70 Reasons To Celebrate WLWT-TV's 70th Birthday
Commercial television in Cincinnati turns 70 on Friday, Feb. 9, when WLWT-TV started commercial operation in 1948 – Cincinnati's first television.
Crosley Broadcasting had been experimenting with television for nearly a year with W8XCT. WLWT-TV was the city's only TV station for 14 months, until Taft Broadcasting's WKRC-TV signed on in April 1949. WCPO-TV followed in July 1949.
It's a huge week for WLWT, with TV's two biggest events, the Super Bowl and the Winter Olympics. I'm not sure how they're going to celebrate – but I will.
Here are 70 reasons to celebrate the 70th:
Reds on TV: Six months before WLWT-TV officially started telecasting, a Reds game was broadcast on experimental W8XCT from Crosley Field in September of 1947. WLWT-TV was the Reds flagship TV station through 1995.
Johnny Bench: While playing for the Big Red Machine in the early 1970s, Johnny Bench hosted a weekly talk show and sang country music on a syndicated series broadcast on Channel 5. He also did Reds TV commentary 1987-90.
Ruth Lyons' Children's Fund: This unique charity providing entertainment and toys to hospitalized children since 1939 has raised more than $22 million in 78 years!
Rob Braun: WLWT-TV executives refused to hire newsman Rob Braun in 1983, citing nepotism because his famous father Bob Braun was on the payroll doing his noon talk show (canceled in 1984). They tried to convince Rob to take a job at a sister station in other towns, but he wanted to come home from Knoxville. Instead he went to WKRC-TV, where he's anchored the top-rated 11 p.m. newscast for about 20 years. So how did that work out?
Joe Morgan: "Little Joe" started doing TV baseball commentary in 1985 as Channel 5's Reds analyst working with Ken Wilson, before doing some network playoff games and joining ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" in 1990.
Channel 4: Shows weren't always "live on Channel 5." WLWT-TV signed on Channel 4, and moved up to Channel 5 in the early 1950s when WCPO-TV moved from Channel 7 to 9, and WKRC-TV moved from Channel 11 to 12.
Sheree Paolello: After trying a bunch of out-of-towners since Norma Rashid left, WLWT-TV managers wisely promoted Paolello, a graduate of East Central High School in St. Leon, Ind., and Northern Kentucky University, to co-anchor in 2006.
Midwestern Hayride: For nearly 25 years, "Midwestern Hayride" was Cincinnati TV's weekly country music showcase. It premiered on NBC in 1951 as the summer replacement for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows," and aired every summer in the 1950s (except 1953) on NBC or ABC.
NBC network: For 69 years and 10 months, WLWT-TV has been a NBC affiliate. It became NBC's second TV affiliate in April 1948 by broadcasting kinescopes (films made from TV screens) for nearly 18 months, until coaxial cable can provide a live feed in September 1949.
Bob Trumpy: While hosting WLW-AM "SportsTalk" in the 1980s, Channel 5 experimented with Trumpy as a weekend sports anchor, before working full-time for NBC Sports coving NFL games, golf and other sports.
Cris Collinsworth: The Emmy-winning analyst of NBC's top-rated "Sunday Night Football" started doing NFL games and Notre Dame football telecasts for NBC while working for WLW-AM, following Trumpy's footsteps.
Steve Raleigh: How many remember that WCPO-TV's chief meteorologist first came to town as Channel 5's weekend weatherman in 1985? That's when he met his future wife Julie, a former Ben-Gal.
Sandra Ali: She co-anchored with Dave Wagner starting in 2003, then was paired with Paolello 2006-08, but didn't return from maternity leave.
Lee Cowan: The "CBS Sunday Morning" reporter and former NBC News correspondent was a reporter-anchor for Channel 5 in the mid 1990s.
Zip Rzeppa: Yes, WLWT once had a sports anchor named Zip Rzeppa, who enjoyed a long run at a St. Louis TV station.
Ken Broo: WCPO-TV's weekend sports anchor first came to town in 1987 to do sports for the Springer-Rashid team, before jumping to Channel 12, to Washington D.C., back to Channel 5, and then to Channel 9.
