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The '60s: Don Webster
The 1960s brought lasting change to Cleveland television. Color was introduced and became the norm. Newscasts expanded to a half-hour. Non-commercial, educational television arrived in 1965 with WVIZ Channel 25. It was the city's first UHF station, followed in 1968 by Kaiser's WKBF Channel 61 and United Artists' WUAB Channel 43. Viewers saw "Eyewitness News," "City Camera," "Montage" specials, the locally produced "Mike Douglas Show," "The One O'Clock Club," "Polka Varieties," "The Gene Carroll Show," "Jim Doney's Adventure Road," "Ghoulardi," "Jerry G & Co.," "Big Chuck & Hoolihan."
Two of the most remembered shows are "It's Academic," still broadcast as "Academic Challenge," and "Upbeat," an "American Bandstand"-type series. Both were on WEWS with Don Webster, who has served the station in a variety of roles and today is back as the popular weather forecaster on "NewschannelS."
"I came to town from Hamilton, Ont., in September 1964 to do the 'Upbeat' show and a quiz show called 'Quick As A Wink.' WEWS [which had canceled "The One O'Clock Club"] was trying to do something against 'Mike Douglas' on Channel 3. It was a good quiz show, well-produced, and it lasted 13 weeks because Mike was really starting a roE. That whole talk-variety concept was new and innovative then.
"When I first came on 'Upbeat,' it was called 'The Big 5 Show' because it was on TV-5 got on that old DC-3 and crashed.
"The show became so successful in Cleveland that Scripps-Howard decided to put it on their other stations. It wasn't too far from the era of Downbeat magazine, so the name came to be 'Upbeat.' It was a badge of honor for a high school kid to become an 'Upbeat' dancer. I think they got $40, $50 a week, and back in 1968 that was a lot of money. I think every high school girl in town had a pair of white go-go boots in her closet.
"We were on 90 stations at one time, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Dick Clark called me and suggested I go to California and work for him. We talked and talked, and Dick's a wonderful guy, but Dick still has the first nickel he ever made, so the money wasn't all that great. And we both had dark hair and our style was really similar, so I decided there wasn't much point. I said, 'If you continue producing new shows and doing things on the air yourself, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who's going to get the good ones.' So I stayed here in Cleveland, which I really never regretted.
"I did some announcing. We all pulled a booth shift then, and each station had a group of announcers you never saw on the air because we didn't have the automation we have now. Then I started to do a little bit of weather, sports, a little entertainment. About '71 I took over 'Academic.' By and large, the show is still the same. The kids never change. One of the things that impressed me was the good, solid, dedicated teachers who'd be there year after year. That's really nice to see."
Webster also was host of the Ohio Lottery shows for nine years, a weekly half-hour and a nightly drawing. It was all live, with ever-changing contestants drawn by chance, "and that was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life." He was later asked to do "The Gene Carroll Show," a weekly amateur variety hour, after the death of its original host and the untimely cancer deaths of two replacements, Ron Penfound and Jim Runyon.
"So they said, 'Webster, it's yours.' I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm feeling pretty good, I'm not sure I want to do this.' So then I took it over and they had a pool at the station to see how long I was going to last. Fortunately, the show died before I did."
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