At the beginning of 1980, Broadcast Pioneers member Vince Leonard said, "I actually made the decision last (1979) spring" to leave KYW-TV, Channel 3. Leonard stated, "Our only son had died (February, 1979) in a car accident in Texas and my wife, Frances, and I felt that probably a major change in our lives was needed. There have been personnel and business changes at Channel 3 over the last several years and we figured it would be time to leave when my latest contract runs out." Mark Venske, Leonard's son, was a 1973 graduate of West Point. He was killed 60 miles from Austin where he was house hunting for a home for himself and his fiancée."
Broadcast Pioneers member Al Primo, creator of the "Eyewitness News" format said, "Vince always had a plan to retire with his beloved wife while they were both young enough to enjoy themselves. He did that in Phoenix but was tempted back to broadcasting by the station out there. He ended his career there joyfully. He did have a tragedy in his life when his only son died in a terrible accident." Bill Kuster, Vince's weatherman for 15 years, said, "Vince is a very private person, and Mark was a lot like his dad in that way. He was very likable, easygoing and quick-witted. I took Vince to the airport to pick Mark up at Christmas, and let me tell you, when he stepped off that plane he was the image of everything you'd want your son to be."
Vince Leonard was an air name. His given name, the name his paycheck came made out to, was Homer Venske. Leonard's last day on Channel 3 was May 30, 1980. During his time at Channel 3, Vince Leonard had anchored over 2,000 newscasts.
Bill Kuster left Channel 3 in January of 1979. He headed westward to Denver and KBT-TV in Denver. From the west, Kuster said, "Vince is so much of a professional that a product has got to be better with him associated with it. He gives it class, veracity and believability. What you should be doing is taking people who are strong and well known in the market and build on them. You emphasize your newsgathering operation. Make it more professional. You make sure it does not develop into a dog-and-pony act."
Leonard in February of 1980 said, "I guess there are positives and negatives about growing so big. When I first came to town (1958), we had 12 full timers, and no reporters as such. I got to spend part of the day in City Hall or on the streets or whatever. Today, everyone is a specialist, and I guess it has to be that way. But then I guess things had to get bigger. I would have done a few things differently over the years, but overall, management has done okay by me. There are probably not more than a handful of people in my position around the country who can say that."
In the seventies, Vince and his wife purchased some land near Phoenix, Arizona, an as investment. He said in 1980 that he wanted to move nearby. Leonard mentioned, "I've known Arizona since I stayed there as a teenager. Though I have no house and no job, I think that's where we want to settle. News jobs? Well, I guess should that develop, I'd have to give it some consideration. I'm still a young guy, right?"
Vince stated that he would love to try to incorporate some "big city ideas at a smaller market like Phoenix, but then no one's asked me." Leonard is not a fan of "Happy News," like what Action News at WPVI was doing. Vince thought it would be "great to be back closer to news sources than we are."
Vince Leonard, a Navy pilot in World War II, came to Philadelphia in April of 1958 from Indianapolis, Indiana. Settling in Malvern, he replaced Broadcast Pioneers member Taylor Grant at Channel 3, which was WRCV-TV at the time. They operated out of a small television studio at 1619 Walnut Street in Center City Philadelphia. When starting in 1958, the newscast was only 15 minutes long and five of that went to Wally Kinnan, "The Weather Man." Shortly thereafter, Jim Leaming joined the team doing sports. In those early days, when they ran film (usually shot the day before), they ran music in the background. Leonard was there in August of 1965 when KYW-TV News Director Al Primo instituted "Eyewitness News" and Vince stayed as anchor. Leonard and Channel 3 stayed on the top of the rating heap until 1971.
There was some resurgence in the news team at KYW-TV during the early days of the Eyewitness News format. But then Leonard was constantly pushed aside for younger and more "exciting" talent. Since July of 1979, Leonard only anchored the 6 pm news and shared that with Beverly Williams. Before that, he also anchored all the other evening and late evening newscasts. In 1979, he was removed from the 5:30 pm & 11 pm portions of the news and replaced by Broadcast Pioneers member Dick Sheeran, among others. Leonard, who was born and raised in Minnesota said, "I was very upset when I was taken off the 11 o'clock news, but I didn't leave here with any bitterness."
In 1974, Mort Crim was brought in to join Vince and later Jessica Savitch. They became the first tri-anchor newscast in the country and shortly thereafter, they were again number one.