Michael Collins: Arguably the city's most talented features reporter, Collins brightened Channel 5's newscasts with his "Michael Collins' World" stories. My favorite was his 1992 celebrity rendition of "A Night Before Christmas" with Marty Brennaman, Johnny Bench, Boomer Esiason, Marge Schott, Gary Burbank, Ickey Woods, Joe Nuxhall, Uncle Al and Wanda Lewis, Wildman Walker, Tony Sands, Jim Knippenberg, Jim Borgman, Buddy LaRosa, Sam Wyche, Lou Piniella, the Kwik Brothers and others.
Andy Furman: Between stints promoting a local horse-racing track and working as a WLW-AM sports talk host, Andy Furman spent part of the mid-1980s as a Channel 5 sports reporter.
Colortown USA: Cincinnati was honored as "Colortown U.S.A." in 1962 because of Lyons' zealous promotion of local and NBC's "in living color" programs – along with Channel 5's color telecasts of Reds games and the weekly "Midwestern Hayride" country show – more color television sets were sold here per capita than any other city in the country.
Michelle Hopkins: Reporter Michelle Hopkins, who did the "Taking Action" segment, later was the community relations manager for the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency in Bond Hill.
Paul Dixon: David Letterman's TV comedy style was inspired by watching Dixon's crazy live weekday morning show from Cincinnati on the sister AVCO Broadcasting station in Indianapolis in the 1960s.
Jack Atherton: WXIX-TV's original news anchor did a two-year stint as Paolello's co-anchor after leaving Fox 19, and before the hiring of Mike Dardis.
Jerry Springer: Channel 5 hired Springer as a nightly commentator in 1982, after the former Cincinnati City Council member failed to win the Democratic nomination for governor. Springer and Norma Rashid co-anchored the city's top-rated newscast 1987-92, and then left in 1993 to work full-time on his syndicated daytime show.
Clyde Gray: Before becoming WCPO-TV's main co-anchor, Gray did two stints at WLWT-TV during the Springer era, including reporting from Channel 5's Northern Kentucky bureau in a Covington hotel room overlooking the Cincinnati skyline.
Charlie Luken: The former Cincinnati councilman and congressman anchored WLWT-TV news after Springer quit, from 1993 to 1999, then returned to politics.
Courtis Fuller: The long-time weekend anchor/reporter quit Channel 5 to run for Cincinnati mayor in 2001 against former newsroom co-worker Luken, and returned to the News 5 in 2003. His presence provides coverage of many African-American events not covered by the other three stations.
Dave Wagner: He followed Charlie Luken on the anchor desk until bosses decided to go with a new look pairing Sandra Ali with Sheree Paolello.
Star gazing: Unlike today, TV networks sent their stars to Cincinnati to promote their TV series in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. Lyons and Braun welcomed Lorne Greene, Michael Landon and Dan Blocker from NBC's top-rated "Bonanza," David McCallum from "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and Barbara Eden from "I Dream of Jeannie" (both NBC), and Tim Conway and Joe Flynn from ABC's "McHale’s Navy."
Smash Videos: Channel 5 tried to lure young viewers who didn't have cable with a MTV-style music video show weekday afternoons in the 1980s. I'm not making this up.
Crosley Square: The first home for WLWT-TV was Crosley Square at Ninth and Elm Streets, an old Elks Lodge bought for WLW radio in 1942. Why isn't there a historical marker at the site, now Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy?
Rod Serling: Before creating "The Twilight Zone" in 1959, Serling was frustrated at his first TV writing job at WLWT-TV cranking out sitcoms and variety show patter, and being asked to be a clown on the "Half Pints" children's show. (I'm not making this stuff up.)
Richard Hull: The experienced CNN anchor hired by Channel 5 in 1983 to pair with Norma Rashid was terminated nine months later when their bosses decided to promote Springer to anchorman in 1984 as Clooney was leaving Channel 12 for Los Angeles. At the time, Channel 5's 11 p.m. news was in fourth place, behind a sitcom on Channel 19.
