By Monica Alonzo
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Over the years, he's also taught at four local community colleges, and his recent spate of non-credit classes at Glendale Community College is described by GCC officials as among the school's most popular.
But the airwaves are Baranowski's most powerful link to the local paranormal community, a community he helped to create.
"Frank was way ahead of his time," says Liz Dawn, a former actress who runs Mishka Productions, a company that brings renowned New Age lecturers to the Valley. "Frank is always 10 steps ahead. He was doing hypnosis and past-life regressions years ago, and who was into it at that time? He's opened up a world for people that they wouldn't ordinarily have."
Even if you consider Baranowski's subject matter ludicrous or implausible, he has an innate way of drawing listeners into his strange orbit. His voice is commanding yet warm, the perfect source of aural companionship for lonely Valley residents on weekend nights. He also gives considerable thought to his choice of music, usually picking ominous, ghostly instrumental music to accompany his haunting tales of reincarnation.
It's easy to hear Baranowski's mellifluous baritone and imagine him to be a bearded professorial type in a smoking jacket, with a pipe hanging from the corner of his mouth. So it's initially a bit disorienting to find that Baranowski is a dead ringer for sad-sack '70s comedian George Gobel. He's short and paunchy with a doughy complexion and a blatantly artificial blond rug on his head. He usually sports a Mickey Mouse watch on his left wrist, and his white pants, white tennis shoes and striped shirts make him look more equipped to go sailing than to conjure some pesky ancient spirits.
But Baranowski's slightly goofy appearance is also part of what makes him so endearing. He might be Arizona's godfather of the paranormal and guru of the weird, but he's also, in his own words, "just a schmaltzy guy." He unabashedly blows kisses to his wife Kelly in the middle of his KTAR show, and earnestly bear-hugs complete strangers like they're long-lost relatives. And his sentimental side often rears its head on his show, such as one recent episode, which he dubbed The Mysteries of Romance.
"I just want people to love each other," Baranowski says, sounding like the unlikely flower child he just might be. "When you believe in reincarnation, it behooves you to do only good things to help people. The whole thing is love."
Do you believe that you could possibly have lived in a life before this one? I mean, have you ever been to a place for the very first time, and yet, you knew what was around the corner?
-- Frank Baranowski,
"Mysteries Around Us"
To hear Baranowski tell the story of his life, his biography is oddly rife with pangs of reluctance. It's a reluctance born from the pain of periodically being told that he's a threat to everything sacred.
So, after getting the holy-water splashdown when he was 8, he quickly learned to keep quiet about any unusual visions he had.
For 10 years, he tried to fit in with the other kids in Michigan City. When he went into confession and priests asked him if he still saw auras, he'd close his eyes, so he could honestly answer "no." But his reputation as the town's visionary freak was hard to live down.
"People in town wouldn't even walk on the same side that my house was on," he says. "The word went around that I could look at a cow and make it go sterile. I prayed and did the rosary in three languages. I thought, 'Whatever this power is, I don't want it.'"
Baranowski, the first child of Harry and Lillian Baranowski (his brother George is seven years younger), attended a Catholic school until he reached high school. But he remembers being constantly distracted.
He sat through his catechism classes repeatedly drawing pictures of ships. It's an obsession that has persisted throughout his life. His north Phoenix home has more than 40 paintings and four models of ships on display. Baranowski can't fully explain this sailing fixation, but hints that the sea might have entered into one of his previous lives. (He also believes he was a priest in a past life.)
"The first time I was ever on board a schooner, I suddenly felt like I was at home, like I'd been there before," he says.
As he reached his teen years, and local memories of his aura visions faded, Baranowski began to fit in with his Michigan City classmates. He played halfback on his high school football team, was president of the student council, and played piano-accordion in a teen polka band that released a single called "The Foreign Legion Polka." But he says he always felt detached from what he saw around him.
"I felt out of place," he says. "I couldn't understand the bestiality going on with kids at school. I thought, 'There has to be a better way.' They had just finished fighting World War II when I was a small kid, and I wondered, 'What's happening here? Why are we still fighting among ourselves?'"