Norman D. Leebron was a magical man, a man who wore a mantel of many colors: disc jockey, talk-show host, TV producer, university professor, entrepreneur, career counselor, salesman extraordinaire and father of five. A bout with pneumonia in 2005 ended an amply full life. This son of a West Philadelphia pediatrician, expressed but one regret. “I’m sorry I never completed my law degree,” he confided to his wife Carol. Norm died at 78.
Carol Leebron, a Broadcast Pioneers board member, says her husband’s greatest legacy was the impact he left with countless thousands of young men and women who sat in his classes for more than 25 years at Drexel University and others who came to know him as a visiting professor at Temple, Northwestern, LaSalle, the Wharton School of Business and more. “Simply, he was a Mr. Softee,” Carol remembers.
For many, Norm Leebron was a career guide and mentor. His courses were as diverse as the career paths his working life took him: sales management, advertising, international marketing, consumer behavior, public relations, buyer behavior and more. He was the ultimate insider of the broadcast industry. Like so many in the field, Norm’s resume was a 50-plus year patchwork quilt checkered with an alphabet soup of radio and TV stations where he had worked.
His entry into broadcasting -- like so many in the field -- was less than auspicious. Growing up in the 40s, in an era when physicians still made “house” calls, Norm served as his dad’s chauffeur. He delivered prescriptions for a pharmacy and learned the marketing business from his mother, recruiting youngsters for a family-owned summer camp. Still in his teens, Norm landed a spot as a D.J. and talk-show host at WPAR, a hillbilly operation in Parkersburg, West Virginia. It was a love affair from the start. Even -- years later -- with the advent of TV, radio was the medium he prized when many predicted its demise.
Back in 1964 while applying for membership in Broadcast Pioneers, Norm wrote: “...Today’s radio users have found that broadcast’s personal contact sells old products, new products and vital services faster than any media used before. Radio has had a determined resurgence and emerged as a powerful selling tool!” He was 37 when he wrote those words, among the youngest to join Broadcast Pioneers.
During World War II, he served as a radio infantry operator. An injury aborted his military career. Norm enrolled at Marietta College, earning a degree in radio production. But landing a job in the field, even in those days, was a challenge.
Norm persisted. He was hired at the then Evening Bulletin owned WCAU-TV for the “Big Top” circus program. Number One Assignment: cleaning up after the elephants. Production work on local and network TV shows followed along with a promotion to manager/buyer for the film department. He stayed on for seven years.
A growing family and a need for increased income, propelled him out of broadcasting for awhile. He jumped into home improvement sales and management. A few years later, he was hired as film buyer for WNEW-TV in New York. Yet he hankered to be back in Philadelphia, his hometown. A position opened as an Account Executive at the old Lavenson Bureau of Advertising. Norm grabbed it.
Later, he was hired as a senior account executive at WRCV, the old KYW predecessor. Like so many in the biz, Norm’s resume was dotted with change. He joined Alan Shapiro Advertising as director of new business. He helped put Channel 48 on the air, sold time for WCAU-AM and served as local sales manager for WPVI-TV. He even started and later sold his own ad agency.
In 1979 Drexel University’s Marketing Department came knocking and Norm discovered what was to become his best career move: imparting his encyclopedic knowledge of the industry to young people. Carol Leebron, retired comptroller for Greater Media, believes her husband’s contributions at Drexel and as a lecturing professor were, indeed, his true legacy. “The kids loved him,” she says.
He is survived by his wife, four children, Betsy Tutelman, senior vice provost at Temple; David, president of Rice University; Emily Foster, an attorney, Fred, a professor in the English Department at Gettysburg College and a fifth child, Kathryn Smyth, pre-deceased and nine grandchildren.
On Friday evening, November 18, 2011, Norman Leebron was inducted posthumously into the Broadcast Pioneers' Hall of Fame.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated to Broadcast Pioneers by the Lower Merion History Society, Robert Swartz Collection
Written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Ed Eisen
© 2011, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
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