In the beginning, TV anchorman read news gatherd by reporters in the field, reporters who never appeared on camera. That all changed in 1965 when KYW's former news director Al Primo and other Westinghouse executives created the Eyewitness News format. Why did KYW create Eyewitness News, when they were already #1 in news? Primo said is was all about personality.
KYW's Vince Leonard had been the Delaware Valley's #1 anchor since 1958. WCAU's news, anchored by John Facenda, used the same format and was nipping at KYW's heals in the ratings department. Primo said in later interviews that the difference between the stations was personality, Facenda had a warm and inviting presence, Leonard was straight and business-like. Primo felt that personality would beat out straight and business-like, he concluded that "there was no person in America who could-out personality John Facenda if you went personality to personality." So he put the wheels in motion to change the situation.
Primo decided to field a whole lineup of personalities, rather than focusing on a single person. The plan was for the audience to watch and root for a team of reporters, a group of people who could cover stories and show their human emotions too. They were to serve as surrogates for viewers or "eyewitnesses" and their status was to be almost equal to that of the anchor. They would also supplement their filmed reports by appearing live in the studio or in the field during the broadcast and talking to the anchor about the stories they had covered that day, in an informal manner, happy-talk or bantering was created.
Primo began KYW's transformation by first beefing up the reporting staff, he noticed that the union contracts of all newsroom employees, regardless of job title, allowed them to cover stories with no extra compensation. On the spot he appointed as many as possible to report the news, assigning them as as much as possible according to their own experience and interests, a beat system. One of his most famous hires was Tom Snyder from Los Angeles, he would co-anchor the first Eyewitness News in August of 1965 with Maricarose Shestack, the first woman to anchor news in Philadelphia.
In 1966, KYW was now securely the Delaware Valley's #1 news, shaking off the challenge of John Facenda and WCAU. Soon the Eyewitness News format was in place at all five Westinghouse(now CBS) stations. In 1968, Al Primo left for WABC-TV in New York and there the Eyewitness News format evolved and became even more successfull. Eyewitness News became a trademark for ABC stations across the country.
KYW lost it's #1 spot in 1971 when Action News, after a year on the air, redefined television news and surged past Eyewitness News in the ratings. KYW was stunned by the fast rise of WPVI and plotted a come back, it would take a "Dream Team" to do it.
The first step was to bring in a new management team and a new group of personalities to join Vince Leonard and weatherman Bill Custer. In 1972, KYW became the first station in Philadelphia to offer a 5:30pm newscast and hired Mort Crim, Jessica Savitch and Big Al Meltzer. By November of 1974, Eyewitness News was once again the Delaware Valley's #1 news, toppling WPVI's Action News. For the next three years, Eyewitness News and Action News was fighting it out for the #1 position. In the spring of 1977, Crim left for Detroit, Meltzer for Chicago and Savitch for NBC, the "Dream Team was no more. KYW lost the #1 spot to WPVI, Custer left in 1978, Leonard left for Phoenix in 1980.
Since the late 70's KYW has been in the ratings basement. They have also gone through a lot of news directors and personalities, they even dumped the Eyewitness News name in 1991, but brought it back several years later.
It's 2004 and the question still remains, will KYW ever be #1 again? They are getting close.
The following is a list of the members of KYW's "CBS-3 Eyewitness News" team. They are listed by seniority. Click on their name to find out about them.
Lesley Van Arsdall(2000)
Ji Young Min(11/2003)
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