A Tribute to John Roberts!

Member John Roberts passed away from a spinal infection on March 8, 2012 at the Ryder Park Medical Center and Retirement Facility. His wife told us that he was 91 years old. John was an emeritus member of our Board of Directors at the time of his death.


Some broadcasters in Philadelphia know Broadcast Pioneers member John B. Roberts as their communications professor at Temple University. Others think of him as the weekend TV anchor for Channel 6 (WFIL-TV) for decades (1948 to 1972). Still others remember him from his radio news anchor duties on WFIL Radio in the forties, fifties and sixties.

He was born on June 2, 1920 in Poughkeepsie, New York, according to his wife, Agnes. He went to high school in Long Branch, New Jersey. Roberts received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from New York University in 1940 and the next year earned his Masters Degree at the State University of Iowa. His Thesis' topic was "The Speech Philosophy of Clarence Darrow." Roberts also holds two honorary doctorate degrees.

He joined the teaching staff at Temple University in 1946 and taught there for 42 years (until 1988). Previous to that, he taught at the University of Maine and was an United States Naval broadcaster during the Second World War. It has been reported many times that his IQ was in the "genius" range.

John was one of the co-founders of WHYY Radio (1954) and WHYY-TV (1957) and the School of Communications and Theater at Temple University (1967). He was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers' Hall of Fame in 1996 and was our Person of the Year in 1987. Roberts was President of this organization during 1992 through 1994 and our Chairman of the Board from 1994 to 1996. He had served on our board of directors for a quarter of a century.

John was also the founder of the Radio-TV department at Temple (1947) and the founder of WRTI, Temple's AM carrier current radio station (1948). Five years later, WRTI-FM came on the air. Roberts was also the founder of that.

John Roberts was the weekend anchor on WFIL-TV & WPVI-TV (Channel 6) from 1952 to 1972. He also did radio news work on WFIL Radio for decades. John did do TV work on Channel 6 prior to 1952 but that work was free-lance. His earliest television appearance was in 1948. During the late sixties, he was the President of the Delaware Valley Citizens Council for Clean Air.

Member Robert Smith was Dean at the time of John's retirement from Temple. His was also the 23rd President and 23rd Chairman of the Board of this organization. Of Roberts, Smith said in 1988 that John made "an incalculable contribution to his profession and to education. The alumni who studied with John are working in networks and in major radio and television stations across the country."

In 1998, John told Gerry Wilkinson (who is our current Chairman of the Board) that he had kept files on all of his former students. When he would hear that one of students got a job or promotion, he entered it into a 3x5 card filing system. It is not known whether those files exist today.


(Left to right) John B. Roberts & Jim Gallant


John B. Roberts

The picture on the left shows John Roberts & Jim Gallant in a shot from 1949. They were anchors for election night coverage long before the word "anchor" came into use. Note that the coverage was sponsored by Prestone Anti-Freeze. On the right, the picture shows John at the tally board on the Presidential Elections of 1952. By then, news was a big thing in local broadcasting. Seven years later (below), three newsmen. News was huge.

(left to right) Gunnar Back, Bill Green, Jr., John Roberts and Allen Stone
WFIL-TV, Channel 6, Philadelphia
Tuesday, November 3, 1959


John B. Roberts
circa 1953

Note that this helicopter says WFIL AM-TV. While WFIL owned an FM station at the time, it was not an important player in the Philly market. Riding in the passenger seat is WFIL Newscaster (and a professor at Temple University) John Roberts. John told us that the helicopter idea was that of Roger Clipp, Vice-President and General Manager of the station. While it did serve all of the WFIL stations, it was more of a publicity stint, said Roberts.


John B. Roberts

John said that it was sent to him by a viewer who took it off the air from a television set. We have in our archive, a clip of John Roberts doing a Saturday evening newscast on WFIL-TV, Channel 6 in Philadelphia. The date is Saturday, March 19, 1966.