National Slavery Center: On Channel 5, and across the country on NBC's "Today" show, viewers heard weatherman Al Roker say he was at Cincinnati's "National Slavery Center" when broadcasting from the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on April 26, 2005. He also incorrectly claimed the Roebling Suspension Bridge was a "replica" of the Brooklyn Bridge, instead of being the prototype built 17 years before the Brooklyn span.
Tony Sands: Meteorologist Anthony Sadouskas began as "Tony Sands" on Channel 5 in 1954, and was promoted to chief meteorologist in 1958. Through his efforts, Channel 5 became the first TV station to use radar in the 1950s, even before the Cincinnati weather bureau had the equipment. The station forced Cincinnati's "original" weather authority to retire in 1987.
Steve Horstmeyer: The dean of Cincinnati TV meteorologists started working for Tony Sands at Channel 5 in 1977, before moving to Channel 12 and finally Channel 19, where he could become the chief meteorologist.
Pat Barry: In a move to improve low ratings, Channel 5 hired popular Q102 DJ Pat Barry to replace meteorologist Tony Sands as the main weatherman at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. in 1984.
Live on 5: Channel 5's last attempt to do a live weekday talk show was in 1989, when Pat Barry and Toria Tolley Hammill hosted a short-lived show from the Westin Hotel atrium.
Changing weather: In the span of 20 years (1989-2009), WLWT-TV viewers saw 10 different forecasters on the late news: Pat Barry, Joe Lizura, John Gerard, Pat Barry again,Tom Burse, Dave Fraser, Angelique Frame, Byron Webre, Jim O'Brien and Derek Beasley.
Kevin Robinson: The man who ended the turbulence in Channel 5's weather. The station hired Robinson, a Princeton High School graduate working for the Weather Channel in Atlanta in 2010.
Peter Grant: The first face of WLWT-TV news, Peter Grant started at the station as a radio announcer and newscaster in the 1930s.
Bob Braun: Ruth Lyons' long-time sidekick who took over the live weekday noon show when she retired in 1967, and kept the tradition alive until Channel 5 canceled the "Bob Braun Show" in August 1984.
Nick Clooney: The first full-time TV job for Nick Clooney was as a cast member on the "50-50 Club" with Lyons and Braun in the mid 1960s, before hosting variety shows on Channels 9 and 12, and later anchoring Channel 12's news.
Danielle Folquet: "Midday" News 5 anchor Danielle Folquet made headlines by using a racial slur when referring to a meteorologist of Italian descent. She later hosted "PM Magazine" in New York City, and married former Mets player Lee Mazzilli.
Marty & Joe: Channel 5 managers got the bright idea to add popular radio duo Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall to Reds telecasts in 1986, but the move backfired because Marty & Joe never worked together on TV (or on radio during TV games) for two years.
Steve Physioc: After doing Reds games with Marty & Joe in 1986, sports anchor Steve Physioc quit Channel 5 to pursue his dream as a baseball announcer. "The Phys Man" has called games for the Giants, ESPN, Padres, Angels Tigers, Braves and Royals.
Wes Parker: For some reason, Channel 5 executives thought that recently retired first baseman Wes Parker from the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers would make a great Reds TV analyst in 1973. He lasted one season.
Gordy Coleman: The Reds speaker's bureau director and popular first baseman wasn't so popular as Channel 5's Reds TV analyst in the early 1990s.
Tom Hume: Another failed experiment in the Reds TV booth was too mild mannered reliever Tom Hume for one season (1990).
Ruth Lyons: She was so hugely popular that her live weekday "50-50 Club" show was broadcast live on NBC in 1951-52, and people waited three years for tickets to attend her show.
Thom Brennaman: Fresh out of Ohio University, Marty's son anchored weekend sports and did so well filling in on Reds TV in 1988 that he got the play-by-play job in 1989 – then left for the Chicago Cubs TV/radio team for the 1990 season.
