Gary Dee Gilbert - Radio Personality

13625 Lake Shore Boulevard
Gary Dee Gilbert 1988
Gary Dee Gilbert 1988

"I didn't saddle up to come in second!"   Gary Dee Gilbert lived by that creed, pursuing a career and even private life best described as "performance art."

Gary David Gilbert was born on January 13, 1935, in Hope, Arkansas, then known as “Home of the World’s Largest Watermelons.”  Hope is also known as the birthplace of President Bill Clinton.

Gary’s father was a sharecropper who moved the family to Exeter, California, when Gary was 11 years old. Gary and his brothers grew up in a very strict Baptist household.

Gary initially pursued an accounting degree at the University of California at Berkeley but transferred to the College of Sequoia and then Fresno State, where he earned a degree in radio and speech.   While in college, Dee lived for free at a funeral home in exchange for answering the phone after hours.

He started his radio career as a sportscaster, copywriter, and salesman for KNGS in Hanford, California.  Dee left radio for a time to become a school teacher but was back on the air by 1967 at KGEN in Tulare, California. The following year he moved to KMAK in Fresno, California, where Gary Dee developed his personae.  He shortened his radio name to Gary Dee when Gilbert wouldn't fit on promotional materials.

In 1972, radio station WERE in Cleveland hired Gary Dee from Fresno.  He adopted an aggressive style of hosting in which he advocated a viewpoint and argued with guests and audience members. He immediately targeted politicians, dead beat dads, welfare cheats, and anyone getting headlines. Petition drives from politicians demanded the FCC remove him from the airwaves.  He drew huge ratings. It wasn't long before Gary Dee was the controversial king of Cleveland radio.

Gary Dee became one of the best known and most listened to talk hosts in Cleveland. He was a master at stirring up controversy, yet he did it with humor. His rapport with his listeners was unheralded. His favorite topics were religion, race, and politics. He was best known for his encounters with politicians—especially the legendary Cleveland City Councilman George Forbes, who would go on air with Gary, often trading jabs until both were laughing so hard, they could not continue.  CBS' Sixty Minutes even did a segment on Gary Dee.

His personal life was often in the headlines as well. In December 1979, his then-wife, Liz Richards, who was a WEWS-TV news anchor and co-host of The Morning Exchange, accused him of punching her in the face and breaking her nose. He spent the night in the Bratenahl jail and was released the next day on a personal bond. Liz Richards was granted a restraining order barring Gary Dee from visiting or calling her and prohibiting him from drinking alcoholic beverages and carrying firearms. He was allowed to take some personal belongings from their Lake Shore Boulevard home. Gary Dee declared that he tried to reconcile for 2-1/2 years, but his five-years of marital strive with Liz Richards was over. Their divorce became highly publicized.

In the 1990s, Gary Dee ended his long career at WERE, the Cleveland station that gave him his big break.  His health began to fail, and he died of heart failure on November 10, 1995, following a stroke. He was buried in Snell Cemetery in Emmet, Arkansas.