Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cleveland TV Memories-Sunday Plain Dealer October 1991

While looking up other things I found this great article from The Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine October 6, 1991..Part of a 150-Year Celebration of Arts In The Cleveland area..A legthy article on The History of Cleveland Television..Tom Feran Interviewed TV pioneers Linn Sheldon, Don Webster, Betty Cope and Virgil Dominic. More In Depth on how TV actually was in the old days.. Article content from Newsbank's Plain Dealer Article Collection..Betty Cope Image from added the other images from my own collection..
The '40s And '50s: Linn Sheldon

Television hit Cleveland on December 17, 1947, when Scripps-Howard's WEWS Channel 5 signed on the air as a CBS affiliate and the first station in Ohio. Itwas followed on October 31, 1948, by WNBK Channel 4, an NBC-owned station that moved to Channel 3 in 1954 and became KYW in 1956, under Westinghouse ownership.The city's third station, WXEL Channel 9, arrived on December 17, 1949; originally owned by the Empire Coil Co. of New York and affiliated with ABC and the old Dumont Network, it moved to Channel 8 and CBS and was renamed WJW after its purchase by Storer Broadcasting in the early 1950s.

Early broadcast hours were few and irregular; network programs couldn't be carried live until 1949. Staples were old movies, grainy kinescope films of network shows and live local programs. Local news was delivered radio-style by such announcers as Tom Field, Warren Guthrie and Jack Perkins.

Linn Sheldon, a stage and film actor and cabaret entertainer, was an original employee of WEWS. Nationally known and local legend as the children's host "Barnaby," a role he filled until 1990, he has been the host of 33 shows on four different stations here.

"The joy of working was unbelievable. We'd come early. We had no one to copy, and the ideas just flowed. We didn't worry about the news because the news was rip and read. We'd lip-synch records, we did game shows, we did plays - live, right in the studio.

"In 1948, I was doing the opening and telling people what's coming up, and I did a lip-synch of Jimmy Durante. A guy walked in a couple of days later and said, 'Can you do that three times a week for 15 minutes?' His name was Fred Shaw, from Rogers jewelry stores, and that was the first sponsored show in Cleveland - I lip-synched records three times a week.

"The facilities were a lot different. You talk about lights, we had scoops that were so hot you could bring them down and heat your soup. WEWS had three cameras on wood tripods. One had three lenses, to also do wide-angle and close-up. If you wanted to go to a close-up, the director would have to go to another camera while the guy turned the whole turret by hand and then focused it. We had boom mikes. Sports brought in the zoom lens. You could only use it on a good clear day.

"Everybody had kind of the same set - one door, it'd turn around and there'd be a kitchen, the other side a living room or whatever you wanted. Like radio, we had a staff orchestra, and the other stations had them, too. Everybody had a piano player.

"Everything was first. It was a discovery. The only audio was 78 rpm records. We had a desk that was called Public Service - a desk with a globe on it, a picture of Wyoming and an American flag."

Once, Sheldon remembers, a fire chief sat at the set to demonstrate a new extinguisher; speechless before the camera, he burned and extinguished every bit of paper he had, but didn't say a word in 10 minutes. Later, Sheldon recalls, on the first day of color programming at Channel 3, a guest threw up on the air.

"We never thought of being personalities, celebrities. I was standing out front of WEWS, after we'd been on a few months, and a man and his wife and little child came by. He said, 'How about a picture?' I was so thrilled. Then he handed me the camera - they wanted me to take a picture of them with their camera.

"Mistakes kept coming, but we learned from them. We didn't know about ratings, though we got them. Then the time got tighter. The money got tighter. I don't think it's fun for them anymore."

The '60s: Don Webster

The 1960s brought lasting change to Cleveland television. Color was introduced and became the norm. Newscasts expanded to a half-hour. Non-commercial, educational television arrived in 1965 with WVIZ Channel 25. It was the city's first UHF station, followed in 1968 by Kaiser's WKBF Channel 61 and United Artists' WUAB Channel 43. Viewers saw "Eyewitness News," "City Camera," "Montage" specials, the locally produced "Mike Douglas Show," "The One O'Clock Club," "Polka Varieties," "The Gene Carroll Show," "Jim Doney's Adventure Road,""Ghoulardi," "Jerry G & Co.," "Big Chuck & Hoolihan."

Two of the most remembered shows are "It's Academic," still broadcast as "Academic Challenge," and "Upbeat," an "American Bandstand"-type series. Both were on WEWS with Don Webster, who has served the station in a variety of roles and today is back as the popular weather forecaster on "Newschannel 5."

