Ralph Story, the veteran radio and television personality best known for his wry and witty observations about life in Los Angeles, died Tuesday at his home in Santa Ynez after a long battle with emphysema. He was 86.
Story was the longtime host and narrator of "Ralph Story's Los Angeles," an Emmy-winning weekly magazine series that ran on KNXT-TV -- now KCBS-TV Channel 2 -- from 1964 to 1970. He was also a prolific producer, writer and lecturer on local and California history.
"I thought he was a master of the craft," said Warren Olney, a former colleague and now radio host of "Which Way L.A." and "To The Point" on KCRW-FM (89.9). "The writing was extraordinary and the delivery was unique. He was able to use humor and irony to make a serious point, something you virtually never see on television anymore."
Born Ralph Bernard Snyder in Kalamazoo, Mich., on Aug. 19, 1920, he first found part-time work as an announcer at local stations and in nearby Grand Rapids.
He also developed an interest in flying and joined the Army Air Forces. He served during World War II as a flight instructor in Florida and later flew 63 missions over Europe as a P-51 fighter pilot.
Returning from the war, Snyder found a full-time job as a radio announcer at WGR in Buffalo, N.Y.
In 1948, he moved to Los Angeles to host and direct an early-morning show on KNX-AM (1070), the CBS flagship station. It was then, at the suggestion of management, that he changed his name to Ralph Story.
Story's engaging style earned him national exposure. He left KNX in 1956 to host a popular CBS television quiz show, "The $64,000 Challenge."
But his career as a TV game show host was cut short by the network scandals of the 1950s, with allegations that some of the quiz shows were rigged. Story was not implicated, and he returned to Los Angeles in 1960, rejoining KNX to anchor a daily news show called "Storyline," a four-hour broadcast that was a precursor of today's all-news radio formats.
In 1961, when KNXT inaugurated "The Big News," the nation's first one-hour television news broadcast, Story joined anchorman Jerry Dunphy, sports reporter Gil Stratton and weatherman Bill Keene as the main broadcast team. Olney, a former "Big News" reporter, said Story's "attitude of amused detachment could transmit devastating critiques and probing analyses without being harsh or mean-spirited, much less boring. He made serious journalism a pleasure to watch."
KNXT-TV called on Story in 1964 to host a new kind of television "magazine" series that would feature stories about the people, places, history and lore of Los Angeles. Called "Ralph Story's Los Angeles," it ran for six seasons and became a model for many successful magazine-style shows.
Producer Dan Gingold recalled Story's "ability to invest himself totally" in his work.
"I sensed he could read the telephone book and make it compelling," he said.
During the 1970s, Story co-hosted, along with Stephanie Edwards, "AM Los Angeles" on KABC-TV Channel 7.
"He was the mentor of a lot of lives," Edwards said.
Former Hollywood columnist Rona Barrett remembered Story for his unique style and concern for good journalism: "No one told a story on TV better than Ralph."
In 1984, Story moved to Santa Ynez, and for several years he and his wife, Diana, operated an art gallery in nearby Los Olivos. That year, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presented Story with its highest honor, the Governors Award, for his contributions to broadcasting.
Story was also active in civic and professional groups, serving as a narrator at the Hollywood Bowl, a judge for the Rose Parade and grand marshal for numerous local festivals and functions. He was a fundraiser for Public Television stations KCET and KOCE and a frequent speaker at community and educational meetings.
He is survived by his wife, Diana, and his son from his first marriage, Bradley Snyder of Boulder, Colo. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Oct. 8 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Los Olivos.