but it was while he was anchoring at WCPO from 1966-1967 that a series of events transpired to bring Hambrick to Cleveland.
"John was at WCPO and had a great offer from a station in Detroit," said Lee Bailey, a veteran newsman and colleague of Hambrick at WEWS. "The Scripps people knew they had a potential No. 1 anchor on their hands, so they offered him Detroit-level money to work in Cleveland and stay with Scripps."
Hambrick hit it off with Fred Griffith, WEWS news director at the time, and the move to Cleveland was sealed.
John Hambrick took Cleveland by storm. His charisma, good looks and personal on-air style connected with the Cleveland audience. He was also a journalist who demanded great work from those around him.
“When I came into his world in 1972, I was basically a chimp sitting at what we once called a 'typewriter'," said former WEWS reporter Jay Bacchus. “Not unlike a newsroom big brother, John mentored me in the finer points of writing news. More than once, he gave me a good butt-chewing. And more than once, I richly deserved it."
"John always loved an audience and long after the late evening newscasts would conclude, John would remain in the station offering suggestions and ideas to anyone interested in furthering their journalism career," retired WEWS anchor Ted Henry added.
Not content to sit behind the anchor desk, Hambrick covered global stories in an era when local TV stations were stronger than the networks they carried. He covered stories from the conflicts in the Middle East, struggles in Japan, national political conventions and the death of Roberto Clemente in Puerto Rico.
Hambrick was also a song writer, his album “Windmill in a Jet Filled Sky” hit record stores and in 1972 and was very successful.
Hambrick’s brothers Judd and Mike also were TV news anchors, Judd worked at both WKYC and WJW, while Mike had a brief stint at WEWS. Mike currently works for “The Howard Stern Show”, Judd is retired.
John Hambrick left Cleveland in 1975 for Los Angeles and would work in New York, San Francisco and two Miami stations.
"I think I made a mistake in leaving Cleveland," he told Ted Henry in 1992. "I look back on Cleveland, and my time in Cleveland as the one genuine success in my career."
Hambrick retired from TV and returned to Texas.
For the past three years, he and Lee Bailey collaborated a Civil War movie project. They co-wrote a screenplay about John Hunt Morgan, the Confederate General who invaded Ohio 150 years ago called, “ Thunderbolt Raiders ”.
"A Texan at heart and by birth, it was no surprise to me that John would end his career by returning to the Lone Star state," said Ted Henry.
Hambrick is survived by his wife Barbara, the two met while in high school in Talco, Texas, and three children, Jack, Meredith and Mignon.