GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Willard Schroeder, who ran WOOD TV8 from near itsbeginning until the 1970s, died Tuesday at his home in East GrandRapids. He was 96.
At the end, his family was with him. His last words to themwere, "Wow, what a gang."
Schroeder came to Grand Rapids in 1950 after working innewspapers and radio.
He was the President and General Manager of WOOD TV8 anddesigned its news operation and programming starting in 1951. Heran the station until 1977.
His vision and imagination led him to become a respectedbroadcaster at both the state and national levels, as well as arespected community leader.
Schroeder donated his home and property to the city of EastGrand Rapids to use as a park upon his death.
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. March 6 atthe 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 theUnited Fund and the Advertising Club of Grand Rapids. He served onthe boards of the YMCA, Salvation Army, Red Cross, United Way, St.Mary's Hospital, Aquinas College, West Michigan Public Broadcastingand Kendall School of Design.
"In 2001, Bill Schroeder was honored by his fellowbroadcasters with the MAB's prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.He was also a member of the MAB Foundation Founders Club whichprovides scholarships to deserving broadcast media students inMichigan. 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 lastyear. Below is her perspective of the man himself from her point ofview.
The legacy of WOOD TV's pioneer, then and now
by Suzanne Geha
I spent hours going through the archives at WOOD TV8following the death of a pioneer in television, a man who ran thisstation shortly after it signed on the air 60-years ago until heleft in 1977. Willard Schroeder (pronounced shray-der) died Tuesdayat his East Grand Rapids home. He was 96. His wife, Barbara,preceded him in death. Schroeder's four children were with him athis home. His daughter Chris told me his last words to them were,"Wow, what a gang."
Willard Schroeder created and developed live TV programmingin West Michigan in the '50, '60s and '70s, innovated local TV newsand set the standard for it, and guided the station through decadesof technological wonders. He shepherded local TVs transition fromblack and white to color; from felt weather boards to radar;handwritten cue cards to teleprompter; film to videotape tomicrowave. He lived to see it go way beyond all of that to dopplerradar and computers, satellite, digital, HDTV, and live streamingon the web. And he saw it go from one to three to hundreds ofchannels.
Of the early days, Schroeder said, "Nobody knew anything abouttelevision. You give it a shot and go with what you had." Thehardest part, he said, was coming up with programming 18-hours aday, 7-days a week. "Early on, we decided to go live. We had somechallenges as to what kind of programming. Anything goes," heremembered.
Much of his programming proved to be a big success. WestMichigan audiences growing up in the 50's and 60's will rememberMiss Jean and Romper Room, the Singing Cowboy Ray Overholt, BuckBarry and the Buckaroos, Captain Woody and his sidekick Sydney,Carol Duvall who could make anything out of everything, and theBuck Matthews Show.
Willard Schroeder was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1913 andgraduated from the Missouri School of Journalism in 1934. He was anewsman at heart and an advertising man by skill and training. Hestarted in the newspaper business eventually selling ad space. Hemade the move to radio sales and management, and then on totelevision. In 1951, he became General Manager of WOOD-TV. He knew,"If television as an invention could be perfected to the degreethat it was convenient not only in your home but in the car, on anairplane, it had to be the number one communication device." Hespent the prime of his life, 27-years at the helm of WOOD-TVensuring 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. Hewas chairman and president of broadcasting's most influentialnational and state boards and associations. He also was a mover andshaker in the Grand Rapids community serving on hospital, college,and charitable boards.
As President and General Manager of WOOD-TV, Schroeder believedwomen could work in a man's world and hold their own, and he provedit. He was the first in this area to promote a woman to the mostvisible position in the community: prime time television newsanchor. I didn't know at the time when Mr. Schroeder gave me thecoveted job as anchor of WOOD-TV's 6pm and 11pm newscasts that hewas such a strong supporter of women. His wife, Barbara, was anintelligent, spirited, impressive woman who in her early daysworked as a radio producer. One of their daughters, ChristineWoodward Duncan, became a broadcaster as well following in herfather's footsteps managing stations.
I interviewed my former boss, Willard Schroeder, just over ayear ago. He was in declining health and I told him I wanted totalk with him for posterity, to preserve on videotape hisrecollections of those revolutionary days in television. He told mehe piloted his plane until the age of 89 and rode his bike until90. He was donating his home in East Grand Rapids to the city. Uponhis death, his house is to be razed and the expansive property usedas a park.
Mr. Schroeder, as I always called him even when he told me tocall him Bill, confided in me, "I miss WOOD-TV. I never had so muchfun in my life." It was so much fun working for him. He wasrespectful of his employees and supportive, generous to us, and hethrew great company parties always including our spouses and ourchildren.
Willard Schroeder was handsome, physically fit, had a quickwit and comfortable way about him. Every Monday, for the past manyyears, he would have lunch with a group of his peers, people likeentrepreneurs Fred Meijer and Peter Cook. They call themselves TheImprovement Association.
As I was combing through WOOD-TV memorabilia files on Mr.Schroeder, I came across a speech he wrote nearly 50-years ago. Itdescribed his management style: "Make it clear to the fellowworking for you that you expect him to make quite a few mistakes aswell as right moves. When he makes an honest mistake, back him upfully. When he does something right, give him credit for it. Somepeople describe this philosophy categorically as offering loyaltyto your employees. I think that's right; I also think it's the onlyway you can expect to get, in turn, the loyalty from them you wantand need."
What an amazing man. What an incredible boss. All the yearsWillard Schroeder ran WOOD-TV, the station was number one in theratings, hugely successful in revenues, prestigious in thecommunity, and revered by so many of us who worked here. It's nowonder. Willard Schroeder wasn't afraid to chart a new course, toexperiment and take chances, to be bold with content andtechnology. He was a pioneer in so many ways -- just what theindustry needed then and what it still needs now.
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