CLEVELAND — It’s a season of celebration here at News 5, not just because of the upcoming holidays. Next month we mark 75 years since coming to the airwaves in Cleveland. We were the first TV station in Ohio when our signal went live on Dec. 17, 1947. In the decades since we’re proud to say News 5 has created a legacy of trailblazing programming and personalities.
We knew variety was the spice of life, so we launched Polka Varieties in 1956. The show ran for decades, into the 1980s, and was syndicated in 30 television markets. While there were a series of hosts over the years, they all opened with the same original phrase that so many of us still remember today: “Welcome again to another edition of Polka Varieties coming your way from the Polka Capital of the USA, Cleveland, Ohio!”
The first WEWS program to groove its way into nationally syndicated waters was Upbeat. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was seen as the most significant early rock ’n’ roll variety TV show. Upbeat had dancers, a live audience and performers who were icons of their time and still today.
Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, and Otis Redding all graced the Upbeat stage. In fact, the Dec. 9, 1967 episode of Upbeat was Redding’s final performance. The next day his plane crashed, killing all but one person on board.
The late Don Webster was the host of Upbeat, as well as our station’s chief meteorologist. He even turned down an offer to host American Bandstand, a job that would later be accepted by Dick Clark, because he loved it here in Cleveland.
The show that blazed the trail for the morning programs we see today ran from 1972 to 1999 on WEWS. The Morning Exchange was the template for ABC’s Good Morning America. It had several hosts during its 27 years and introduced a lot of personalities Northeast Ohio came to know and love, like Fred Griffith, Robin Swoboda, Lee Jordan, Mark Johnson, and Danita Harris.
We’ve also seen the rise of several trailblazing personalities here at WEWS. We all know WEWS royalty Dorothy Fuldheim. Her interviews are legendary, and her commentaries were authentically “Dorothy.” Fuldheim would also serve as co-host of the One o’Clock Club. There was just no one like her. When Dorothy shared news stories viewers also got her sometimes edgy opinions. Dorothy was the first female in the United States to have her own television news analysis program. In a special program honoring her 83rd birthday, she reflected on that legacy and said, “I never thought about that. I was earning a living; I didn’t know that I was a pioneer. Of course, now as I look back at it, my I must have had a lot of courage.” Dorothy’s spirit is still felt in the rooms and halls of WEWS today.
We were also the home of Cleveland’s first full-time Black anchorman, Bill Jacocks. He started as an assistant public affairs director before becoming the weekend anchor in January 1975. Jacocks remained on that desk for 10 years.
But the longest-serving anchor in Cleveland television is none other than our Ted Henry. After 33 years on the desk, Ted retired on May 21, 2009. During his years here at WEWS, he traveled the globe bringing viewers stories that affected our world. His passion to learn about different religions was developed into a series of stories that made his newscasts appointment television.
Looking back at her time with Henry here at News 5, Danita Harris said anchoring with him, “was an honor I’ll always cherish.” She said Ted would always tell her to “treat your problems like passing clouds.”
Today WEWS continues to honor our legacy by going into our community and doing the types of stories that make us the most award-winning station in Cleveland. The station with Cleveland’s first TV news Chopper and website continues to innovate. We’re looking forward to the next 75 years of serving northeast Ohio.
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