Kenny Price: The "Round Mound of Sound" from Florence was a star and host of "Midwestern Hayride" who later was a regular on the country music/comedy "Hee Haw" show.
Norma Rashid: "Normer," as Jerry Springer called her, started at Channel 5 in 1983, a year before Jerry was named her co-anchor. She also worked with Charlie Luken and Dave Wagner.
Anne Marie Tiernon: The Fort Wayne native came from Indianapolis, and eventually ascended to the main co-anchor job with Dave Wagner (2000-2004), before going back to Indianapolis.
Opening Day: Two months after starting broadcasting, WLWT-TV telecast the first of nearly 50 consecutive years of Reds' Opening Day game, starting with the Reds 4-1 victory over the Pirates at Crosley Field.
Carole Wilson: Carole Wilson was the first woman to anchor WLWT-TV's news in 1978, after studying journalism at Columbia University in New York.
Tom Atkins: As Peter Grant was preparing to retire, Channel 5 added Tom Atkins as the main anchor from 1966 to 1977. He later ran for Congress twice, and anchored at Channel 9.
Homecomings: When Ohio natives came home, their itinerary often included a visit with Ruth Lyons: Doris Day, Roy Rogers, Rosemary Clooney, Phyllis Diller, Hugh Downs, Hugh O'Brian, the McGuire Sisters, Tim Conway, Ted Lewis and "Mickey Mouse Club" host Jimmie Dodd.
Gene Randall: The former Channel 5 anchor-reporter was one of CNN's first national correspondents, hired in 1983.
Bill Nimmo: WLWT-TV's first big star was Bill Nimmo, who went to New York to host TV boxing shows and do commercials on "The Jackie Gleason Show" and Johnny Carson's "Who Do You Trust" game show in the 1950s.
Bob Shreve: The comedian starred in "The General Store" comedy on WLWT-TV in the early 1950s, and returned to host all-night movies in 1970 on "The Schoenling (Beer) Nite People Theater."
Bonnie Lou: The beloved country music singer, a regular on both "Midwestern Hayride" and the "Paul Dixon Show," was hired as the "girl yodeler" by WLW-AM radio in 1945. inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2002.
Dave Lapham: Bengals color analyst got his TV start doing NFL games for NBC Sports, following in Bob Trumpy's footsteps.
Mount Olympus: That's what WLWT-TV called the city's first TV studio, built beneath its TV tower on Chickasaw Street in University Heights. It was soon abandoned and given to public TV station WCET-TV.
Harry's Law: Kathy Bates' short-lived NBC drama series, "Harry's Law" (2011-12) was fictionally set in Cincinnati and modeled its neighborhood tavern off Arnold's Bar & Grill.
Bill Brown: The long-time Houston Astros' TV voice did Reds TV play-by-play from 1976 to 1982, and was Channel 5's sports anchor 1972-82.
Noel Morgan: The City of Cincinnati's former consumer officer was hired as a Channel 5 reporter in the 1980s by news director Tom Kuelbs, who believed he could teach smart people how to do TV. He also hired radio reporter John London and former councilman Jerry Springer.
Great laughs: All the great comedians – past, present and future – were seen on the "50-50 Club" with Ruth Lyons or Bob Braun: Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Jerry Lewis, Edgar Bergen, Victor Borge, the Smothers Brothers, Rowan & Martin, Tim Conway, Phyllis Diller, Steve Allen, Imogene Coca, Jackie Mason, George Kirby, Shelly Berman, Mort Sahl, Bucky Hackett and Henny Youngman.
Greg Hoard: The Enquirer's baseball beat writer was hired to replace Ken Broo as Channel 5 sports anchor in 1990, and later worked at Fox 19 with Dan Hoard (no relation).
Bill McCluskey: Irish through and through, Bill McCluskey was the WLWT-TV talent manager who co-hosted his beloved St. Patrick Day Parade telecasts on the station for many years.
The Chicken Wedding: Last but certainly not least, Channel 5 broadcast the silliest episode of the "Paul Dixon Show" on March 11, 1969, when the host married rubber chickens named Pauline and Harry. If you've never seen it, here it is: