Former metro-east police chief, strip club owner and ‘Grim Reaper of Radio’ has died
Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.
A former metro-east police chief, strip club owner, political firebrand, and the self-described “Grim Reaper of Radio” has died.
Robert “Bob” Romanik, 72, died at his residence on Town Hall Estates Drive in Belleville at 11:17 a.m. Saturday, said St. Clair County Coroner Calvin Dye Sr. Katrina Sanders, his fiance, said Romanik had been in hospice care.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Romanik was born at St. Mary’s Hospital in East St. Louis to Stephen and Juanita Romanik in East St. Louis at St. Mary’s Hospital on May 10, 1949. He had a son, Stephen Romanik ll, who died in 2015, Sanders said.
Romanik worked as an East St. Louis police officer and was the chief of police at Washington Park and Valmeyer.
But it was his years as the controversial, racist radio personality of KZQZ and KQQZ when he was known throughout southern Illinois and the St. Louis region.
‘White awareness radio’
He used racial slurs on the air without apology, closing out his daily time slot with a self-written rap song he titled “N—- Nation,” even as critics called on the Federal Communications Commission to revoke his broadcast license. At some point, he began to refer to his brand of programming as “White Awareness Radio,” or WAR for short.
He also sometimes made racist remarks about Mexicans during his on-air rants.
Former St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay was among the many to call on the FCC to levy sanctions against Romanik.
Romanik, however, defended the racial epithets, contending that his use of them was selective and referred not to race but to ideology that applies to a criminal or corrupt element of society.
“I ain’t going to quit talking and saying what I want until they cut my tongue out and put me six foot under,” Romanik said during a broadcast in 2017 after the Riverfront Times in St. Louis incorrectly reported that KQQZ would change its format and that Romanik would quit.
Legal history, FCC fight
He was recognizable as he drove around town in one of his four Chevrolet SSRs, two of which were decorated with the American Flag and the radio stations’ call letters. He frequently wore red, white and blue suits.
It was his attempt to conceal ownership of the radio station, and his failure to show up for related FCC hearings, that ultimately led to his removal from the airwaves. In February 2020, the FCC permanently dismissed Romanik’s application to renew KQQZ 1190 AM’s license.
It wasn’t the only time Romanik ran afoul of government and the law.
In 1997, he pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice in the investigation of racketeer Tom Venezia and Belleville lawyer Amiel Cueto. He lied 150 times to a grand jury investigating Venezia’s $48 million video gambling ring and Cueto, who was Venezia’s attorney and business partner.
Romanik pleaded guilty to one count of bank fraud in 1999. He admitted to defrauding two banks of about $1.5 million to build topless nightclubs in the metro-east. He was ordered to serve 20 months in federal prison. He has denied owning any strip clubs.
A Missouri judge ordered Romanik in 2018 to stop “stalking or disturbing the peace” of Caleb Friz, a Missouri activist who organized a Facebook boycott of the radio station’s advertisers. Romanik gave Friz’s telephone number on the air the following week.
‘Outspoken’ and ‘Not afraid’
Romanik’s politics and broadcasts resonated with some.
Sanders said she had known Romanik for 40 years. He had his share of critics, she agreed, while noting there were many who loved and supported him, too.
“Bob was outspoken,” she said. “He was able to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves. The politicians went after Bob. He was not afraid of them. They couldn’t hurt him.”
He ran for the Illinois House of Representative as a Republican in 2016 on a platform of “returning government to the people,” while promising to curb spending and never voting to raise taxes. He lost the election to LaToya Greenwood, an East St. Louis Democrat.
Sanders said some of Romanik’s supporters either worked in jobs controlled by politics and, therefore, wouldn’t speak freely for fear of reprisals. They vented to Romanik, she said.
According to Sanders, Romanik received a Bachelor of Science degree from Western Illinois University and a Master of Arts degree from Webster University. He received his police training certificate from the University of Illinois and joined the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis in 1986.
Sanders said Romanik had many fans who would show up at restaurants and other places he frequented just to say hello and to tell him how much they supported him. Many told him “thank you.”
“There were also those who voiced their displeasure of him,’‘ Sanders said.
Carolyn P. Smith is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.