Broadcast Pioneers founding member Isaac (Ike) D. Levy had a wonderful career. First, he was a lawyer. Late in 1924, Ike and his law partner, Daniel Murphy entered into an agreement to buy WCAU Radio for $25,000. The sale was approved early in 1925. The next year, Levy’s brother, Dr. Leon Levy (an area dentist) bought out Murphy’s share in the station.
For a few years, both Isaac and his brother Leon practiced their craft (of attorney and dentist) during the day and “played radio” in the evening. WCAU didn’t sign on the air until night at that time. Only when the Paleys (Sam, Jacob and Bill) purchased a one-third interest in the station for $150,000 did the Levys take the station full-time.
Throughout the years, the part of Murphy being co-owner had been left out of the story. Why? We’re not sure. Maybe to just condense the story. However, we have confirmed that Daniel Murphy was co-owner of WCAU for a year and a half before being bought out by Dr. Leon Levy. Leon became president and Ike was Vice-President and General Counsel.
The Levys took WCAU Radio from a small radio station not even heard in all parts of the city to a 50,000-watt clear channel heard on the entire east coast of the United States. Ike was Vice-President and General Counsel for WCAU. Later, he became WCAU's Chairman of the Board.
In 1927, Ike invested in the bankrupt UIB radio network (United Independent Broadcasters). He and others turned it into the CBS Radio Network. He was the second largest stockholder in the network until he sold his interests in 1952. In 1939, Isaac owned 64,200 shares of CBS stock with another similar amount owned beneficially. Only Bill Paley owned more CBS stock at that time.
According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article (but not independently confirmed), WCAU Radio was the first station in the nation to broadcast major-league baseball games. WCAU was the first radio station to sign a contract with a major wire service, United Press. The article also said that the Children’s Hour was the first broadcast in the nation (October 1927) of live entertainment before a live audience.
WCAU Radio was the first station to build a building exclusively for broadcasting (although other floors in the structure were rented to non-broadcast companies). The building opened officially in February of 1933.
The WCAU management team (including Ike Levy) managed KYW Radio upon its move to Philadelphia in December of 1934. Their management lasted until 1936. In 1946, the station was sold to the Philadelphia Record. When the newspaper closed down, it was transferred to the Evening Bulletin. Leon and Ike Levy stayed on to management the company for three years and left in 1949.
Ike built the Franklin Court Motor Inn and was co-founder of the Atlantic City Race Track. He also served on the board of directors of the Yellow Cab Company of Philadelphia for decades. Levy wanted everyone to call him Ike, not Isaac. His mother was widowed at an early age and worked to put Ike through school to get his law degree. Because of this, Levy had a reputation of dropping everything and defending a poor widow for no fee. That’s the kind of guy he was. Ike was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Law School in 1913.
Ike was buddies with John Kelly, Sr. He and Kelly would travel everywhere looking for a good game of poker. He supposedly liked high-stake games. There are stories of him losing $75,000 in one game.
In 1942, Ike became co-chairman of the local March of Dimes campaign of the National Infantile Paralysis Foundation (later legally known simply as the March of Dimes. In the late forties, Ike Levy served as Chairman of the Community Chest’s Red Feather Rally Committee.
Ike owned a mansion in Germantown, then a large ranch house and then moved to the Philadelphian. Ike loved stars. He would often entertain him in his home. He and his wife, Reta, were supposed to be the host of the wedding between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. The press found out the location and only hours before the wedding, it was moved to Lester and Elsie Sacks' place nearby at the suggestion of Lester's brother, Manie Sacks.
Ike Levy was one of the main backers of “The Playhouse in the Park.” He tried to bring culture to the television screen (like operas) and met with not much success. Levy had gathered by the best collection in the United States of the works of Robert Ingersoll, a 19th century agnostic and attorney. In 1958, Ike donated them to Georgetown University.
By the mid-fifties, Ike had left broadcasting to devote much of his time to civic affairs. He particularly favored the Fairmount Park Commission, on which he served from 1949 to 1975. Levy was a large part of an effort to keep the aquarium in the city. He formed the Aquarama Company to run the facility in South Philly. Eventually, he efforts would fail.
In 1992, Ike Levy along with his brother, Leon were inducted into our "Hall of Fame." Both were founding members of this organization.
Ike Levy died on November 29, 1975 in his apartment. He passed away after a yearlong illness. Ike was married to the former Rita Kaplan. They had two children, Richard and Ann. Ike’s brother was Dr. Leon Levy.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers historian Gerry Wilkinson
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