Within a couple months of leaving Channel 3, Vince joined KPNX-TV in Phoenix as anchor. He left the station at the age of 64 in July of 1989. At that time, Leonard, whose father was a schoolteacher said, "After 44 years of broadcasting, things have gone well for me and they're still going well. Unlike an aging ballplayer who hangs around beyond his prime, I'd like to leave when things are looking good. I'm ready for retirement. I'm looking forward to it."
In November of 2002, Vince and his wife were living in a neighboring state to Arizona. At that time, Vince said: My wife and I are really enjoying our retirement even after more than 12 years of taking it easy. Only one bad thing about retirement... one never gets a day off! We have done quite a bit of traveling during those years and my hobbies are golf, reading, the computer and keeping active and doing everything to try to stay in shape. We have visited with Mort Crim and his wife and they have been coming ... a couple of times a year when he has speaking engagements at one of the conventions. Recently, we were in Colorado visiting with old friends Bill and Dottie Kuster. He retired a couple of years ago from KUSA-TV in Denver. We stay in touch with Malcolm Poindexter by letter and e-mail as well as with others outside of broadcasting that are friends from 35 and 40 years ago. So, to sum up, we are not bored. We've always loved the desert and sunshine and we have plenty.
Speaking about Vince, Legendary Sportscaster and Broadcast Pioneers member Al Meltzer said, "He was super to work with. No ego, no temper, no nothin'. As a newsman, he was in a class with Broadcast Pioneers member John Facenda, without question. Personality-wise, Vince probably was the lowest-key person on the air I've ever worked with. He did it the way the textbook said you should do it. No one did it any better than he did in this market, that's for sure. You had confidence in this dude. When he said something, it was "The Word." Off camera, Vince Leonard was "was one of the funniest dudes I've ever known," Meltzer adds. "He had a great sense of humor. He loved to play cards all night. He liked to gamble and hoist one with the boys."
In an e-mail to the Broadcast Pioneers, Al Primo, the creator of the "Eyewitness News" format said, "Vince Leonard was a true professional. When I told him I was going to start having reporters cover a specific news beat and appear "live" on the set with him he was calm and listened intently. His first reaction was, 'well, I don't want to become a news jockey, just introducing other reporters.' I assured him that he would have plenty of opportunity to report and to add his personal touch at the end of each of their stories with a follow-up question. He really didn't like it at first but worked diligently to make the concept work not only for his own career but for the viewers. I never had a cross word with him in almost 4 years while I was the News Director of KYW."
Primo also stated, "Tom Snyder, who I brought in from KYW, Cleveland after the switch, was given the featured reporter assignment on the 11 pm news. Snyder, an accomplished anchorman, took the secondary role to Vince Leonard and the two were friends even though both coveted the main job. Snyder did the 11 pm show until we were able to give him his own show, "Contact," one of the first TV telephone call-in programs. We then gave him the Noon News to anchor with (Broadcast Pioneers member) Marciarose. We had a great family at Eyewitness News and most everyone I talk to say it was the best time of their careers. It was for me."
Here's the reply from Broadcast Pioneers member Vince Leonrard himself. Vince says:
Always good to hear from members of the Broadcast Pioneers. It surprises me that my name comes up from time to time since I left the Philadelphia area more than 22 years ago. But it's nice to know there are a few out there who recall the days that I enjoyed so very much.
I was hired as the Esso reporter in April of 1958. That was the 11 o'clock news which, at the time, was only a 10 minute program followed by Judy Lee and the weather. As I recall Esso stayed with us for several years.
Pulse of the News was on at 6:40, if my memory serves me correctly, and was only a five-minute newscast, often featuring interviews with city officials. That, of course, was not sponsored by Esso.
Having just one sponsor in those days was interesting because often I had to speak at Esso dealership meetings and attend other functions in New York with the ad agency people.
My wife and I are really enjoying our retirement even after more than 12 years of taking it easy. Only one bad thing about retirement......one never gets a day off! We have done quite a bit of traveling during those years and my hobbies are golf, reading, the computer and keeping active and doing everything to try to stay in shape.
We have visited with Mort Crim and his wife and they have been coming ... a couple of times a year when he has speaking engage- at one of the conventions. Recently, we were in Colorado visiting with old friends Bill and Dottie Kuster. He retired a couple of years ago from KUSA TV in Denver. We stay in touch with Malcolm Poindexter by letter and e-mail as well as with others outside of broacasting who are friends from 35 and 40 years ago.
So, to sum up, we are not bored. We've always loved the desert and sunshine and we have plenty of both here.... Now that I've told you more than your cared to know about me, my best wishes to you and the Broadcast Pioneers. It's an organization of which I'm proud to be a member.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo from the official archives of KYW-TV, used with their permission
Text written and compiled by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
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