"I came to town from Hamilton, Ont., in September 1964 to do the 'Upbeat' show and a quiz show called 'Quick As A Wink.' WEWS [which had canceled "The One O'Clock Club"] was trying to do something against 'Mike Douglas' on Channel 3. It was a good quiz show, well-produced, and it lasted 13 weeks because Mike was really starting a roll. That whole talk-variety concept was new and innovative then.

"When I first came on 'Upbeat,' it was called 'The Big 5 Show' because it was on TV-5 at 5 in the afternoon. We used co-hosts from WHK radio. The business was so different because there was no FM radio in the way there is today. WHK was the big rock station, and record companies would do just about anything to get exposure for their artists. There were no Coliseums, no big concerts as we know them. We were in the era of these people going around town to town, playing movie theaters and high school gyms, so it was relatively easy to get big acts - with the understanding that if you got a good act, an A act, you'd have to take two B's, or maybe a B and a C. We ended up with people like Kenny Rogers, when he was first starting, or Simon & Garfunkel. I can remember sitting in the dressing room with Bobby Goldsboro, we were pretty good friends, saying, 'Gee, is this a weird act, we'll probably never hear from them again.'

"We didn't just have the rock acts. We had Duke Ellington once ... Paul Anka ... Frankie Avalon ... Connie Francis. Otis Redding made his last appearance with us. He left the show, got on that old DC-3 and crashed.

"The show became so successful in Cleveland that Scripps-Howard decided to put it on their other stations. It wasn't too far from the era of Downbeat magazine, so the name came to be 'Upbeat.' It was a badge of honor for a high school kid to become an 'Upbeat' dancer. I think they got $40, $50 a week, and back in 1968 that was a lot of money. I think every high school girl in town had a pair of white go-go boots in her closet.

"We were on 90 stations at one time , including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Dick Clark called me and suggested I go to California and work for him. We talked and talked, and Dick's a wonderful guy, but Dick still has the first nickel he ever made, so the money wasn't all that great. And we both had dark hair and our style was really similar, so I decided there wasn't much point. I said, 'If you continue producing new shows and doing things on the air yourself, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who's going to get the good ones.' So I stayed here in Cleveland, which I really never regretted.

"I did some announcing. We all pulled a booth shift then, and each station had a group of announcers you never saw on the air because we didn't have the automation we have now. Then I started to do a little bit of weather, sports, a little entertainment. About '71 I took over 'Academic.' By and large, the show is still the same. The kids never change . One of the things that impressed me was the good, solid, dedicated teachers who'd be there year after year. That's really nice to see.'

Webster also was host of the Ohio Lottery shows for nine years, a weekly half-hour and a nightly drawing. It was all live, with ever-changing contestants drawn by chance, "and that was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life." He was later asked to do "The Gene Carroll Show," a weekly amateur variety hour, after the death of its original host and the untimely cancer deaths of two replacements, Ron Penfound and Jim Runyon.

"So they said, 'Webster, it's yours.' I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm feeling pretty good, I'm not sure I want to do this.' So then I took it over and they had a pool at the station to see how long I was going to last. Fortunately, the show died before I did.'

The '70s: Betty Cope

The 1970s brought minicams and helicopters as a sideshow to Cleveland TV news, while the city's dire financial strait and political controversies lent anincreased air of urgency and importance. Cable arrived, with little initial impact, as suburbs awarded local franchises. Financially strapped WKBF Channel 61 went dark; it returned under new ownership as WCLQ. WUAB was sold to Gaylord Broadcasting of Texas. WJW, in new quarters on South Marginal, became WJKW afterStorer Broadcasting sold off its radio station, which had rights to the call letters it had used longer. WEWS started "The MorningExchange ," the pioneering morning show that is widely considered the model for "Good Morning America," andWJW launched "PM Magazine."

The 1970s were growth years that turned "educational television" into "public televison." WVIZ enlarged its quarters, added staff and built a new transmitter. Its president and general manager from the beginning has been Betty Cope, who broke into television as a producer at WEWS in the '40s.

"'Masterpiece Theater' was just getting started in 1970. Big Bird didn't come into his own until about '70. 'Mister Rogers' was about a year old. Kukla, Fran and Ollie were about to come back to TV. We had 'The Great American Dream Machine,' sort of a cross between '60 Minutes' and 'Saturday Night Live'; the National Conference of Christians and Jews, live; Julia Child; the first 'Live From the Met,' the first-ever 'Live From the Grand Ole Opry.' We had a slew of local things. We did City Council, the George Forbes carnival kickback trial.

"We had more programs for national distribution for instructional broadcasting in the '70s than any time before or since.

"We had started operating Monday-Friday for the schools and probably had only enough programs to go 6 to 10 on Sunday night. Our first March membership drive was in 1971, under the banner of 'S.O.S.' - 'Sesame On Saturday' - because we weren't on the air on Saturday then. We raised $23,000, and went on the air on Saturdays. By comparison, in March 1979, we raised $273,000. Then, because so many people were saying they wanted 'Sesame Street' on Sunday mornings and we started at 6 Sunday night, within two years we were on the air all day Saturday and all Sunday.

