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Joel A. Spivak, radio personality and anti-smoking spokesman, dies at 75

Joel A. Spivak, 75, was a popular Washington radio personality before becoming press secretary for the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Joel A. Spivak, 75, was a popular Washington radio personality before becoming press secretary for the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. (Family Photo)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 14, 2011; 2:07 PM

Joel A. Spivak, 75, who was a popular Washington radio personality before becoming press secretary for the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, died March 4 at his home in Alexandria.

Mr. Spivak had metastatic cancer, the result of a decades-long smoking habit.

The son of the 1940s big-band leader Charlie Spivak, the younger Spivak got his start in radio as a disc jockey and talk-show host in some of the country's biggest markets.

In 1996, after a long radio career - and after he had quit smoking - he joined the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and helped direct media coverage for the nonprofit group.

Mr. Spivak was a forceful voice against the tobacco industry, said Julia Cartwright, an executive at the anti-tobacco American Legacy Foundation.

"He was so passionate about wanting to make sure the next generation of kids wouldn't grow up to smoke and lose their lives to it," Cartwright said, noting that Mr. Spivak was motivated by his own past tobacco use.

He became such an effective spokesman in large part because of his previous career in radio. He moved to the Washington area in 1980 as a talk-show host for WRC-AM and was best known for his signature introduction, "This is Joel A. Spivak speaking."

Washington Post writer Roger Piantadosi called Mr. Spivak's show an enjoyable departure "from the relentlessly upbeat, carefree, trouble-free, commercial-free aural cheese spread of the ever-insidious phenomenon known to some as safe programming, to others as McRadio."

In 1983, Mr. Spivak was voted most popular talk-show host by Washingtonian magazine. A year later, he moved to San Francisco and spent two years there as a radio personality before moving back to Washington to become an anchor on WRC-TV (Channel 4) in 1987.

Announcing Mr. Spivak's hire, the station's general manager, Jerry Nachman, told The Post: "Given the reluctance on our part to put the toothy, blond, stylistic, unoffensive, white-bread news talent on the air, this guy was destined."

He was a co-anchor for the "Live at Five" news show on NBC for one year. Station managers said bringing him to television had been an experiment to boost ratings that ultimately failed.

Mr. Spivak then moved back to radio full time as a talk-show host for WRC-AM. One of the subjects he sometimes spoke about on the air was smoking and its relation to health.


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