Video Vault: The Alan Douglas Morning Exchange debuted in Cleveland 40 years ago

Vintage WEWS: 1972

CLEVELAND - Our video player contains some very old and rare footage of the beginning of an era in Cleveland television: the sales demo for the Alan Douglas Morning Exchange and few other clips of the show from 1972.

It begins with the very memorable filmed opening of morning life in Cleveland with an instrumental version of "Good Morning Starshine." Notice the "Circle 5" had yet to be included in the logo.

Film editor Don Mertens created the opening. He told me the station’s general manager, Don Perris, hated the opening film montage. Mertens said it only went on to run for 21 years (a slight exaggeration) and became synonymous with the show.

The Alan Douglas Morning Exchange was billed as the "big, bright, bold new look of morning television," it was an introduction of a new format to would-be television ad buyers of 1972.

The face of morning television was changing.

Captain Kangaroo and the Today Show were staples of morning fare but local TV was a hodgepodge of offerings.

Talk shows, like our One O’Clock Club with Dorothy Fuldheim and Bill Gordon or WKYC’s Mike Douglas Show, were seen in the afternoon.

When the powers-that-be here at WEWS, GM Perris and Bill Baker, decided to try local talk in the morning, they wanted it to be a rapid-fire, two-hour show. Their aim was to be a “WIXY 1260” format, a Cleveland radio powerhouse of the 60s and 70s, play the hits and keep ‘em coming.

“The Alan Douglas Morning Exchange” debuted January 3, 1972. The host was high-brow former WKYC radio host Alan Douglas. Douglas had a very successful radio career and made the move to TV. Joel Rose and Don Webster rounded out the original trio on the Exchange.

Bob Seeley began his career at WEWS on the studio crew in 1967 and today is a news videographer. He will mark 45 years on staff this January. He recalled the early days of the show.

“The original concept of the show would have never been successful. It was meant to be WIXY radio of TV,” Bob said. “WIXY radio was Top 40 everything boom, boom, zap, zap, changes. Every segment could be no longer than five minutes and we were supposed to that 24 guests a show, five days a week, every day of the year.”

Seeley said there was no way they could keep that format and pace going.

There were, however, very innovative things for local TV in those early shows that have become commonplace; having guests take calls from viewers live on the air, the living room couch set are a couple of examples.

The Alan Douglas version of the show lasted only six months. Douglas to take a position at a New York City radio station. In a search to replace Douglas, they tapped the station’s public affairs director Fred Griffith.

The show went through a changes in format and hosts but Griffith stayed with the show until it ended in September, 1999.

“Bill Baker, who was the executive producer of the Morning Exchange, decided that the first hour would be mostly news and information – almost like the morning news shows now – and the second hour would be long form,” Seeley said. “It used to be two topics and it graduated into one topic, we’d do the topic for the full hour.”

Seeley recalled how the one topic format would go onto to spawn an entire new direction in TV.

"That was the genesis, the very first thing that brought about Phil Donahue later, and Oprah. It started in Cleveland and it started on the Morning Exchange in the second hour."

The video in the player showcases guests like former mayor Carl Stokes and famous author and pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Continuing on with the remaining shots and guests in the video clip, we see a very young American legend John Glenn, a yo-yo demonstration, attorney F. Lee Bailey, a "talking" cat, journalist Jack Anderson and comedian Pat Paulsen.

In the 23 second clip with Paulsen, you’ll get to see legendary WEWS anchorman John Hambrick on the couch. Look quickly as he appears briefly in the wide shots.

A longer segment includes "manualist" John Twomey. Sharing the couch with our noise maker is Mister Cleveland himself, then WIXY radio’s Larry Morrow.

We close with a music montage promo for the show.

In an upcoming edition of the Video Vault, I’ll explore the Fred Griffith era of the Morning Exchange as we celebrate the 40th birthday of the Morning Exchange. By the way, Griffith shares his birthday, January, 3, with that of the Morning Exchange. Fred was born in 1929.

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