Fred Fiske, who entertained and informed generations of listeners with a gentlemanly personality and a pleasing tenor voice that he parlayed into the longest-running career in Washington radio history, died March 2 at a hospice center in Columbus, Ohio. He was 96.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said a son, Warren Fiske. He moved to Columbus from Silver Spring, Md., two years ago.
Mr. Fiske’s 64 years behind a radio microphone in Washington began just before the television age dawned, and spanned 12 presidential administrations. He first went on the air in Washington in 1947, when the city had fewer than 10 radio stations. He retired in 2011, when audio programming was delivered via satellites and the Internet.
Mr. Fiske started as an announcer on WOL-AM and on the national radio version of “Meet the Press” on the Mutual Broadcasting Network. He subsequently became a pop-music disc jockey, nightly talk-show host and political commentator during an almost unbroken stretch that continued until his last commentary aired on WAMU (88.5 FM) on Sept. 27, 2011.
Sept. 27 was significant to Mr. Fiske: On that day in 1944, his B-24 crash-landed in France after being attacked by German fighters, and he started his first job in Washington on that date three years later.
Mr. Fiske landed the job, he recalled in an interview with The Washington Post in 2011, after he hopped off a New York-bound train at Union Station. He found a phone book and began calling stations, asking whether they had an opening for an announcer.
WOL, a station with a tiny 250-watt signal, gave him a tryout. He spent 30 years on the station and its successor, WWDC-AM, before moving to WAMU in 1977.
Frederick Nathaniel Fiske was born in Brooklyn on Sept. 6, 1920. He had performed in radio dramas in the 1930s as a teenager in New York, appearing on the NBC Red Network in dramatic productions.
He subsequently graduated from Brooklyn College in 1942, received a teaching certificate from Columbia University and briefly taught at the High School of Performing Arts, which became the model for the “Fame” movies and TV series.
After serving as an Army Air Forces radioman in Europe during World War II, Mr. Fiske found his way to Washington and became a DJ and morning “drive” personality at WWDC, offering light banter and the music of Perry Como, Doris Day and Rosemary Clooney, among others.
He also met many of the pop stars when they came through town to play such venues as the Shoreham Hotel, encounters that he described in a weekly column for the Washington Daily News called “Fiske’s Disks.”
One of Mr. Fiske’s most memorable coups was securing an interview with Elvis Presley on the day the rock-and-roll legend was inducted into the Army in 1958. Although he had been told that Pvt. Presley wasn’t doing interviews, Mr. Fiske persisted.
He told an assistant to call officials at the Memphis Draft Board, where Presley reported. “This is WWDC in Washington calling,” the assistant said. “Put Elvis Presley on the line.” Apparently thinking “WWDC in Washington” was related to the Department of Defense, Presley’s military superiors complied, and soon Mr. Fiske was chatting on the air with Presley.
Mr. Fiske also interviewed a long succession of other personalities, including politicians, military figures, authors, celebrities and every first lady from Eleanor Roosevelt through Rosalynn Carter.
In the 1970s, as the host of WWDC’s evening talk show, first called “Empathy” and later renamed “The Fred Fiske Show,” Mr. Fiske discussed politics, culture and ideas with actors, authors and listeners for five hours each night. He prided himself on reading every book he discussed with his guests.
One caller to the show, he recounted in 2011, told him that he had lost his job and that his wife was leaving him. He was in despair and thinking of killing himself. As Mr. Fiske chatted with the man, he signaled to his engineer to alert the police, who traced the call and found the man before he could act.
His first wife, the former Ruth Adler, died in 1991. Three years later, he married Sandra Barron. She died in 2014. Survivors include two children from his first marriage, Warren Fiske of Richmond and Peggy Masser of Columbus; three stepchildren; a brother; a sister; 15 grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.
In the late 1980s, Mr. Fiske cut back at WAMU and began doing weekly commentaries about local and national affairs. He described himself as liberal but “moderate and reasonable,” although some occasionally found him otherwise.
He drew a spirited response from the conservative Media Research Center in early 2010 when he assailed the firebrand conservative radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh for supposedly advising his listeners not to contribute to charitable efforts to rebuild earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
Addressing Limbaugh, Mr. Fiske said: “I think I know the cause of your heart trouble. You don’t have one.” The MRC’s president, Brent Bozell, rebutted Mr. Fiske, saying Limbaugh had never advocated withholding contributions.
“I guess, basically, I’m a ham,” Mr. Fiske said of this career. “I started as an actor, and I enjoyed performing. I enjoyed the attention I got. I enjoyed the people I met. I like dealing with ideas and things I’m interested in. I got to be present at a lot of important occasions and met important people of the era. . . . How could you not like that?”