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KYW Newsradio At 50: A Look Back

By David Madden

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- This is a special day at KYW Newsradio.

It was on this day, 50 years ago, that we began our all news format from studios at 1619 Walnut Street.

A celebration hosted last week by the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia brought back more than a few memories.

The last record played, and then it started with the words of Steve Porter over music recorded for the format.

"All news and only news" was the opening line at Noon on September 21st, 1965.

There were no singers intoning a jingle. They kept things simple back then. Porter announced the top story on the first full blown newscast.

"The Vatican votes in favor of religious liberty."

Digital editor Bill Roswell suggested it's a little funny how things work out.

"What's our top story today?," he asked. "It's about the Vatican. Somebody coming to visit from the Vatican." A clear reference to the pending visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia.

The bosses at Westinghouse Broadcasting took a big gamble when they took crooners like Frank Sinatra off the air. The experts of the day didn't give the format much of a chance.

"We all thought that when they went all news radio, it would be six months and we'd all be out of a job," as Bud Galow recalled. He was the first engineer in the new format. In those days, newscasters as they were called never dared even touch a microphone. Engineers were a strong union back then.

Galow continued "Six months came and went...and a year came and went."

And when the station finally turned a profit a few years into the format, managers spent that profit on a party.

Some of the nation's top journalists cut their teeth on the station. Like onetime City Hall bureau chief, now NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell.

Speaking from California, where she was covering last week's Republican Presidential debate, Mitchell remembered "I had interned at KYW just as it was launching the Newsradio format and I was so desperate to be a reporter and get into the nitty gritty of politics. But we didn't know what we were creating."

Mitchell said the experience changed her professionally and personally.

It was, and continues to be, a challenge to keep the content current and up to date. Veteran anchor Bob Witten, now retired and living in Washington, remembers the culture shock of coming from State College to Philadelphia when he arrived at KYW.

"I had never gone into a newscast with portions of the broadcast unfinished," Witten told the luncheon crowd. "And I learned very quickly to ad lib at KY."

It was also the first time he had worked with women in a newsroom.

This was a chance to tell old war stories, and perhaps embellish them just a little. Reunions are like that. But staffers from back in the day were lauded by current station management, including CBS Radio Market Manager David Yadgaroff and KYW Program Director Steve Butler for the efforts taken over a half century.

They've produced one of America's top local broadcast news operations as well as one of the most profitable radio stations in the CBS chain.

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