Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Broadcaster Wanda Ramey: Breaking Barriers

I saw this article in the print edition of The Wall Street Journal today - this is the online version of the story. Further information about Wanda Ramey is at the end of the article. While reading the article, I was once again reminded of how many women to whom I owe gratitude for being there before me, leading the way, being the early pioneers in careers and areas of endeavor that had been, before them, presumed to be exclusively "male terrain." REMEMBRANCES AUGUST 26, 2009 Wanda Ramey: 1924 - 2009 TV's 'Woman on the Beat' Broke Newsroom Barriers By STEPHEN MILLER (See Corrections & Amplifications below) She was an experienced broadcaster when she took a job as one of the nation's first female local news anchors in 1959, yet Wanda Ramey was billed as KPIX-TV in San Francisco's "Girl on the Beat." Ms. Ramey, who died Aug. 15 at the age of 85, had been on the air for more than a decade by the time "Noon News" had its debut. She specialized in reporting from the scene at a time when newscasts were conducted mostly from the studio. She rode along on a night police patrol in a high-crime zone, peered into the exotic haunts of a Beatnik from Greenwich Village, and reported on the construction of San Francisco's latest high-rise from inside the emerging building's skeleton. Within a year Ms. Ramey's hard-news leanings led to a different slogan: "The Woman on the Beat." "People sometimes mistook her soft manner and didn't notice that she had a steel back," says Belva Davis, a veteran Bay Area broadcaster who counts Ms. Ramey as a mentor. On "Noon News," she was paired with a male anchor, John Weston. "John led the newscasts with the biggest stories," Ms. Ramey told the San Francisco Chronicle in 1990. "In those days we didn't think of equality." Earlier in her career, she worked at several Bay Area radio and television stations. Her reporting then was aimed primarily at homemakers, with features like "The Woman Behind the Man," in which she interviewed the wives of famous men. Ms. Ramey was determined to be on the air from her student days at Indiana State Teacher's College, where she majored in radio while hosting a children's show called "Story Princess of the Music Box." She moved to Oakland, Calif., after graduating in 1945, and was hired as an interviewer at radio station KROW. There, Ms. Ramey was part of an illustrious broadcasting team that included Rod McKuen, Art Linkletter and Ralph Edwards, creator of "This Is Your Life." Also employed at the station was a writer named Phyllis Diller. The two young women shared an office and became friends. Ms. Diller says that when she started out as a stand-up comic, Ms. Ramey bought Ms. Diller a dress for her opening night at the Purple Onion, a local nightclub. "She went on her Sunday TV interview show and told viewers there was a new comic in town who would break all the records," Ms. Diller says. "She took a stack of records in her hand and broke them right there on the set." On New Year's Eve of 1960, Ms. Ramey filmed a report about inmates at California's San Quentin State Prison. The story kicked off a lengthy relationship with the prison community. Ms. Ramey helped to create SQTV, a close-circuit network that still exists at the prison. Ms. Ramey and her husband, Richard Queirolo, a part-time cameraman, helped train inmates in production skills. Eventually dubbed an "honorary inmate" by some of the prisoners, she once brought Ms. Diller with her to San Quentin to perform stand-up comedy. The inmates presented Ms. Diller with a giant wooden "key to the prison." Ms. Ramey was especially interested in helping the inmates make movies about their experiences while incarcerated, recalls Rick Cluchey, a former San Quentin inmate. His play "The Cage," a stark depiction of prison life, was filmed on cameras provided by Ms. Ramey and her husband and broadcast on public television shortly after Mr. Cluchey was released, in 1966. He subsequently toured the U.S. with a theatrical production of "The Cage" starring ex-convicts, and later became known for his productions of Samuel Beckett works. Says Mr. Cluchey, "I don't know if people understand how important it is for people of substance to come to the disenfranchised and broken down." Ms. Ramey left her anchor's post in 1967 to take a position with National Educational Television, the precursor to PBS. She worked in the 1970s as California correspondent for Voice of America. "[It] was an innovation to have a woman as a straight-out newscaster," Ms. Ramey recalled of her early years at KPIX, in an interview recorded at the University of San Francisco in 2000. It was natural for her to do hard news, she added, and not be "relegated to home hints and recipes." Email Corrections & Amplifications Wanda Ramey died at 85. In a previous version of this column, her age was given as 89. More information on Wanda Ramey: Pioneering Bay Area woman news anchor dies at 85 Broadcast Legends: Wanda Raymey, KPIX's Girl on the Beat


Kristi Steadman said...

Thank you for posting this article about my mother. She was truly special. Thank you for acknowledging and appreciating her.
Most sincerely,
Kristi Steadman

Jan said...

My condolences to you and your family, Ms. Steadman. Your mom stands as an inspiration to me and women all over the world. If she did think about the potential problems and barriers she'd have to face breaking into a role that had been reserved solely for men she didn't let that get in her way (as she said, she never felt discriminated against) - she just went out and did it and proved to everyone that a woman can do whatever she wants to do and do it well.

Jan Newton

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