Norman Wain, a radio pioneer in Cleveland broadcast history, was recalled as a giant in the Cleveland Jewish community and his death as a major loss. Wain died Oct. 10 at age 92.
Wain, who was born Feb. 19, 1928 in Brooklyn, N.Y., was a past chairman of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company Board of Directors and was part of a group that created Westchester Corp.
Wain, who was a disc jockey and an account executive, joined Bob Weiss and Joe Zingale to purchase WFAS radio in White Plains, N.Y. in Westchester County, and they took control in December 1964.
In November 1965, they assumed control of WDOK-AM and FM in Cleveland when AM radio was on its way out. They switched the call letters to WIXY, which rhymed with its frequency, 1260, changing the course of Cleveland radio as it became the No. 1-rated station.
Wain, who was known as “Big Chief Norman Wain,” served as an announcer at WDOK and was a disc jockey at downtown social clubs.
Milton Maltz, founder of Malrite Communications Group, knew Wain well for decades.
“We were allegedly competitors, but we were good friends on top of all that,” Maltz told the CJN Oct. 12. “We would laugh each other to death sometimes saying how much fun it is to fight each other. Yet we cared about each other, and it was very, very painful to hear that he has passed away.”
Maltz said Wain cared deeply about the Jewish community and about the country.
Stephen H. Hoffman, speaking as past president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in Beachwood, called Wain “irrepressible” as a fundraiser. He chaired two annual campaigns for the Federation.
“He was also a big proponent of unrestricted endowment estate planning,” he said, which was of enormous benefit to the Jewish community because it allowed for any unforeseen event. “Norm wanted people to look at the big picture.”
In his capacity as board chair at the CJPC, Wain took an active role in the life of the CJN, investing his own funds into the newspaper as well as exercising leadership, board chairs said.
David R. Hertz II, current board chair of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, called Wain a giant in the Jewish community.
“He was one of the foundational leaders of the Cleveland Jewish News,” Hertz said. “His journalistic integrity and vision helped create the quality institution that the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company is today.”
Martin Marcus, board chair of the CJPC from 1998 to 2000, said Wain was “extremely valuable to the Cleveland Jewish News.”
In addition to sponsoring the Nina and Norman Wain Advertising Internship at the CJPC, “Norman never stopped caring about the Jewish News and really about the Jewish community of Cleveland,” said Marcus, adding he came up with new ideas for the newspaper, just like he did for his business.
Michael A. Ritter, board chair of the CJPC from 2001 to 2003, called Wain an inspiring leader.
“He certainly gave me a lot of guidance, but in a very constructive way,” Ritter said from his home in Sarasota, Fla. “He was a great listener, not a lot of ego. He would give his views but he wouldn’t push it.”
Wain said in 2016 at an event, “Cleveland Radio Superstars,” co-sponsored by the Cleveland Jewish News, “At the time there were two other rock and roll radio stations in town, WHK and WKYC, so there were three stations playing the exact same format of music.”
Wain’s group decided it needed to do something different to stand out, so it went on “an all-out promotional kick,” he said.
“We had new promotions almost daily, and it was those promotions that really put WIXY on the map,” Wain said. “That really was the key to WIXY’s success.”
Those promotions included Appreciation Day concerts, Thanksgiving Day parades and bringing the hottest bands to town, including The Beatles, The Monkees, The Rolling Stones, and The Supremes.
Pop culture historian Mike Olszewski told the CJN in 2016 WIXY conducted wild promotions, including a mini-skirt competition that might not be viewed so favorably today. Under Wain’s direction and through the use of a wild assortment of promotions, the station morphed from a “tiny little station with a tiny little signal” to a dynamic leader, Olszewski said.
Larry Morrow was hired from CKLW radio in Windsor, Canada, and quickly became one of WIXY’s most popular disc jockeys from 1966 until the station was sold in 1972.
Wain, a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike, created the Nina and Norman Wain Family Foundation. With his second wife, Barbara Goldfarb, they funded the Wain Pavilion at Park Synagogue East in Pepper Pike.
He told the CJN in 2010 he credits his family’s philanthropic efforts to Nina’s caring nature and lessons he learned from his father. When he was growing up in Brooklyn, his father and a group of men who came from the town of Kiblutch, Ukraine met once a month to “literally pass the hat for fellow Kiblutchers in need,” Wain said. “Their generosity during those tough times made a big impression on me as a kid.”
Wain’s parents, Pearl and Benjamin Weinstock, operated a small grocery store, which they lived above with their children, Charlotte, Norman and the late Harris.
Wain was given the nickname, “Mr. Superlative,” because every day was the “best day ever,” every meal was the best he ever tasted, every visit with his family was the best one yet.
He served on committees and boards of the Federation, Hebrew Free Loan Association, Greater Cleveland Food Bank and others. He built a radio station at Hebrew University in Israel and was a supporter of the Israel Tennis Centers.
His iconic voice made him a favorite emcee and narrator for charity events, including the CJN’s 50th anniversary in 2014.
He also acted in community theater, played tennis, golfed and bicycled into his 80s.
Hoffman said Wain outpaced him on Sunday morning bicycle rides even though Wain was the older of the two.
Wain was spinning records at a sock hop in the 1950s when Nina Saul first caught his attention. She was on a date with a different man. Wain approached him.
“If you’re not going to take her out again, I’d like to ask her out,” Beth Wain Brandon quoted her father saying. “Three months later they were engaged. Three months later they were married. Three months, they were pregnant with me.”
At a time when many fathers did not, she said her father spent time with his children, teaching her to read at the age of 3½.
“They had the happiest, most lovely marriage,” Wain Brandon said. “It was full of fun and loving. They just really supported each other.”
Wain enjoyed Shabbat dinners with his children, visits to his grandchildren and large family gatherings.
“He never missed a recital,” Wain Brandon said. “He never missed a dance concert. He never missed a graduation.”
Wain Brandon said many of her father’s charitable gifts will go unnoticed because he did not believe in putting his name on buildings.
The Wains raised their family in Shaker Heights, with the exception of a one-year hiatus in New York.
He presided over seders that were joyous celebrations and included close friends as well as family.
Wain attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn and earned a degree in speech from Brooklyn College in New York. He served in the U.S. Army.
The Wains were married for 53 years, until Nina died in 2009.
Wain is survived by his wife, Barbara; and children: Beth (Bob) Brandon, Amy Wain Garnitz, Cathy (Jonathan) Stamler and David Wain; nine grandchildren; nieces and nephews; and his sister, Charlotte Frey Cove.
Private graveside services were held for immediate family.
Donations may be made to Bellefaire JCB at bellefairejcb.org, The Park Synagogue-Wain Pavilion Fund, 27500 Shaker Blvd., Pepper Pike, OH 44124 or a charity of choice.