John Kiesewetter reports:
Gary Sullivan can tell you how to fix a faucet, repair a roof and design a deck.
Just don’t ask the popular host of radio’s “At Home with Gary Sullivan” and TV’s “HomeWoRX” how to construct a career in broadcasting.
“This just sort of happened. I’m not smart enough to plan this,” says Sullivan, 60, whose weekend radio shows air on 225 stations coast to coast, plus on Sirius XM Channel 246.
When he was an executive for Cincinnati’s Hader Hardware chain in 1986, owner Jim Hader encouraged him to respond to WCKY-AM’s solicitation for a home improvement show host.
“Doing radio was the absolute furthest thing from my mind,” Sullivan says.
The one-hour Saturday fix-it show grew to three hours by fall. For 20 years, Sullivan has offered advice on Saturday and Sunday radio – and for nearly that long on TV – about everything from ceilings to sealants, and plumbing to plaster.
“He’s extremely knowledgeable,” says Jeff Cornwell, senior vice president for long-time sponsor Quikrete.
Sullivan’s friendly, helpful style goes back to his days as a 16-year-old stock boy at Carlson Hardware in Kenwood. Veteran employees “taught me how houses work, and I was intrigued by it,” he says.
The 1971 Moeller High School graduate dropped out of the University of Cincinnati in 1975 to help manage Hader Hardware’s Milford store, part of the Cheviot-based family company founded in 1888.
“In most cases, a home is someone’s biggest investment. And it’s very gratifying to help people,” says Sullivan, who grew up the Dillonvale area.
“When I’m on radio, it’s like I’m on the floor of the hardware store, or I’m at the split-rail fence in my backyard, and someone is asking about a toilet which won’t stop running.”
Except today he doesn’t have a fence.
The backyard of his spacious, four-bedroom brick two-story opens onto the Four Bridges Country Club golf course in Liberty Township. He and wife Susan, an accountant, were one of the first to build there in 1999, as he was completing his transition from Hader Hardware president to how-to media guru.
In 1993, Sullivan and coworker Rick Suder had bought the 18-store Harder chain. Faced with increasing competition from big-box retailers, they sold four years later to Kruse Hardware, with Sullivan agreeing to stay on as president.
By that time, Sullivan was heard on 45 Midwest Clear Channel radio stations, and seen hosting the “Hardware Store” on Time Warner cable. After his radio show went national in 2001, and the rebranded “HomeWoRx” show moved to Channel 12, he resigned from Hader.
“I left 25 years to the day, on April 15, 2001. I’m a Cincinnati boy. I don’t change often,” he says with a laugh.
That’s why his radio concept remains constant. As he put it, people want to know: How to do it, what to use, where to get it.
“Almost every week I get a deck question. How to take care of it, clean it, or get rid of mold and mildew,” he says.
“Mold is really big. Homes are sealed so tight these days, as we’ve improved insulation and windows.”
Callers frequently ask about energy savings from geothermal heating and cooling, tankless water heaters, insulation and solar power; caring for concrete driveways and garage floors; and “cleaning everything.”
Sullivan tests products or visits job sites before he records a radio or TV endorsement.
“When they sell a client in my show, I tell them: ‘You can enhance my reputation, or you can hurt my reputation. We’re in this together,’ ” he says.
Sometimes he’ll videotape a “HomeWoRx” TV demonstration at his house, as he did earlier this month.
The entire half-hour shows are unscripted, “because I learned a long time ago that Gary has an amazing ability to retain information,” says Laura Dickhaut, his TV producer-director and radio sales person.
“When people visit the studio during Gary’s nationally syndicated radio show, they are often surprised that he has no notes or reference materials in front of him.
“The info is all in his brain,” Dickhaut says.
Sullivan credits his early hardware store years for an ability to learn “aurally, by listening.”
For 15 years, Sullivan also has taught classes in home maintenance to prospective Habitat for Humanity families about to become first-time homeowners.
e’s a big promoter for Habitat’s Re-Store centers which sell used home accessories, furniture, appliances and building material.
“It’s been a real blessing for me. I’ve been able to use a lot of my connections,” he said.
Since having both knees replaced, Sullivan leaves the heavy lifting to helpers taping segments during the week for “HomeWoRx” (11:30 a.m. Sunday, Channel 12).
“I’m like the teaching golf pro that doesn’t play much golf any more,” he says. “I was never much of a book guy. I’m not a licensed plumber. I’m not a licensed electrician. I’m not licensed to do anything. But I could talk!”