Philadelphia is the birthplace of our nation. Everyone knows that. But not everyone knows Philadelphia is also the birthplace of the television news concept, Eyewitness News. Fifty years ago in of August, 1965 a twenty something news director, in his first management position, had an idea that changed the world of broadcast journalism.
Al Primo thought, "what if television news reporters presented their own reports on camera directly to the audience viewing at home?" It was a radical idea in August of 1965. . But there was a problem: Stations were reluctant to pay talent fees and television news was limited to an Anchorman, Weatherman, and Sportsman. That was the reason no TV reporters were seen on television
Al looked into the street reporters' AFTRA contract and there was nothing to prevent the station from using the journalist on air and with no additional payment above their regular salary. That's when KYW-TV, Westinghouse Broadcasting in Philadelphia gave Al the green light to go forward with his concept. Today, it's the industry standard but it all started with Eyewitness News at Channel 3 and Al Primo, the station's News Director.
Veteran Philadelphia broadcaster and Broadcast Pioneers member Vince Leonard was anchor, Jim Leaming, Sports and Bill Kuster, Weather. That was the original KYW-TV Eyewitness News Team. Al had another great idea, hire the first African American woman, Broadcast Pioneers member Trudy Haynes, to join the Eyewitness News Team as a featured reporter. Then, promote Broadcast Pioneers member Marciarose Shestack to become one of television's first Anchor Woman, teaming her with Broadcast Pioneers' Hall of Famer Tom Snyder, who he brought with him from Cleveland. And to give the broadcast a young, uptempo feeling Al selected a cut from the movie soundtrack "From Russia With Love" to use as the theme.
In 1968, Al was recruited by the American Broadcasting Company to become Director of News and Public Affairs for WABC-TV, Channel 7, the ABC O&O station in New York City. There, he instituted the Eyewitness News concept. This time. he had a larger budget and the experience of Philadelphia to launch Eyewitness News in the communications capital of the world, New York. It was there where Al expanded his idea to include more minority reporters and women in prime positions on the newscast. He was among the first to hire former baseball and football players as sports reporters. The late Frank Gifford was his first, then Jim Bouton of the Yankees; all hovered over by Howard Cosell. He trained and hired Geraldo Rivera. Together they exposed the Willobrook Hospital story that forever changed the way mentally challenged people were treated. He won a Peabody award and Kennedy Award for this important work. Both stations still call their newscasts EYEWITNESS NEWS.
Marshall McLuhan, the communications theorist said that the concept of Eyewitness News was "a revolutionary event in telecommunications." The New York Daily News described Primo as the man "who almost single-handedly changed the face of broadcast journalism." By the way, almost 80 television stations copied the Eyewitness News format that Al Primo created and almost that number still call their casts, Eyewitness News. Keep in mind that Eyewitness News on WABC-TV has been number one for three decades. He was the youngest Vice President named at ABC in 1972, in charge of local news operations. He joined ABC News as Executive Producer of the Reasoner Report in 1974.
Primo founded Eyewitness Newservice in 1977 after ten years with ABC-TV. He is also an independent producer with many credits including developing an annual syndicated special, Black History, as well as the investigative news series, "Now It Can Be Told" with Geraldo Rivera, who Primo discovered and trained as a journalist with Columbia University. Al served as consultant in the development period and as Executive Producer of the program. Al Primo is also a founding partner of U.S. Newswire, a Washington, DC Public Relations News Service which was recently purchased by Warren Buffet. He has expanded his vision to the Internet and continues his work with production of Teen Kids News (KN), an Educational and Informational (E/I) program which is carried on 220 television stations in America, 1,000 locations in 175 countries and 12,000 schools each week. TKN is carried on the Fox station in Philadelphia, WTXF-TV, Channel 29.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photos originally donated by Al Primo
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