GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Willard Schroeder, who ran WOOD TV8 from near its beginning until the 1970s, died Tuesday at his home in East Grand Rapids. He was 96.
At the end, his family was with him. His last words to them were, "Wow, what a gang."
Schroeder came to Grand Rapids in 1950 after working in newspapers and radio.
He was the President and General Manager of WOOD TV8 and designed its news operation and programming starting in 1951. He ran the station until 1977.
His vision and imagination led him to become a respected broadcaster at both the state and national levels, as well as a respected community leader.
Schroeder donated his home and property to the city of East Grand Rapids to use as a park upon his death.
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. March 6 at the Kent Country Club.
In a statement, the Michigan Association of Broadcasters listed some of his accomplishments:
"During his life, Bill was named "Man of the Year" by both the United Fund and the Advertising Club of Grand Rapids. He served on the boards of the YMCA, Salvation Army, Red Cross, United Way, St. Mary's Hospital, Aquinas College, West Michigan Public Broadcasting and Kendall School of Design.
"In 2001, Bill Schroeder was honored by his fellow broadcasters with the MAB's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also a member of the MAB Foundation Founders Club which provides scholarships to deserving broadcast media students in Michigan. A scholarship fund in Bill's honor has been set up through the Michigan Association of Broadcasters."
24 Hour News 8's Suzanne Geha interviewed Mr. Schroeder last year. Below is her perspective of the man himself from her point of view.
The legacy of WOOD TV's pioneer, then and now
by Suzanne Geha
I spent hours going through the archives at WOOD TV8 following the death of a pioneer in television, a man who ran this station shortly after it signed on the air 60-years ago until he left in 1977. Willard Schroeder (pronounced shray-der) died Tuesday at his East Grand Rapids home. He was 96. His wife, Barbara, preceded him in death. Schroeder's four children were with him at his home. His daughter Chris told me his last words to them were, "Wow, what a gang."
Willard Schroeder created and developed live TV programming in West Michigan in the '50, '60s and '70s, innovated local TV news and set the standard for it, and guided the station through decades of technological wonders. He shepherded local TVs transition from black and white to color; from felt weather boards to radar; handwritten cue cards to teleprompter; film to videotape to microwave. He lived to see it go way beyond all of that to doppler radar and computers, satellite, digital, HDTV, and live streaming on the web. And he saw it go from one to three to hundreds of channels.
Of the early days, Schroeder said, "Nobody knew anything about television. You give it a shot and go with what you had." The hardest part, he said, was coming up with programming 18-hours a day, 7-days a week. "Early on, we decided to go live. We had some challenges as to what kind of programming. Anything goes," he remembered.
Much of his programming proved to be a big success. West Michigan audiences growing up in the 50's and 60's will remember Miss Jean and Romper Room, the Singing Cowboy Ray Overholt, Buck Barry and the Buckaroos, Captain Woody and his sidekick Sydney, Carol Duvall who could make anything out of everything, and the Buck Matthews Show.
Willard Schroeder was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1913 and graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism in 1934. He was a newsman at heart and an advertising man by skill and training. He started in the newspaper business eventually selling ad space. He made the move to radio sales and management, and then on to television. In 1951, he became General Manager of WOOD-TV. He knew, "If television as an invention could be perfected to the degree that it was convenient not only in your home but in the car, on an airplane, it had to be the number one communication device." He spent the prime of his life, 27-years at the helm of WOOD-TV ensuring just that. After television, he returned to radio, purchasing several stations including WOOD Radio in Grand Rapids. He eventually sold them.
Schroeder was a respected leader in a burgeoning industry. He was chairman and president of broadcasting's most influential national and state boards and associations. He also was a mover and shaker in the Grand Rapids community serving on hospital, college, and charitable boards.
As President and General Manager of WOOD-TV, Schroeder believed women could work in a man's world and hold their own, and he proved it. He was the first in this area to promote a woman to the most visible position in the community: prime time television news anchor. I didn't know at the time when Mr. Schroeder gave me the coveted job as anchor of WOOD-TV's 6pm and 11pm newscasts that