Broadcast Pioneers member George Applegate Koehler was inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia's "Hall of Fame" in 1994, along with Broadcast Pioneers member Larry Kane who George started on the road to success. In 1977, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia named George "Person of the Year."
In the early years of WFIL-TV, Channel 6 in Philadelphia, the station ran old British B movies because they were cheap. After all, Hollywood wouldn't sell TV anything good as they considered television to be competitors. The movies were bad and when the cost went up, the station didn't renew its contract. WFIL-TV's George Koehler was "pulling his hair out" trying to think of a replacement.
Koehler asked popular WFIL Radio DJ Bob Horn to transfer his successful radio program "Bandstand" to television. It would be a huge gamble. Horn in addition to his radio program was also host on Channel 6 of the "Parade of Stars," a forerunner of the Bandstand TV broadcast.
Koehler then became General Manager of the WFIL stations, AM, FM & TV in February of 1968. At the same time, he was appointed GM of the entire group of Triangle Publications' broadcast outlets, which operated 16 AM, FM and TV stations as well as several cable systems and a program production and sales company. He was with them for 27 years.
George Koehler told the Broadcast Pioneers that he joined WFIL in 1945, shortly after he got out of the US military. His first post was as a special events reporter. Broadcast Pioneers member Shelly Gross said in 2000 that before becoming general manager, Koehler was the Promotion Manager. He was there when WFIL-TV signed on the air on Saturday, September 13, 1947, the 13th television station in the United States.
Through successive promotions, he was directly involved in the management of virtually every department in the organization. After serving as director of news, publicity and special events, director of advertising and promotion, radio sales manager and executive assistant to the general manager of radio and television, he was appointed station manager of WFIL and WFIL-TV (Channel 6, Philadelphia) in 1955.
In September of 1969, Walter Annenberg who owned WFIL-TV, Channel 6, sold the station to Capital Cities. The other broadcast stations owned by Annenberg were sold for $16 million to two former WFIL employees, George Koehler, Broadcast Pioneers member Lew Klein and their majority partner, the Bergen (NJ) Evening Record.
In 1972, George became President of the newly formed Gateway Communications and then Vice-Chairman. Just the year before, in 1971, George was selected by TRAC, The Television and Radio Advertising Club as their "Man of the Year." Gateway owned WBNG-TV in Binghamton, NY; WTAJ-TV in Altoona/Johnstown, PA; and WLYH-TV, Lebanon-Lancaster, all CBS affiliates. Subsequently, Gateway purchased WOWK-TV in Charleston-Huntington, WV, which also became a CBS affiliate. In January of 1985, he retired from the business.
Throughout his years in broadcasting and in retirement, Koehler participated extensively in industry-related organizations and early on was an active spokesman for broadcasting in the television-cable controversy. Among his industry associations, he served as president of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters and as a director of the Industry's Television Bureau of Advertising. He was a member of the board of director of the ABC-TV Affiliates Association and later served as its chairman.
He served on the board of the Maximum Service Telecasters, was its secretary-treasurer, chairman and chairman emeritus. Active in civic affairs, Koehler served the United Fund as their Public Relations Chairman. He was on the board of governors of the Heart Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania and a director of the Salvation Army plus a director of Philadelphia's Better Business Bureau. He has worked for a number of other charitable organizations in the Delaware Valley area.
In 1960, he was the president of the Philadelphia Rotary Club (then the third largest in the world). Koehler also served as Host Club Chairman for the 1988 Rotary International Convention in Philadelphia. He has been an active Rotarian since April of 1953 and was a member of the Rotary Club of Woodstown, NJ.
George Koehler was the first World War II veteran to serve as commander of Thoirs Post, American Legion, in Camden, NJ. He was a member of the Union League in Philadelphia for four decades from 1964 until 2004.
He served on the board of trustees of Methodist Hospital in Philadelphia for 35 years and was, during part of that time, the board's vice-chairman and chairman. In 1992, he received the first annual Dr. Scott Stewart Award, presented on the occasion of the hospital's centennial celebration. Koehler was from 1980 to 1984, a director of the national United Methodist Communications Commission and also served on the board of Pennington School in New Jersey. George was, for eight years, chairman of the Official Board (later the Administrative Board) of the First United Methodist Church of Westmont, NJ. He also was a trustee of the Camden District and has served the southern New Jersey Conference in several capacities.
During the Second World War, Captain George Koehler, a B-17 (Flying Fortress) bomber pilot in the Army Air Corps (later the US Air Force) was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with five oak leaf clusters and the Distinguished Unit Citation for combat service with the Eighth Air Force in Europe, flying 33 missions, 19 of them as lead or deputy lead pilot of the squadron, group, wing or division. Back in this country, he served as a B-17 flight instructor at Lockbourne Air Base in Columbus, Ohio.
Koehler was a 1942 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and has been active in various alumni committees. Born in Philadelphia on Saturday, July 23, 1921, the only child of Herbert J. and Mildred Koehler, he grew up in Camden, NJ and later moved to Haddon Township with his wife, Jane, the former Jane Marie Caputi of Merchantville. The couple has two sons; Eric and Gary.
Jane passed away on April 13, 2006, after 62 years of marriage from a brief and unexpected illness. They were married during WWII in Tampa, Florida in a ten-minute church ceremony on February 20, 1944. Five weeks later, George was posted overseas with the Eighth Air Force.
In the Salem County area to which the Koehlers moved in 1986, Koehler served on the Salem County Mental Health Board, the county's Cultural and Heritage Commission, the board of directors of the Salem County Community College, as an elder in the Woodstown Presbyterian Church and as secretary of the Woodstown Beautification Committee. George had a home in Pilesgrove, NJ (Salem County) and a second residence in Avon, Ohio. George was a member of the Hardingville Bible Church in Monroeville, NJ.
Koehler was one of the brains behind the advent of "Action News." With WFIL-TV, he developed the format and title which is widely copied throughout the country today. The format and title first spread to all of the Triangle stations and many more across the nation. Koehler once said:
It's very carefully produced and carefully written. The last story was even backtimed - you start the music before the end of the story so they both end at the same time. ...You don't lose viewers, you drive them away.
When Klein & Koehler bought the Annenberg broadcast stations, they formed Gateway Communications. Thirty years later, they sold Gateway for a reported figure of over $200 million dollars.
He suffered a massive stroke on Saturday morning, July 4, 2009 at 6:30 am. He died the next day at Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware.
Dick Mendenhall, a member of the Broadcast Pioneers and a former colleague at Channel 6 said:
George was one of my favorite people. We had kept in regular touch over the years. Had tried to reach him via phone and email a few times over the past few months with no response. Never knew whether he was home in New Jersey or with family in Ohio.
George was in the Army Air Corps. Broadcast Pioneers member Jack Hyland was in the Infantry. They used to joke about which one won the war first.
Joel Albert, a member of the Broadcast Pioneers and a co-worker at WFIL, e-mailed:
Koehler was a pretty nice guy. At the recommendation of then News Director, Les Crystal, he hired me to do radio news. George said he wanted me to sound like his favorite radio newscaster, Paul Harvey. George, a former radio news guy himself, did a little imitation of Harvey during the hiring interview. I said I thought I could do that. What did I know - no one could be Paul Harvey but Harvey himself. I tried but didn't measure up and later, found myself on the TV news side of WFIL as assistant news director, not a would be Paul Harvey. George flattered me by drawing up my first employment contract at a whopping $9,600 a year - within sight of my goal of earning 10 grand.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
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