Once upon a time, in the fifties, there was a cure for insomniacs. It was called "Joe Pyne." It was verbal banter between WVUE-TV, Channel 12's late night talk host, Joe Pyne and the viewers. There were no area codes and phone numbers, at that time, had words in them. The number to call and deluge Joe Pyne with complaints, questions and opinions was Locust 8-4260. The topics ranged from the Middle East (in crisis then just as it is now) to nudism.
Joe once described himself to Philadelphia area journalists as an "overly compensating introvert." He overcame a speech impediment and got into broadcasting. Pyne said, "it occurred to me that this might be a rather pleasant way to make a living." He was the son of a Chester, Pennsylvania bricklayer. Born in 1925, his career run the gamut from a nightclub emcee to broadcasting tobacco auctions in Lumberton, North Carolina. As far as his nightclub gig, Pyne said: "" got my material from a joke making factory for $10 a routine." Joe got his first broadcasting job when Broadcast Pioneers founding member Jim Tisdale in 1948 put WVCH on the air in Joe's hometown of Chester.
Joe started his controversial talk career right here in the Delaware Valley in radio. He was a DJ at WMID in Atlantic City and later moved to WILM in Wilmington, Delaware in 1949. It was there he started his first talk show, "It's Your Nickel." He took phone calls but at that time, you didn't hear the caller. You listened to just the host who would repeat what the telephone caller said. It was at WILM that he started attacking local officials and disputing racial discrimination. In July of 1954, Joe had a TV show (The Joe Pyne Show) on WDEL-TV, Channel 12 in Wilmington, a commercial station at the time. It was for an hour on Sundays at 6:30 pm.
In 1957, he sold off everything he had and moved westward to Hollywood. There he went with a local Riverside, California radio station. Within a month, he exposed a narcotics scandal at the local high school. This brought Joe Pyne into the limelight of Los Angeles. He found himself looking into the KTLA cameras and it was there that he started his famous nightly TV insult show. It was at that station that Joe first said: "I could make a monkey out of you, but why should I take the credit."
He looked a lot like J. Edgar Hoover (who was riding high in the fifties) and was considered for Hoover's part in the Warner Brothers motion picture, "The FBI Story."
Joe Pyne returned to the Delaware Valley and independent TV station, Channel 12 in Wilmington. No longer WDEL-TV, it was WVUE-TV, owned by Storer Broadcasting at that time. (Storer owned WIBG in Philadelphia, the number one station in the market during that era). Joe increased Channel 12's rating 30 fold. Amazing, even in the fifties. On Friday, September 5, 1958, a TV listing shows JOE PYNE - Discussion on WVUE-TV from 11 pm to 12 midnight.
Wynne Alexander, the WDAS historian said:
It appears Joe Pyne worked at WDAS for about 2 years. The above photo is from a 1959 sales brochure and programming schedule showing he was on six nights a week, from 11 pm to 2 am. This brochure would have been given out to the trade; 'DAS radio salesman, agencies, retail radio time buyers or current advertisers.
Wynne Alexander is the daughter of WDAS' General Manager for three decades, Bob Klein and the granddaughter of Broadcast Pioneers former Vice-President Max M. Leon who owned WDAS radio during that same time period.
In the usual Pyne way, he had said: "I would give it up tomorrow, if I found something better to do." Pyne's shows were always unrehearsed. That's the way Pyne wanted it and that's the way it was. By the way Joe always said that he kept a gun in his desk drawer.
After leaving the Delaware Valley for good, he took his TV talk show elsewhere and syndicated it (via Metromedia) all across the United States to 240 stations including WKBS-TV, Channel 48, right here in Philadelphia. He ended his of those shows with the phrase "Straight Ahead." He also hosted a game show on NBC-TV called Showdown. It was short-lived.
Joe had a wooden leg, a replacement for the one he lost while serving his country in the military. He was 44 when he died of Lung Cancer on March 23, 1970. He was a chain smoker. On Friday evening, November 16, 2012, Joe Pyne was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Text written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
Top Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Roger Hendler
WDAS Photo (All Rights Reserved) courtesy of the WDASHistory.org website & the Bob Klein Archives
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