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Bill Nimmo

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Bill Nimmo, Cincinnati's first TV star who went on to work with Johnny Carson, Jackie Gleason and Regis Philbin, died Tuesday in Milford. He was 93.

"Show business was his whole life. It's what kept him happy until his final days," says Len Goorian of Owensville, who worked with Nimmo in 1947, as WLW radio gave birth to the city's first TV station, WLWT-TV.

Mr. Nimmo often told of how he quit as Carson's sidekick on ABC's "Who Do You Trust?" daytime game show in the late 1950s to star and host on his own game show, "For Love Or Money." Nimmo suggested that Carson hire Ed McMahon as his announcer - and McMahon followed Carson to "The Tonight Show" in 1962.

"Uncle Bill said (leaving Carson) was one of the biggest mistakes of his life, but he didn't regret it," said his niece, Teddy Borchers of Fairfield.

Mr. Nimmo's distinctive baritone voice still can be heard on WMKV-FM (89.3) as host of taped "Two on the Aisle" shows featuring Broadway music 8 p.m. Friday, and "WMKV At the Pops" noon Sunday and 10 p.m. Monday with George Hembrecht and Tom Emmert. He recorded shows until last summer.

William Lorne Nimmo Jr. was born in 1917, the son of the Cincinnati police chief of detectives and founder of the Caledonia Quartet Scottish music group. Young Bill and his brothers performed Scottish ballads while his father played bagpipes.

The Cincinnati native also received a purple heart, silver star and bronze star while serving in the Army during World War II; taught history at Southern State Community College; and did public relations for his alma mater, the University of Cincinnati.

After World War II, and a year of diplomatic service in the Paris Embassy, Nimmo and his wife, Helen, returned here to start a family. His wife saw that WLW-AM needed an overnight DJ in 1947, and suggested he apply, said his daughter, Jane Lejeune of Brookline, Mass.

Mr. Nimmo did about everything on TV. He was an actor, singer, newscaster, emcee and announcer. He appeared on TV's "Teen Canteen" with Goorian and Betty Clooney (Nick's sister and George's aunt), "Melody Showcase" and other shows.

He did much of the same in New York for NBC, CBS, ABC and the old Dumont network from 1951 to 1964, working with Carson, Gleason, Jack Lemmon, Garry Moore and bandleaders Paul Whiteman and Sammy Kaye.

He was well known as "Bill the Bartender," doing live commercials during the "Pabst Blue Ribbon Wednesday Night Fights' in the 1950s. The Auctioneers of America presented him with its "Best Announcer" award in 1956.

Mr. Nimmo spent one year in Los Angeles (1964-65), doing "The Regis Philbin Show" and other programs. He returned to Channel 5 in 1966 to co-host "Be Our Guest" with future wife Marian Spelman.

"He was smart, fun and a real pro. And when we weren't working, had some wonderful stories of his years at the networks," recalled former Channel 5 employee Peter Bright of St. Augustine, Fla.

Nimmo hosted the first broadcast on WXIX-TV (Channel 19) in 1968. He was a UC spokesman in the early 1970s while earning a history degree so he could teach college.

He was inducted into the Cincinnati Broadcast Hall of Fame in 1991, and was presented with a UC distinguished alumni award in 1998.

"Bill Nimmo was a great guy with an exceptional voice. He always had a story or a joke," said Mike Martini, a local broadcast historian and WMKV-FM host. Martini will air a Nimmo salute at 4 p.m. today on WMKV-FM. It repeats at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Nimmo donated his body to UC. There will be no memorial service.

"I know a lot of people will be disappointed, but that's what he wanted," Borchers said.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Geoffrey of Lebanon, and six grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by another son, Doug Nimmo.

His daughter suggests that memorial contributions be made to UC, 2600 Clifton Avenue, Cincinnati, 45221.

Written by John Kiesewetter | [email protected]
Published in The Cincinnati Enquirer from Feb. 23 to Feb. 24, 2011
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