Remembering TV News Pioneer Allan White

Dec 9, 2018

Tuesday, Dec. 11 update:  Visitation for Allan White will be 9-11:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, immediately prior to his funeral Mass at St. Agnes Catholic Church, 1680 Dixie Highway, Fort Wright. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the St. Elizabeth Foundation, 1 Medical Village Drive, Edgewood, Ky., 41017.

From his obituary: "He is a model member of what is often called America's "Greatest Generation."

"In 1943 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and fought in both Pacific and Atlantic theaters aboard the destroyer escort USS Tatum. After returning home from the war, he married Betty Frances Perraut, from Maysville, Ky., to whom he was devoted for the next 68 years.

"In 1959, Allan joined WCPO-TV's fledgling 9 News and embarked on a career as a pioneer in broadcast journalism that would span more than 30 years. His many roles at 9 News included reporter, producer, assignment editor and film archivist.

"He would conduct the first live remote broadcasts in Cincinnati television history and interview newsmakers ranging from baseball great Hank Aaron to President Harry S. Truman. All told, he would log more than 9,000 newscasts.

"He was inducted into the Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame and the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Silver Circle. Like so many of his generation, he fought a war, raised a family, and built a career with humility and a dedication to family and community."

Original Sunday Dec. 9 post: WCPO-TV's Allan White, the station's first reporter who mentored the newsroom for decades, sent me a typed note with the request that it was "not intended for your publication."

With his passing Saturday at age 94, I think it's okay to talk about it – especially since so many of his coworkers are talking about the notes from White's typewriter they received over the years.

I cherish mine too. I loved every minute talking to White, hearing his stories about being the first and only TV reporter for Al Schottelkotte's WCPO-TV newscasts, when the four-person news department was created in 1959.  

He mentored me too on Channel 9's rich history. White, one of the most respected TV journalists in Cincinnati history, wanted to make sure I got it right. He was passionate about accuracy and history.

WCPO-TV broadcast from 500 Central Avenue from 1967 to 2004.
Credit John Kiesewetter

Back in February 1999, as he was preparing to retire, White sent me the 24-paged typed Channel 9 news history he had prepared for WCPO-TV's 50th anniversary that July.  I had helped him with some historical information from Enquirer clips, and he thanked me by mailing his document. 

It has been invaluable historical background for me for nearly 20 years. The document starts with White's narrative history of WCPO-TV news called "Channel 9 News… in the beginning."  White notes that Scripps' WCPO-TV started broadcasting in 1949, and it took 10 years for the company to establish a TV news operation. In 1959, White was a reporter for Scripps' Cincinnati Post evening newspaper and a weekend radio newsman for Scripps' WCPO-AM (1230) when Schottelkotte offered him the start-up TV news job.

"My wife and I discussed the unknowns, and decided to give it a one-year try. I was 35, with four children and a mortgage," he wrote.  He stayed there 30 years.

"So the WCPO-TV News Department was born: Al Schottelkotte, news director; Allan White, news editor (and staff); and Frank Jones, chief photographer. … None of us – Schottelkotte, Frank Jones or myself – knew anything about television production. We taught ourselves, learned as we went…. 12-14 hours a day, six days a week. Schottelkotte continued working at the Enquirer, broadcasting his 6 p.m. radio news at WSAI, and then he came to WCPO-TV that evening to help put together the news program that Frank Jones and I had accumulated during that day."

Channel 9's staff in 1959 included sports announcer Waite Hoyt, the Reds radio voice, and photographer Bill Kehlenbrink.

Together Al and Al assembled the city's premiere TV news operation, which dominated the ratings for 22 years (1960-82). Yes, 22 years. Channel 9's Al Schottelkotte News in 1974 was the highest-rated 11 p.m. newscast of all CBS affiliates. They also led the local TV newsrooms with the latest technology, everything from the first live remote to the first TV station here with news cars, live broadcast news van, and a helicopter. Some examples:

B REELS: In 1962, Channel 9 was the first Cincinnati TV station news program to use two news film projectors simultaneously, so during "a boring interview" viewers could see "subject matter being described by the boring interview."

LIVE REMOTES: Channel 9's first live remote interview was done on May 15, 1961, by White during a break in the George Ratterman trial from a Campbell County Courthouse hallway decades before portable video cameras. "WCPO-TV engineers trucked a heavy studio camera to the courthouse in Newport (and) re-assembled the camera on the second-floor hallway," White wrote.

NEWS CARS: Fifteen years before the TV news minivans, Channel 9 reporters drove a 1960 Ford Galaxy sedan, eventually replaced by 1964 and 1966 Ford Mustangs.

HELICOPTER: Channel 9 introduced the news helicopter to Cincinnati TV in 1967.

LIVE VAN: Channel 9 bought the city's first live van in 1975. White also provided this detail: "The first live van telescope mast was crunched in 1976 when videographer Ken Breiner forgot to retract the mast before he drove under a low bridge in Covington." Channel 9's first satellite truck  arrived in 1995.

WCPO-TV's tribute to White shows White interviewing Harry Truman in 1959, and Jackie Robinson during the Reds-Oakland 1972 World Series at Riverfront Stadium.  White later worked many years as assignment editor, and moderated the Sunday Impact public affairs interview show from 1961-76.  After retiring in 1999, he continued to return regularly to the newsroom to archive video, interviews and stories.

White's research included a year-by list of anchors for Channel 9's newscasts (invaluable when writing about the careers of Carol Williams, Clyde Gray, Kathrine Nero, Dennis Janson, Jon Esther, Pat Minarcin and others); and even a floor plan for the newsroom at 500 Central Avenue (helpful when writing about gunman James Hoskins taking hostages at the station in 1980). It was Channel 9's home from 1967-2003, until it was torn down for the convention center expansion.  

During one of my visits to the downtown studio at Central Avenue and Fifth Street, White showed me huge the studio doors were rolled open in April 1974 to shoot video of the tornadoes which ravaged Sayler Park and Xenia.

Al White was one of a kind; the heart and soul of the Channel 9 newsroom.  Thanks to him, WCPO-TV's rich history will be accessible to reporters, producers, editors and viewers for decades to come.

His legacy lives on through all the of Channel 9 reporters he mentored over the years. I join them in saying: Thanks Al.