Ken Schram, longtime KOMO personality, dead at 66
Ken Schram, 66, who worked at KOMO radio and TV for 35 years, died Thursday afternoon after a long illness.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Ken Schram, who for 35 years was the gruff but, for his many fans, endearing personality and commentator at KOMO Radio and TV, died Thursday at age 66 after a long illness.
Mr. Schram — he’d have been amused by the “Mr.” reference that is used in obituaries, as he preferred to be known as “Ken” or “Schrambo” — in recent days had been taken to EvergreenHealth’s hospice care in Kirkland, said his wife of 44 years, Sandi Schram.
Mr. Schram was always the contrarian, and she said he wasn’t much for doctor visits. She recalled that for “20 to 25 years,” her husband had “never been to a doctor.”
Then, in November 2013, she said, Mr. Schram collapsed and was hospitalized with kidney failure.
“Ultimately, every system in his body failed,” she said.
Mr. Schram left KOMO when his contract was bought out in December 2012, even though it had a year left.
In recent years, Mr. Schram had been a talk-show host for KOMO Radio and done commentary for the television side, including regularly awarding the “Schrammie” — for “the worst of boneheaded decision(s), and/or the most appalling of asinine behavior.”
Said Eric Johnson, news anchor at the station, “This guy had an amazing career, regardless of how he felt it ended. He did the ‘Town Meeting’ (a public-affairs show with audience participation that aired from 1980 to 1999), editorials, specials, he was a damn good straight reporter, a radio commentator. He did it all.”
“His work was everything to him, other than his family,” Sandi Schram said. “He said when it happened, he wasn’t retiring, he got retired. His heart was shattered.”
She said Mr. Schram’s spirits picked up when in 2013 he was asked to do fill-in work at talk-show station KIRO-FM.
“He was very happy. He was back in the game,” Sandi Schram said.
Mr. Schram admired and maintained friendships with his colleagues at KOMO.
Holly Gauntt, KOMO 4 news director, said, “Ken was a journalist cut from the old-school, hard-as-nails cloth, but he had a heart of gold. ...
“I remember talking to him once about some of the hate mail he would get. People would say awful things to him about his commentaries, it would get personal. ... But every single time he responded with grace, decorum and/or humor.”
Mr. Schram’s commentaries covered a wide range.
Retailers trying to ban the Salvation Army’s red kettles? Here’s a Schrammie for you.
The city of Auburn trying to keep the Veterans for Peace out of the Veterans Day parade? You, too, get a Schrammie.
Members of the Seattle City Council not wanting motorists to use smartphones to pay for street parking and track how much time they had left, because the city would lose income from tickets? Oh, yes, here’s a Schrammie for you.
Mr. Schram was known as an ebullient newsroom prankster. Gauntt said she still can’t find a small device that chirps like a cricket, which Mr. Schram hid in her office.
A legendary newsroom incident at KOMO took place in June 2005, when the station aired a Schram commentary about women breast-feeding in public.
He thought they should do it in private.
Said Mr. Schram: “Yeah, I know. It’s natural. Well, so is urinating, but most folks don’t up and pee in a glass jar in the middle of the mall.”
As talk-show host John Carlson, with whom Mr. Schram co-hosted a show on KOMO Radio called “The Commentators,” said about his style, “Ken was not one for nuance.”
The breast-feeding commentary resulted in more than 1,000 emails from irate viewers.
The late KOMO anchor Kathi Goertzen said live on the air, after the commentary ended and the show cut back to her, something like, “What an idiot!”
But the two also got along well, colleagues said. A photo shows Mr. Schram hugging Goertzen in the newsroom after learning she needed another operation for a brain tumor.
Mr. Schram would joke that he had a face for radio, not TV, colleagues say. He definitely didn’t have chiseled good looks.
“So many people on television and in news fit a model. There was no model for Ken,” Carlson said. “He was 100 percent authentic.”
Mr. Schram was born Dec. 17, 1947, in New York City. “A Bronx boy,” his wife said.
In 1974, he earned a degree in journalism at California State University, Northridge.
After jobs on the assignment desk at KABC in Los Angeles and as a reporter-anchor at a Spokane station, he began working at KOMO in 1977.
Mr. Schram received numerous Emmy Awards for his work, and also the prestigious Peabody Award.
In addition to his wife, he’s survived by three children, Diana Saltkill, of Bothell; Keith Schram, of Kirkland; and Nicholas Schram, of Redmond; a sister, Cecilia Bajwa, of Redmond; and one granddaughter.
Sandi Schram said her husband cherished his family life.
“He adored us. He told me every day that I was the love of his life,” she said.
She said there will be a private memorial for family.
The time and place for a public memorial will be announced on her Facebook page.
On Mr. Schram’s Facebook page, fans who had heard of his illness had been posting well wishes.
They also can read Mr. Schram’s posting from when he was well.
He wrote about his KIRO-FM gig, and, really, summarized his career: “When you’re having fun is it really work?”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @ErikLacitis
Information in this article, originally published Thursday, May 29, 2014, was corrected the same day. In a previous version of this story, the caption on the photo of Ken Schram with Rochelle Penrod incorrectly stated the year that the photo was taken.