Dr. Leon Levy
Born on June 6, 1895, Broadcast Pioneers member Leon Levy and his brother Isaac (Ike) were founding members of this organization. Ike and his law partner, Daniel Murphy bought WCAU Radio for $25,000 in 1925. The next year, Leon bought Murphy out. Ike was a practicing attorney and Leon was licensed dentist. So both practiced their profession during the day and “played radio” at night. Yes, that’s right, WCAU Radio didn’t sign on the air until evening. Leon was granted his degree in dentistry during 1915 from the University of Pennsylvania. He practiced for a dozen years. Dr. Levy was president of the corporation that owned WCAU (Universal Broadcasting which later became WCAU Broadcasting) from 1928 until August 1, 1949.
Leon Levy was a naval lieutenant in the dental corp during the First World War and served as a consultant in radio for the Office of War Information from 1942 to 1945 during the second big war.
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.
It wasn’t until 1928 when the Paleys; Sam, Jacob (Sam’s brother who was sometimes called Jay) and William (Bill was Sam’s son) purchased a third interest in WCAU for $150,000 that the station went full-time. Now you may have heard of Bill Paley, the guy that built CBS. Well, the Levys were investors in CBS (so was Jay and Sam) and their station was the network’s first affiliate. Leon Levy married Sam Paley’s daughter, Blanche. The couple had two children, a son named Robert and a daughter called Lynne.
The Inquirer also reported that Levy “was a major contributor to medical and educational facilities here” in the Delaware Valley. He served on many board of directors in here the area.
Dr. Leon Levy
Levy was a past president and past chairman of the board of the Atlantic City Racing Association. Leon and the late John B. Kelly founded the association. Levy was also a director of the Thoroughbred Racing Association of North America. He loved horses and for decades was co-owner of Jaclyn Stables where he had many horses.
He was also a board director for the Robin Hood Dell, chairman of the board of Delaware Rover Terminals, Inc., a board of director member of the Yellow Cab Company of Philadelphia, Official Films, Inc. and a trustee of the Samuel Paley Foundation.
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 paper also said that it was Levy who talked Al Jolson to make his first radio appearance. 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.
From November of 1927 to September 14, 1977, Dr. Leon Levy was a senior director on the CBS Board of Directors. Levy was also one of the directors of the CBS Foundation. In January of 1939, Broadcasting Magazine reported that Dr. Levy owned 27,850 shares of CBS stock. In 1941, he owned 37,723 shares. Seventeen years later, the same publication showed Leon Levy's holding of CBS stock was 2.2% of the total stock. The larger stockholder in the company was Levy's brother-in-law, William Paley with 10.9% of the stock.
WCAU had applied for a VHF television license. In Spring of 1946, Dr. Levy announced that the station had redrawn its application in favor of applying for a UHF license that would work well with CBS' color system. That system was deemed to be not as good as the RCA system.
In 1954, Leon Levy and Associates considered purchasing the 45% interest in WTOP-TV in Washington, DC that was owned by CBS. That would have allowed the network to purchase an additional station. The sale never happened.
Leon Levy loved to take photographs and especially liked playing a set of tennis, often with his son, Robert.
Leon and his wife, Blanche donated a million dollars to the Albert Einstein Medical Center. He was on their board of directors. Dr. Levy also donated money to the University of Pennsylvania that included the Leon Levy Oral Health Center for Research. He held honorary degrees from Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Military College and Widener College, now Widener University.
The WCAU management team (including Dr. Levy) managed KYW Radio upon its move to Philadelphia in December of 1934. Their management lasted until 1936.
WCAU Radio was sold to the Philadelphia Record in 1946. In 1958, the station was purchased by CBS that the Levys and the Paleys held major interest.
On May 16, 1968, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia honored Dr. Leon Levy as our third "Person of the Year." In 1992, Leon Levy along with his brother, Isaac were inducted into our "Hall of Fame."
Leon Levy died on Wednesday, August 9, 1978 at his Philadelphia home located at 3250 West School House Lane. Leon and Blanche also owned a property in Palm Beach, Florida. At the time of his death, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Levy had been ill “for some time.”
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
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