Fritz the Nite Owl has been a presence on central Ohio airwaves, and now the Internet, for more than half a century.
On July 4, Frederick C. Peerenboom will return to his old stomping grounds when he is feted as grand marshal of the Northland Community Fourth of July Parade.
"It'll be a trip and I'm looking forward to it," Peerenboom, who now lives in the Upper Arlington area, said last week.
The nickname Fritz was chosen because his mother thought he resembled one of the Katzenjammer Kids from the old comic strip, and Nite Owl came from a long-gone downtown streetcar line.
When the enduring character came into being in 1974, the man behind those oversized sunglasses doctored with pieces of mirror to imitate an owl's horns, the one with the baritone voice wrapped in velvet, was living in the Northland area.
Peerenboom, who will turn 77 in late December, said one of the five sons he and wife of nearly 54 years, Patricia, had, still lives in the Northland area and three or four of the boys graduated from Northland High School.
Fritz the Nite Owl became the choice for this year's grand marshal, parade chairman George Schmidt said, after committee members settled upon the theme of "Music in America."
Until the station changed formats, Peerenboom was host for many years of a Sunday night contemporary jazz program on local radio.
"We started talking about a bunch of names," Schmidt said. "We kept coming around and talking about him. "There's probably no one in central Ohio, for anyone over 25, who's better known than Fritz the Nite Owl."
"I was surprised and honored to do it," Peerenboom said was his reaction when Schmidt got in touch with him.
When his 17-year stint as host of a late-night movie show ended abruptly in 1991 with the arrival of a new station general manager, it looked like there was no perch left for the Nite Owl. But Peerenboom, who was awarded his fifth local Emmy after his firing from WBNS, went on to host horror-movie shows on local cable stations, followed by the radio gig.
More recently, local filmmaker Mike McGraner and radio personalities Dino Tripodis and the late John Andrew "Andyman" Davis conceived the idea of making a biopic about Fritz the Nite Owl.
While Peerenboom's show was on five nights a week and featured all kinds of film, he was best remembered for Friday's "Double Chiller Night." The team learned that horror hosts were making a comeback with Internet shows.
These resurrections have been fueled by nostalgia for a bygone era of local television programming.
"Back when we were doing it, across the country there were more locally owned stations that had network affiliates," Peerenboom said. "Every city had at least five or six or seven local shows that ranged from horror shows to kiddie shows to cooking shows. Every city was unique in that they had shows you couldn't see anywhere else but in that city.
"Now these conglomerates own six radio stations in one town and who knows how many television stations across the country," he said. "As this homogenization of ownership grew and it was no longer local, these corporate types looked at ... all of that stuff, plus technical facilities and the tape to do it (local programming) ... when we could just get a syndicated show. There are no health benefits or vacation. That's part of it."
Peerenboom now re-creates Nite Owl Theater, with an often-cheesy horror movie and his equally often-sarcastic commentary, for the Internet at www.fritlives.com, replete with vintage commercials.
"So the experience would be like something you would see on television back in 1974," Peerenboom said. "It just blows me away that people can watch this anytime, anyplace. It's in the growing-in-popularity category, as opposed to overwhelming success.
"I hope it becomes enormously successful before I have to hang it up."
The programs are screened free once a month during midnight showings at the Grandview Theater, which have drawn some pretty good crowds, according to the host.
Peerenboom said his gift for ad lib has continued to serve him well, and will be on display July 8, when he will make a special guest appearance at the CAPA Summer Movie Series showing of a double bill featuring "Bride of Frankenstein" and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein."
"The muse has been kind and stayed with me," Peerenboom said. "I will rue the day she decides to head for other owls."
Fritz the Nite Owl has been surprised, but very pleased, at the way the Nite Owl refuses to go away.
"The Fourth of July thing, like everything else, just came out of the blue," Peerenboom said.
And he doesn't mind the many, many lives the Owl has enjoyed.
"The character is really close to the real me, so there really ain't a whole lot of stretch going on," Peerenboom said. "It's somewhat of a stretch, but not really a big one."