According to Broadcast Pioneers member John Roberts, WFIL Radio had a daily evening news broadcast, TONIGHT. It featured John Roberts with the national and international news, the late Jim Felix (a Broadcast Pioneers member) with the local news and Dr. Francis Davis (also a Broadcast Pioneers member) with the weather.
On this particular broadcast dating from September 11, 1958, Tom Rodgers filled in for John Roberts. Tom talked about the problem in Formosa and that President Dwight Eisenhower will address the nation that evening on both WFIL Radio and WFIL-TV.
By the way, Broadcast Pioneers Bill "Wee Willie" Webber tells the story how one evening Tom Rodgers made so many errors on the air that when he ended the newscast, he said, "And that's the news, Shelly Gross reporting."
John Roberts said that everyone at WFIL Radio kidded him that he was the original host of the Tonight Show as this broadcast predates the NBC-TV program that was originally called by the same title, TONIGHT.
The broadcast, Robert quipped, started as a 15 minute program and kept expanding incorporating ABC Radio features into it. At its peak, it ran 90 minutes long from 6 pm until 7:30. Regardless of its length, its starting time was always 6 o'clock. Some nights the broadcast went until 8 pm if there was something special at 8 like a Presidential address. The program started in 1952, according to Roberts and went into the mid-sixties.
Here's part of an e-mail from Thomas Wesley Rodgers, son of Tom Rodgers:
If I recall, he may have been the first TV sportscaster in Philadelphia history back at KYW (when it was WPTZ). He was there before 1950. Back in the days when he worked with among others Ernie Kovacs, the great comedian who died prematurely in a car crash in California . I have some other recordings of my Father who after going to WFIL-TV and Radio, then went to ABC-TV Network News for about 13 and a half years and then died suddenly of a heart attack on his birthday, May 21st, 1973. He was only 58!!!
The quality is not good, but the clip is only a half minute long. Listen to the clip!
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Audio clip originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Michael Muderick
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