many started in Oklahoma radio, now many in Hall of Fame
By Jerry Bohnen, 2006 Inductee
Oklahoma’s long list of “radio” journalists are among some of the nation’s most widely heard reporters, becoming legends in America’s broadcasting industry. They were known for their coverage of wars, space launches, and for their leadership in radio newsrooms. Others were known for their place in history as the nation’s taste for news led to the development of television and the creation of “anchormen.”
Paul Harvey. Frank McGee. Douglas Edwards. Jim Hartz. Mike Boettcher. These Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame members are among the dozens of nationally known journalists such as Walter Cronkite and Curt Gowdy who either got their start in radio or ventured there from newspaper jobs.
For some, they entered the world of radio news when radio was still growing up, and they were part of the great experiment to put sound to the news of the day. They were among the first to experiment with “live” remote coverage of football games, parades, and other events. Theirs was news coverage often through telephone lines or from remote transmitter trucks.
Walter Cronkite might be among the best-known. He got his start doing live sports coverage of University of Oklahoma (OU) football games. It was 1937 when he went to work for WKY Radio in Oklahoma City. Some 25 years later, he took over the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.
The man he replaced was Ada, Oklahoma, native Douglas Edwards. While Edwards never worked in radio in Oklahoma, he got his start as a 15-year-old boy in Troy, Alabama, and eventually landed with CBS Radio in 1942. From there, he became the first major anchor for CBS Television before being replaced by Cronkite in 1962.
Curt Gowdy broadcast major sports events for ABC and NBC sports. He got his start at a small station in Cheyenne, Wyoming, before landing a job at KOMA Radio in 1946, where he was hired to cover OU football.
Frank McGee, who attended high school in Seminole and Norman, started his broadcast career with KGFF Radio in Shawnee in 1940 before moving to television and eventually becoming “one of television’s most prominent newsmen” in the 1960s.
Another NBC correspondent, James “Jim” Hartz, got his start with KOME and KRMG radio stations in Tulsa where he did newscasts. His radio work led to KOTV in Tulsa, then to NBC where he co-anchored the Today Show with Barbara Walters and won five Emmy awards.
Mike Boettcher first tasted broadcast journalism working for WBBZ Radio in his hometown of Ponca City, Oklahoma, and for KEBC and KTOK radio stations in Oklahoma City. He later worked as a foreign correspondent for CNN, ABC, and the BBC.
Others who made radio their medium of choice came from newspapers and stayed on the broadcast side of journalism, winning prestigious honors such as the Edward R. Murrow Award. Some toiled in smaller markets, filling the airwaves with the news that included obituaries, birth announcements, city council meetings, and, of course, the police blotter.
Billie Rodely became known for being among the first female reporters in radio. Some developed reputations as investigative reporters whose work uncovered government misdeeds, criminal wrongdoings, or freeing someone from prison. Theirs was a mission of not only informing the public about tragedies and celebrations, but also of holding government leaders accountable.
Paul Harvey and Douglas Edwards were inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1973. They were followed by Frank McGee in 1974. Jim Hartz was inducted in 2003, Billie Rodely in 2004, and Mike Boettcher in 2010.