"What a dichotomy. Just as all the good program things looked like they were about to happen, along came something which threatened to sink us. 'Firing Line' - William F. Buckley broke with Nixon on China. 'Washington Week in Review' - the Nixon administration hated it. Then came the talk of gavel-to-gavel Watergate [coverage].

"The Nixon administration said public broadcasting could spend money only on drama, dance and music. There would be no public affairs paid for by the federal funding, which had just begun in 1967. There were 15 people on the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, appointed with the advice and consent of Congress and nominated by the president. A bunch of us in about eight or 10 major cities, who decided we had as much clout on our boards, got on a plane and flew to Dallas and hammered out what we thought would be a compromise. We said, 'OK, you guys in the federal government, you can put all the strings you want on your monies, all we want is free and clear access if we can figure out a way to fund this ourselves.' They allowed as how we couldn't figure out how to fund it anyhow and said OK. And that really is what gave impetus to membership drives.

"That was in 1972. It was exciting. We didn't know if it was going to work or not. Our first membership drive was in '70. But they really started going big when we had this story to say. I think we got a lot of awareness by doing Watergate gavel-to-gavel, without commercial interruption. I think it gave us credibility."

The '80s: Virgil Dominic

Television exploded in the 1980s. It changed, and so did the way viewers watched it. Cleveland was wired for cable and more than half the area subscribed. Independent WUAB Channel 43 won rights to Indians and Cavs games andstarted its own newscast. WOIO Channel 19 took to the air in 1985 and soon affiliated with a new fourth network, Fox. WCLQ, unable to compete, was sold to Home Shopping Network and became WQHS. WJW, its old call letters back, led expansion in local news at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., TV-5's "Afternoon Exchange " became"Live on Five," but fragmentation of the audience and commercial dollars led WKYC to cancel "AM Cleveland." Stations expanded to 24-hour service, and competition intensified as the Arbitron Co. began providing local ratings on a next-day basis. Almost emblematically, a symbol of local television was lost with the debilitating stroke and death of pioneering WEWS commentator Dorothy Fuldheim.

As much as anyone, Virgil Dominic came to personify local television. A popular news anchor for WKYC and NBC in the '60s, he became news director of WJW in the '70s, served a time as station manager and now is its president and general manager.

"The year 1980 itself started off with a very dramatic event for local television. It was technological, the year local stations got into the satellite business. We were the first station to do it here. Storer Broadcasting had decided it wanted to be on the cutting edge of this new technology. Our first satellite receiving dish is still out there on the front lawn. We don't use it anymore, it's just a billboard, but it's the first one. We have a garden around it."

Storer wanted to "knock the socks off" local viewers with satellite technology. It was soon after the Three Mile Island nuclear power mishap; Dominic, then news director, spent eight weeks reporting on nuclear power around the world, sending back 28 reports for a month-long series.

"Now satellites are so commonplace. We probably have six dishes and most stations even have the uplinks to transmit. It's allowed us to get out of our own back yard, not just TV-8 but all the stations here. The benefit to the community was that it expanded a whole area of knowledge, enabled us to report more broadly and in-depth and really propelled us into partnerships with stations all across the country.

"Television became more of a business in the '80s. The main thing that caused that was the Reagan deregulation applied to broadcasting. Until then, people who owned stations had some degree of protection because you had a license to maintain, as opposed to running a grocery store or automotive factory. It afforded some insulation from the competitive forces that besiege other businesses. Until then, it was competitive within itself, you were competing against a like force.

"The '80s were the years we got a whole new competitor, cable. When I started in Cleveland in 1965, there were only two other stations that meant anything. Now the revenue pie is split among 54 different channels.

"The independents really came into their own. They got good programming together and were able to do things network affiliates were not able to do. When you're an affiliate, you cannot put on 65 Indians games a year; we were out of that ballgame, after almost 20 years, and that also began to affect revenue.

"Then the VCR came along. People were still using television, but not in the way anyone once envisioned. And the zappers, the remote controls - the opportunity to change channels without getting up from their easy chairs. Now we've got to prove to advertisers that their commercials are being watched. Talk about giving power to the people.

"I think all of us began searching for ways that cable would not be able to duplicate us. By far the best example was local news. It was always important from an image, community service and profit standpoint, but the importance to the profit side was increased. It was the quickest, surest way to differentiate ourselves from cable - you weren't going to get a Cleveland City Council meeting on CNN. That's why other local programs became more important, things like ' MorningExchange ' on Channel 5. I still think that's what's going to save us in local television.' cp060   

No comments:

Post a Comment