For those who grew up through the 70’s and 80’s, the words “night owl” mean much more than someone who stays up late. Frederick Peerenboom, better known as Fritz the Nite Owl, has become somewhat of a legend in the world of TV and radio, with his engaging baritone voice and witty commentary.
At 77, Fritz has had a pretty impressive broadcast career. He is well known as the host of “Nite Owl Theatre,” a locally produced, WBNS 10TV daily, late night movie showcase, which aired from 1974-1991.
“Nite Owl Theater” started with no “Nite Owl,” just a cartoon, said Peerenboom. Until it dawned on him that nobody ever talks about the movie being shown.
“So one night I just started to ad lib about what we just seen in the movie and it was over this cartoon owl,” he said. “Well people knew my voice from radio and they like kind of the bs and the ad libbing and the joking and the factual information I was giving about that specific movie or the stars so they started writing to channel ten to Fritz the Nite Owl, only there was no Fritz the Nite Owl, officially. They knew my voice from radio as Fritz and they just applied it to that cartoon owl, so John Haldi, who was the program director at the time, said ‘look we’re getting so much mail in response to what you’re doing on these movies, we’ll create a character, Fritz the Nite Owl.”
From there, the show took off, with airings seven nights a week and more than 6,000 performances, until Haldi retired and his replacement fired 14 employees, including Fritz.
Although his 17 years at WBNS-TV as Fritz the Nite Owl earned him five Emmys and the persona he embodies now, Peerenboom has been working in broadcast for more than 50 years. From radio work at WOSU, WMNI, WWCD, WJZA and CD101, voice-over work in commercials, and a jazz review column in the Short North Gazette, he has accumulated quite the resume.
However, throughout his extensive work on multiple media outlets, Peerenboom said that working in radio is his favorite.
“The thing about radio is you go in and you don’t have to worry about how you look, how you dress, and its casual,” he said. “It was just a personal thing and I liked it immensely. To be able to spend that amount of time sitting in a nice comfortable studio with an incredible sound system, playing the music that you love and you don’t have your wife saying ‘take out the garbage’ and nobody’s calling to say ‘fix the transmission in the car.’”
After five Emmys, being inducted into the Horror Hall of Fame, numerous voiceovers, and appearances in the DC comic book, “The Power Of Shazam,” Perenboom said that there have been a number of times where he has truly felt like a star.
One of those moments being when he was an MC at a jazz festival at the Ohio State Fair.
“I walked out on to that runway and the spotlight hit me and of course because it was Columbus and most of the people in there were listening to my jazz radio show, the applause and the cheers, it was almost a physical thing, it was like a wave that came down out of those stands and just washed over me,” he said. “Even now I get a bit misty thinking about it. But it was just an incredible night.”
Peerenbook describes that day as unforgettable, a day in which he felt like a true celebrity.
“Never felt anything like that before, and I thought this must be how it feels to be someone like Dean Martin or the Beatles, where you walk out and there’s all these people and they like you, and they’re cheering and yelling and clapping,” he said. “You talk about a non-chemical high, believe me that’s one of them.”
After “Nite Owl Theater” ended in 1991, Peerenboom hosted a jazz radio show, “Nite Owl Jazz,” on WJZA-FM until 2009 when the station switched it’s format.
He was then approached in 2010 to revive “Nite Owl Theater.”
Although skeptical at first, Peerenboom took the opportunity and starting premiering the latest movie/episode of “Nite Owl Theater” at Grandview Theater at midnight of the last Saturday of each month, as well as keeping that same movie online at fritzlives.com for the following month until the next premiere. After the first year of this, they moved to Studio 35, which is where the premieres are now held.
The revised version of the show is almost the same as the original, said Peerenboom.
“I would say its pretty much the same thing as what people remember and yet it does have a 21st century feel, “ he said. “And yet on the other hand there are some of the old time TV things.”
According to Peerenboom, the response to bringing back the show has been great, but just as equally as surprising.
“My family and everybody had to convince me to do it because I just couldn’t see why anybody would be interested and it just astounded me. I was just astounded at the response,” he said. “People who were like eight or nine years old who watched me in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s bring in their kids and say ‘this is the guy I used to watch,’ so its like meeting the old timers and the new people at the same time.
After renovations to Studio 35 were taking place through March and April, “Nite Owl Theater” will be back again Friday May 25, with the fourth episode of Season 2, showing “The Bat”, and then Saturday May 26, showing “Nightmare Castle.”
Peerenboom said that, health and schedule permitting, he wants to continue with the new version of “Nite Owl Theater.”
“As long as there are people who wanna see it, I wanna do it.”
More information can be found online at niteowltheatre.com.