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WLWT-TV to induct 6 into inaugural Hall of Fame class

WLWT-TV's 75th anniversary logo premiering Feb. 9 has images of Ruth Lyons, Bob Braun, Bob Hope, and an old camera and production truck.
Courtesy WLWT-TV
Ruth Lyons and Bob Braun are seated together on Lyons' Fifty-Fifty Club in the bottom left of WLWT-TV's 75th anniversary logo.

Talk show hosts Ruth Lyons, Bob Braun and Jerry Springer, executive Walter Bartlett, salesman Jerry Imsicke and current newsman Courtis Fuller to be honored July 12.

Veteran anchor Courtis Fuller was very surprised to be joining WLWT-TV legendary stars Ruth Lyons, Bob Braun and Jerry Springer as the first members of the station's Hall of Fame.

A member of the Hall of Fame selection committee, Fuller was kept in the dark until the station announcement.

Courtesy WLWT-TV

"I found out when everyone else did, when (General Manager) Branden Frantz made the announcement to the entire staff," Fuller says. "Members of the selection committee were aware but nobody else. They were able to keep me out of the loop."

The 35-year newsroom veteran, who was off work earlier this year for brain cancer treatments, is the only current employee among the six inaugural inductees. WLWT-TV established the Hall of Fame as part of the station's 75th anniversary this year.

Four will be honored posthumously: Ruth Lyons, host of the weekday Fifty-Fifty Club, the station's most popular show in the 1950s and '60s;Bob Braun, who succeeded Lyons in 1967and hosted the live noon weekday show until it was canceled in 1984; Jerry Springer, the former mayor and councilman who anchored Channel 5's news (1984-91) and launched his daytime talk show at the station in 1991; and executive Walter E. Bartlett, the former Channel 5 general manager and president of parent company Multimedia Inc.

Longtime salesman Jerry Imsicke, who retired in 2000, also is a member of the inaugural class. He started in the set up department for Channel 5's many live shows in 1958, and transitioned to sales in 1966.

Ruth Lyons DVD
Ruth Lyons

Fuller knew all of his fellow inductees except for Lyons, who retired in 1967 and died in 1988, shortly after Fuller was hired by WLWT-TV.

"I am humbled by the honor, and very proud to be a part of the legacy of this television station," Fuller tells me.

"There are so many people deserving of this honor who have walked the hallways of WLWT during the past 75 years so I don't take the honor lightly. I am beyond grateful to be mentioned in the same company as the great Ruth Lyons, Bob Braun, my friend Walter Bartlett, Jerry Springer and sales executive extraordinaire Jerry Imsicke."

Springer was anchor when Fuller was hired. "I learned a lot by watching him. It's still hard to imagine that he will not be here with us to celebrate this occasion" on July 12. Springer died April 27.

Fuller offered these comments about the other inductees:

"Walter Bartlett shared many stories with me about the legacy of WLWT and especially Ruth Lyons. He also gave me wonderful perspective about the great people and traditions of our city and he underscored the importance of staying connected and being authentic.

"Of course there will never be another Ruth Lyons. She is the epitome of a Hall of Famer, both at WLWT and throughout broadcasting.

Courtesy WLWT-TV

"Although I did not work with Bob Braun but on the occasions when we were together he was always engaging, encouraging and humble. Not many people could follow Ruth Lyons with the success he had.

"Finally, viewers might not know Jerry Imsicke but trust me, his work at WLWT and in our industry is second to none, and his work ethic and kindness unmatched."

Here are my thumbnail profiles of the six:

RUTH LYONS: WLWT-TV's daytime talk host was not just Cincinnati's biggest TV star from 1949 until her retirement in 1967. Lyons was so popular that her live noon show was broadcast nationwide on NBC (1952-53), and she returned to NBC as Dave Garroway’s Today show co-host in April 1958. Her fans waited three years for tickets to Lyon's Fifty-Fifty Club, a live 90-minute telecast which was the nation's highest-rated daytime TV program for a dozen years (1952-64), according to the 2011 Emmy-winning Ruth Lyons: The First Lady of Television  documentary by Mark Margistrelli and David Ashbrock. Lyons, a Cincinnati native, also was WLWT-TV's program director in the early 1950s, one of the first female TV program directors in America, according to Magistrelli. Lyons died in 1988 at age 83.

BOB BRAUN: Lyons' long-time sidekick Bob Braun took over her live noon show in 1967, and hosted the Bob Braun Show for 17 years until it was canceled in 1984 so WLWT-TV could devote more resources to TV news. The Ludlow, Ky., native started his TV career in October 1949 on WCPO-TV, three months after the station signed on, and pantomimed songs on the Dottie Mack Show. After winning the $1,000 first prize on Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts in 1957, he was immediately hired by rival WLW do a daily radio show, weekend "sock hop" dances and appear on the Fifty-Fifty Club. Braun didn't let the Braun Show cancellation halt his career. He and wife Wray Jean moved to Los Angeles, where he hosted TV beauty pageants and parades; appeared in movies (Die Hard 2, Christmas In Connecticut); and did infomercials for 10 years. He returned home in 1994 to launch WSAI-AM's "original hits" radio format. He died in 2001 at age 71.

Jerry Springer
Courtesy Jerry Springer Podcast
Jerry Springer

JERRY SPRINGER: The former Cincinnati councilman and mayor led WLWT-TV to its first 11 p.m. news ratings victory in two decades in 1987. After spending the 1970s in politics, Springer joined WLWT-TV as a nightly commentator in 1982, and was promoted to co-anchor with Norma Rashid in 1984. Their 11 p.m. newscast was No. 1 from 1987 to 1992. While doing both news and commentary, WLWT-TV's owners launched the Jerry Springer daytime talk show at Channel 5 in 1991, and moved it to Chicago for fall 1992. After Springer quit commuting to Channel 5 the following January, his syndicated show made a radical turn toward salacious topics with chair-throwing guests, eventually beating Oprah Winfrey for No. 1 in the daytime ratings in 1998. Springer did the show for 27 years, and then hosted a daytime Judge Jerry court show for three seasons, and retired in 2022. He died in 2023 at age 79.

WALTER BARTLETT: Bartlett was the WLWT-TV general manager who shocked Ruth Lyons' fans in January 1967 when he announced on her Fifty-Fifty Club that Lyons had retired. Bartlett later became president of the parent company, Multimedia Inc., based in Greenville, S.C., which he often managed from an office in downtown Cincinnati. He donated $1 million in the late 1990s to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music for a new electronic media facility, including the Walter and Marilyn Bartlett Television Production Center. He died in 2008 at age 80.

JERRY IMSICKE: During his 42 years at WLWT-TV, Gerald "Jerry" Imsicke worked with all five of his fellow Hall of Fame inductees. The Cincinnati native started his career in 1958 in the set up department, which helped stage and produce many hours of live television programming, including shows starring Lyons and Braun. In 1966, he moved to the sales department and in 1978 became a senior account executive. For many years he also oversaw Channel 5's political advertising purchases. Imsicke, 84, and his wife Judy live in Cincinnati.

COURTIS FULLER: For 35 years, Fuller has been a mainstay in the Channel 5 newsroom as a reporter and anchor. The Pittsburgh native also has been active in community events, including hosting the annual January Martin Luther King Jr. Day events for 30 years. Fuller left WLWT-TV in 2001 to run for mayor as a member of the Charter Party, winning the primary but losing the general election to incumbent Charlie Luken, another former Channel 5 anchor. He hosted a radio talk show before returning to WLWT-TV in 2003. Fuller was off the air four months last winter while being treated for a malignant brain tumor.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.