While this is from a television broadcast, we only have audio. There are two segments. They are separated by a second of dead air. We often hear from people that we should upload the entire newscast. Sadly, what we have here is all that is known to exist today from that cast.

Listen in Real Audio!
Listen in Windows Media!

(Left to right) Romulo Soldevilla, instructor; John Roberts, director of Radio-TV; Armand Hunter, department chairman and David Davis, graduate student and later instructor. Photo dates from the late forties and was taken at the basement studios (in Thomas Hall) of WRTI on the campus of Temple University

John B. Roberts
circa 1952

The above photo shows John Roberts on the set at WFIL-TV where he was waiting to conduct a TV interview. The shows at that time were live.



In 1991, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, then a chapter of the National Broadcast Pioneers, recorded 7 Oral History interviews. These were part of a national project. On Thursday, September 19, 1991, a former president of our organization, Dr. Marguerite Farley recorded an interview with John B. Roberts, former professor in Radio-TV-Film at Temple University and former weekend news anchor for Channel 6. It was recorded at John's home in Wyndmoor, PA. It runs over an hour and a half in length.

There are things in this interview that most of us didn't know about John. Like he was going to be the GOP candidate for City Controller until the Republicans found out that John was a registered Democrat.

Also, When John Daly left ABC-TV as their evening news anchor, the job was offered to John Roberts who thought about it and decided to stay in Philadelphia and continue teaching at Temple University. ABC Television's loss was Philadelphia's gain.

With all this said, we now offer you this Oral History interview with John B. Roberts from over two decades ago.

Listen to John Roberts!

At our January 1998 luncheon, part of the program was John Roberts talking about the early days of WRTI.

Watch in Real Video!
Watch in Windows Media!


Thomas Hall was, for years, the home of Temple's radio station, WRTI. Just days before the building was demolished, a group of former Roberts' students met on campus for one last visit to the old digs of the radio station. That's where this photo (below) was taken by Elliott Paul, a former Roberts' student.

(Left to right) Gerry Wilkinson, John B. Roberts and Michael Muderick
Basement of Temple University's Thomas Hall
June 30, 1998

On July 10, 1993, WRTI -FM observed its 40th Anniversary. In addition to conducting a pledge drive, the station invited back several alumni of the station. Between 2 and 3 p.m., the station's on-air guests were retired professor John B. Roberts, the founder of WRTI; Jerry Klein (SCAT '70), the last student station manager of WRTI-FM before it went all-jazz; and Michael Muderick (SCAT '68), a former WRTI-FM staffer and technical director. The interview was conducted by Ted Eldredge. Ted now lives in Florida but is still a member of Broadcast Pioneers as is Michael Muderick. A year after this interview, Roberts became the 30th President of Broadcast Pioneers. Sixteen years later, Jerry Klein followed in John's footsteps by becoming the organization's 39th President. Presented below is part of the WRTI broadcast.

Listen to John Roberts!


A Temple University PR piece issued on October 19, 1978, said:

In describing John B. Roberts, professor of communications and the initial mover and shaker of the department, Dr. (Gordon) Gray (a member of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia) called him, 'the Grand Old Man of the department, with emphasis on the Grand...." Talking about the beginnings of WRTI, it said, "There were no facilities on campus that were not being used. The only place available was the basement of Thomas Hall. It didn't have any windows and no one else wanted it...

So that became the home of the department's studios...," commented the veteran broadcaster (referring to Roberts). When this building (Annenberg Hall) was designed, it was not designed to be a school, it was to be a communication center for people in broadcasting, journalism, film and theater. "I got the idea for a building, drew up the initial blueprints for it and took them to the dean, who approved them.

"I had worked with Walter Annenberg for 25 years and knew he was interested in giving money, and to top things off Walter liked me," added Mr. Roberts. Eventually the State gave the building and Walter Annenberg equipped it. Mr. Roberts was asked to design the interior of the building and to select all of the equipment...."

From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
© 2012, Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
All Rights Reserved

The e-mail address of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is pioneers@broadcastpioneers.com