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Irv Homer, longtime talk-show host

From 1975 till 2000, Philadelphia's daily pulse - politics, food, sports - thumped on WWDB-FM, and Irv Homer reigned as the marquee player on a team of talkers every bit as quirky as the city they discussed.

From 1975 till 2000, Philadelphia's daily pulse - politics, food, sports - thumped on WWDB-FM, and Irv Homer reigned as the marquee player on a team of talkers every bit as quirky as the city they discussed.

The former bartender from Wissinoming, who died Wednesday night of an apparent heart attack, was the station's curmudgeon, so quick with a contrarian view that he picked up the sobriquet "Evil Irv."

Mr. Homer, 85, who moved on to WBCB-AM (1490) and ran his own Internet station, became ill at Eastern University in St. Davids while introducing the author G. Edward Griffin to an audience of nearly 300.

Though he was briefly revived, his son Ronn said, he was pronounced dead at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Mr. Homer had worked an air shift that afternoon. Merrill Reese, WBCB general manager and the voice of the Eagles, said Mr. Homer "was full of vigor and had the sharpness of somebody half his age."

Talk-show host and Inquirer columnist Michael Smerconish of WPHT (1210) called Mr. Homer's death "the passing of an era, an era of personality."

"It's a shame. It used to be that personality was king in this business, and he had plenty of that. Unfortunately, personality has been replaced by ideology.

"Irv was not a guy who would ever fit neatly into one of the ideological boxes you see on cable TV every night. He was not a classic liberal nor conservative. He was often very libertarian. He was an engaging individual who took things an issue at a time."

District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, whose late husband, Frank Ford, worked with Mr. Homer, called him "the voice of the blue-collar worker."

He was not afraid to shake up an audience, no matter how tender its ears. Ronn Homer recalled how his father shook up his senior-class assembly at Lincoln High School. "The first thing he said was, 'I'm glad everyone from Washington High could make it here.' There was all this commotion, then he said: 'I wanted to make sure everyone's on their toes.' "

Mr. Homer, an Army Air Corps bomber pilot during World War II who invested in taprooms after the war, was a paperhanger by day and a bartender at night. "He was a big man who took care of the patrons," his son said.

His father got into radio by accident. In the late 1960s, his neighbor Marvin Burak bought time on WXUR in Media, owned by the Rev. Carl McIntire, a right-wing evangelist. Burak started a political show called Right Center Left and played the "left" role, while J.A. Parker, later an official in the Reagan administration, was the "right." Mr. Homer was the centrist.

Mr. Homer, who moved on to WEEZ in Chester before joining WWDB, was a frequent guest on television and had a long association as a panelist on WPVI's news-talk show, Inside Story.

Reese met Mr. Homer in the 1970s when Mr. Homer was a guest on a Channel 29 show called News Probe. A frequent guest was Ira Einhorn, later convicted of killing his girlfriend Holly Maddux.

Reese said that when WWDB was silenced in 2000, "I immediately picked up the phone and told him, 'If you need a place to land, you can come to WBCB.' "

Mr. Homer loved politics, and ran for vice president as a Libertarian in 1972. He gleefully thrust himself into government squabbles in the 1970s. While fellow WWDB host Ford despised Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, Rizzo was comfortable going on Mr. Homer's show.

"He was one of my father's biggest supporters on the radio," said the late mayor's son, Councilman Frank Rizzo, who hosted Rizzo to the Rescue with Mr. Homer in the late 1990s on WWDB. "Some people thought he was liberal, and in the next breath people thought he was conservative. Irv was what he needed to be at the moment. . . . He could be very streetwise, and at the same time you'd think he went to Harvard."

Former Mayor John Street, whose feud in City Council in the late 1970s with then-colleague Franny Rafferty was mediated by Mr. Homer, said: "Irv was an original. He was sincere, candid to a fault and much smarter than his 'down-home' style might suggest to those who did not know him like we who were the subject of his conversation. I liked him because he was generous with his celebrity status, genuine in his love for our city and lastly he was real, not slick. We could use a few more like Irv."

Mr. Homer was an early supporter of the Sunshine Foundation, a Bucks County organization that offers trips and help to critically ill children and their families. He and founder Bill Sample enjoyed breakfast nearly every morning at the Suburban Diner near Mr. Homer's Feasterville home.

What many did not realize was that Mr. Homer and his wife of 53 years, Francine, whom friends called Queenie, had lost a son, Robert, to leukemia at age 7 in 1961.

Queenie Homer died of cancer in 2007. The Homers' third son, Garry, was estranged from his father; Ronn Homer declined to discuss the matter.

Reese said Mr. Homer had helped the station's interns and younger staffers. "He was like everyone's grandfather."

To the psychic Valerie Morrison, whom Mr. Homer mentored and who cohosted the Internet show, Mr. Homer was like a father. He "taught me to come out of my shell. When people would criticize, he used to say, 'Oh, come on, kid. Roll with the punches.' He made me feel like a pro."

Sid Mark, whose Frank Sinatra show on WWDB followed Mr. Homer's for three years, recalled how Mr. Homer, a car enthusiast, had asked management for his own parking space. Informed that the station did not own the lot, Mr. Homer erected his own sign and reserved himself a space.

Besides his sons, Mr. Homer is survived by his companion, Shirley Churr Guercio.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Joseph Levine & Son Memorial Chapel, 4737 Street Rd., Trevose.

Memorial donations may be made to the Sunshine Foundation, 1041 Mill Creek Dr., Feasterville, Pa. 19053.