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WEWS: The first 70 years

Ohio's first TV station still strives to be 1st
Posted at 9:19 AM, Dec 12, 2018

"This is television station WEWS, your Scripps Howard station, first in Cleveland. WEWS operates on Channel 5 from 76 to 82 megacycles and maintains studios on East 13th Street in downtown Cleveland. On this, the first telecast in Ohio, we take you to Public Hall, for the annual Cleveland Press Christmas party with Jimmy Stewart."

This is a quote from the first broadcast of WEWS NewsChannel5 in December 17, 1947. That was pretty much the way it happened over 50 years ago on the streets of E. 13th Street and Chester Avenue. The idea of WEWS became a reality when Jack Howard, the president of Scripps Howard radio, planned on building a television station. But not just any station; the first television station in Ohio. The home of WEWS was the biggest television studio in the country and the old home of the Women's City Club.

Where did the famous WEWS call letters came from? These last three letters were the initials of the founder of the Scripps Howard newspaper chain, Edward Willis Scripps. Television was something new to the company and to Cleveland, so the name had to be a good one. One that signified the best.

In the early days of WEWS, network programming was scarce. That meant that local stations, like WEWS, had to produce a lot of programs of their own on a daily basis. The majority of programs revolved around local celebrities, like news analyst Dorothy Fuldheim the Uncle Jake character played by Gene Carroll, exercise queen Paige Palmer and Alice Weston, who had the first live television cooking show.

WEWS was the first in many things. WEWS was the only station on the television dial for at least one year. It was the first station to offer a full college credit course taught on the air. It was the first to have a live remote broadcast. It was the first to do a live remote of the Indians baseball game, back in 1948 during the World Series. It was also the first to broadcast the Browns/Rams championship games. All of these firsts gave birth to WEWS using the catchy phrase "First in Cleveland."

WEWS grew very fast, and soon outgrew its home on E. 13th Street and Chester Avenue. In 1956, the station moved to a more modern studio on East 30th Street and Euclid Avenue, where the station still stands today.

The first show broadcasted from the new studio was the "One O'Clock Club," a talk show hosted by Dorothy Fuldheim and Bill Gordon. "The One O'Clock Club" became a popular show, with celebrities like Bob Hope as guests. "The One O'Clock Club" was just one of the many shows that hit the airways via WEWS. There were also many variety shows that have now become legends in their own right.

The most popular variety show was "The Gene Carroll Show," which began in the 1950s and ran well into the 1970s. It was seen by audiences all over Cleveland and aired every Sunday at noon. "The Gene Carroll Show" was a local entertainment show that showcased area talent.

Another popular variety show was "Upbeat," hosted by WEWS' longtime meteorologist Don Webster. "Upbeat" was the first local show that featured rock 'n' roll stars, many of whom came from Detroit.

Singers like John Denver, Kenny Rogers, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations began their careers in the studio of WEWS. Popular rock 'n' roll star Otis Redding gave his last performance in the WEWS studio, before he and his band died in a plane crash the next evening. The entertainers who appeared on "Upbeat" used the show to polish up on their acts before heading to the east coast to become big stars. Thanks to WEWS many performer went on to become superstars. "Upbeat" was seen in more than 100 cities each week.

Another show was "Polka Varieties," a 60-minute show of relaxation and entertainment featuring America's top polka bands and entertainers. "Polka Varieties" was hosted by Paul Wilcox, and became one of the longest-running programs in the history of television. It was on the air for four decades, and featured the best in polka music and dancing from around the world.

WEWS was not just a vehicle for entertaining variety shows, it was also used for educating children. There was "Captain Penny;" "Mr. Jingeling," who made his yearly appearance during the Christmas season. There was also the "Romper Room" show, hosted by Barbara Plummer.

"Romper Room" was a daily routine every morning for toddlers and their moms. The children were encouraged to play games, read books and learn how to count along with the children of "Romper Room." The most significant part of the show was the magic mirror. Miss Barbara looked into the mirror to say hi to all the children watching the show. The magic mirror was very important to the children, and to the mothers as well. In fact, mothers would write in to WEWS with their children's names.

"The Morning Exchange" was the longest running local daily talk show of its kind. It made No. 1 in the ratings before reaching its one-year anniversary. "The Morning Exchange" later served as the model for well-known morning shows, like "Good Morning America." The show was the ideal of former general manager Don Perris and producer Bill Baker. The hosts of the first "Morning Exchange" were a dynamic trio of Alan Douglas, Liz Richards and Don Webster. News anchor Joel Rose also played a role in the show.

Changes during the first year composed a cast that everyone remembers: Liz Richards, Don Webster and Fred Griffith. The three had great chemistry. Over the years seated next to Griffith, there was a succession of popular co-hosts, including Jan Jones, Randi Hall, Lee Jordan and Connie Dieken.

In 1997, "The Morning Exchange" celebrated its silver anniversary as daytime's longest-running television show of its kind. WEWS has been successful for its variety shows, children's programs, game shows or even its talk shows. Before "The Morning Exchange" became an important part of daytime television, a television pioneer, Dorothy Fuldheim, was already setting the standard for the "talk-and-interview format" on television. She spoke her mind on and off camera, and provided Cleveland with a television conscience. She was known for her interviews, travel reports, but especially for her commentaries.

Another major force behind NewsChannel5's success over the years was Ted Henry, who joined the WEWS staff in 1972. He worked first as a news producer, then as weekend anchor. Ted was named weekday anchor of the 6 and 11 p.m. news in 1975 and held that position until May 2009.

During his tenure, Henry, a Canton native, reported on issues of importance to residents in northeast Ohio. Additionally, Henry traveled extensively to bring significant stories of interest home to WEWS viewers. Henry covered political conventions. He went to Israel six times to cover the war crimes trial of John Demjanjuk, documented the Berlin Wall’s fall and reported live from Rome after the death of Pope John Paul II.

WEWS has been successful for covering some of the most compelling stories that have touched everyone's lives, like the Kent State shootings, the blizzard of 1977, and the election of the first black mayor of a major U.S. city.

WEWS continues to strive to be the first and the best.