WISH-TV Personality Dick Wolfsie Retires After Nearly 40 Years on Indianapolis TV
Photographer / Eli Beaverson
Longtime television personality Dick Wolfsie seems pretty content on a comfortable August afternoon in Geist relaxing on his back porch. From his raised perch, he can keep an eye on the flowers, birds, squirrels and even “Rocky,” the raccoon who pops out from the tree-line from time to time begging for grapes Wolfsie sneaks behind his wife’s back.
Aaah. The life of a recent retiree who has more than earned his time to sit back and enjoy whatever comes next.
His official last day was July 30, from WISH-TV channel 8, where he had told other people’s stories for the past 30 years. His former colleagues prepared a half-hour special recounting some of his memorable guests (Richard Simmons anyone?). The station passed along a letter from Gov. Eric Holcomb and a declaration from the mayor’s office declaring it “Dick Wolfsie Day,” in the city. Even the Indianapolis Colts got in on the accolades and gifted him with a special No. 8 jersey for broadcasting excellence.
“Over the summer, I realized I wanted to go out on my own terms. I thought I’d just fade away,” Wolfsie says of his surprise to have his colleagues recognize him and his life’s work. “What a thrill. It was great.”
Wolfsie didn’t know it back in March that a particular segment would be his final career piece. He highlighted two women from Marion who had adopted a dog from the Humane Society that had been there for seven years. With the statewide shutdown looming due to the pandemic and other guests canceling, Wolfsie says he realized he wouldn’t be able to continue his type of show due to virus concerns, coupled with his age and health status as a cancer survivor.
He booked his nearly 3,000 segments personally and was known as a storyteller. He was always out in the community and his stories ranged from hilarious to controversial to educational to serious topics. On-air hair transplant? Check. His beloved beagle Barney barking up a storm? Check. Organ donor families and recipients meeting live on air? Check.
Wolfsie had been a mainstay on Indianapolis-area stations since the mid-1980s. After being paired with Patty Spitler for an afternoon show, the station came under new ownership and Wolfsie was out of a job, but 36 years later he says the short stint changed his life. He moved on to Fox59 (WXIN) under different call letters for a late-night talk show that aired once weekly. He said it was similar in vein to early Jerry Springer Show days, but quick to add he did some topics first. Due to expenses of a live show, Wolfsie once again found himself looking for a job.
“My whole career was not being fired, just losing jobs,” he says.
With a little time on his hands, he found himself strolling around newly constructed Union Station and the idea of a morning show took root. Not one to dawdle with an idea, Wolfsie made an agreement with Channel 13 (WTHR) and his mornings from 9-10 o’clock were full for the next five years. He proudly recalls standing up pretty well against the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue.
“I was proud of it and still am,” he says. “With our staff of three versus theirs of 20 or 30, we produced a show with interesting guests and topics.”
When he lost the show in 1990, it was Channel 8 that came to him in the name of former News Director Lee Jiles.
“Lee called and said, ‘I have a crazy idea and I think you’d be perfect for it. Go out from 5-7 a.m. and do reports.’ I obviously took the job, but at the age of 44, I thought, ‘If I’m still doing this when I’m 50, shoot me.’ And I did it until I was 73. My skill — I knew how to find good stuff,” Wolfsie says.
In the early part of his pre-television career, Wolfie earned his master’s in American literature from George Washington University and taught at his former high school in New Rochelle, N.Y. for nine years.
His first television gig was in Columbus, Ohio, where he was recognized with an Emmy for best host in the Midwest. His show was early to the game when cable television boxes could allow viewers to interact with the programming by providing their opinions. He went on to audition for Good Morning New York, which he says was beyond his experience level. His replacement? Regis Philbin.
Then on to Boston and Chicago doing short-term hosting before making Indianapolis his and Mary Ellen’s home. The couple have a grown son Brett. Throughout his career, he has received dozens of honors, including a second Emmy and a Casper award.
The Comeback Kid, who managed to stay on television for nearly four decades and written 12 books, may have retired but has plans to keep his side gig as a syndicated humor columnist.
As he sits on his porch, Wolfsie instantly names Steve Allen as his hero, when asked about memorable interviews. Allen is remembered as co-creator and the first host of The Tonight Show, but was also a musician, actor, radio host and author.
Ever the humorist himself, Wolfsie says he recently stumbled upon a third-grade report card where the teacher comments, “He doesn’t shut up, tries to make people laugh and I’m concerned about his future.”
As far as what’s next?
“I don’t know. And I’m okay with that,” he says.