Member Ed Eisen
Broadcast Pioneers Luncheon
Bala Golf Club, Philadelphia
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Broadcast Pioneers member Ed Eisen’s career in communications spans 52 years. He worked in radio, television, and pubic relations. He was a top 40 DJ, a TV producer, booth announcer, career counselor and read books for the blind. He was the first person of the Jewish faith chosen to represent two popes during the 41 International Eucharistic Congress.
In 1975, he met and ate chicken soup with Mother Teresa at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. On another occasion, boxing champ Joe Frazier autographed his glove, scrawling the words: To Ed Eisen, Boogie, Boogie. Joe Frazier. The glove sits in a treasured spot in Eisens' library.
As a PR consultant, Eisen was involved in an international manhunt for the wife and two daughters of prominent banker Bipin Shah. When the story hit the airwaves and made headlines around the world, including the front cover of TIME Magazine, Shah’s family was recovered in Luzerne, Switzerland.
As a reporter for three major metros – The Philadelphia Inquirer, the former Philadelphia Bulletin and The Fort Lauderdale News, Eisen had a front-row seat to history. Two years before the assassination of Martin Luther King, he interviewed the civil rights leader at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Philadelphia.
He wrote a year-long series in The Inquirer that led to the closing of Pennhurst State School and Hospital, a warehouse for the mentally retarded. Another investigative piece he penned for The Inquirer ultimately shuttered another Philadelphia area embarrassment: Byberry. But it took 20 years for a governor to act.
Ed was there when Ted Kennedy stepped out of a limo in upstate Pennsylvania to attend the funeral of Mary Joe Kopechne. She drowned in a car accident over a bridge at Martha's Vineyard. The late Sen. Kennedy was at the wheel.
Eisen was there 30 years before 9/11 to test the security at the Federal Courthouse in Philadelphia after a bomb went off at the Pentagon in 1971. Hidden in his briefcase was a ticking clock. The security system failed.
He is the recipient of a number of journalism awards, top among them was a Freedoms Foundation Award for an article written in 1957. It was titled, “My Job: Protecting America’s Freedoms.” The piece was written while Ed was stationed in Karlsruhe, Germany with the 7th U.S. Army. Ed is also the author of a book subtitled: Soul for Sale. The memoir cautions young people seeking careers in high paying jobs to think twice before going for the gold. “You may regret that decision,” he warns. “Go for what makes you want to get up in the morning and run to work. I did. And I never looked back," he says. The book is available for free on the Internet.
At 77, Eisen is retired and lives with his wife, Marion, in Abington Township, PA. But he has not abandoned one of the guiding principals of his life: Give Back. That message would not fit on his license plate. So he shortened a letter to read: Give-Bak. He does that now through service to charitable organizations seeking to better define their message.
Ed is editor for this organization's newsletter. Broadcast Pioneers supports scholarships for students seeking careers in broadcast radio and TV. He also serves as a board member of the organization.
He has worked over a years as a book reader for the blind and dyslexic. He created a job counseling service to help immigrants find work. And for 20 years, served as an ESL instructor for Russian immigrants. He is also a member of the Jenkintown Rotary Club.
Ed Eisen wrote this about his career.
What most of us read in newspapers or watch on TV — in time becomes — history. Yet some of us over the years have had the remarkable good fortune of recording that history. And so it was with me. For 52 years I had a front-row seat to many of the events that school kids read in their textbooks … even today. Yet I wore many hats to get there. I was an investigative reporter, a business writer, a broadcaster, an editor and a public relations consultant. In the final 28 years of my career people paid me to get them into The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine or onto the evening news.
My grandson when he was 9 liked to ask: “But Grandpop did you cover anyone famous?” Of course, 15 minutes in the sun is fleeting. Those who were famous back then are often forgotten in the dust heap of history. But perhaps you’ll recognize some of these names:
Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, President Gerald Ford, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King, boxing champ Joe Frazier, comic Jackie Gleason, Mayor Frank Rizzo, Leo Held, the mass murderer of Lock Haven and the list goes on. So what do I remember and what were the lessons I learned?
Well, I remember Mother Teresa, the sainted nun of Calcutta who came to Philadelphia to break bread with me a year before the 41st International Eucharistic Congress brought two million pilgrims to Philadelphia. “The greatest poverty to me is the terrible hurt of loneliness,” she said quietly. “There are thousands of people right here who are forgotten, unwanted, hungry for love. Love them.” That was her message.
I met the Rev. Martin Luther King in Philadelphia two years before he was gunned down in Memphis..His message: ”Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but the means by which we arrive at that goal.”
Boxing champ Joe Frazier autographed his glove and handed it to me. He scrawled the words: “To Ed Eisen. Boogie Boogie. Fox Frazier.”
Ted Kennedy was alighting from a car wearing a neck brace. He had come to attend the funeral of his secretary who died when he drove his car off a bridge in Martha’s Vineyard. He head was bowed, solemn. He said nothing to me but our picture wound up in Life Magazine on August 1, 1968.
Jackie Gleason ordered me off the stage of the Biltmore Hotel in Palm Beach when my camera misfired three times. “Get outa here!” he yelled. “Can’t your paper give you a camera that works?”
And Chuck Reynolds at the Atlantic City Press fired me when after three months. I could not catch onto the company’s computer system. “I’m sorry, Ed. We’re going to have to let you go. I’m sure you’ll find something else in life at which you can be successful.” At age 48 that was my last hurrah in the news business, after a successful 15-year run at The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Bulletin and the Ft. Lauderdale News.
Down and depressed for three days, I recovered and reinvented myself. I emerged going from a $28,000 annual salary in 1982 to five times that income as the go-to-guy for law firms, banks, insurance companies and more who engaged me as their ticket to media visibility. Lessons learned:
. Life isn't fair, but it's still good.
. When in doubt just take the next small step.
. Your job won't take care of you when you’re sick. Your friends and family will.
. Time heals almost everything. Give time, time.
Here's a question and answer section about Ed Eisen's career:
Q: How did a Jewish kid from Brooklyn wind up as the PR guy for Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI?
A: Gray and Rogers, one of the largest advertising agencies in the region had just hired a former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter to join its public relations staff. I was the only person of the Jewish faith at a largely all Catholic advertising agency, a major contributor to Catholic charities. The announcement was made by the Vatican that the 41st International Eucharistic Congress would be held in Philadelphia during the Bicentennial year. The Vatican sought bids from companies whose mission it would be to promote the international gathering of church leaders. Gray & Rogers won the bidding contest over scores of other competitors. The Vice President of PR at the agency selected me to head what would become largely a media relations and events producing project to head the effort. Wisely, they respected my journalism credits vs. my religious affiliation. The irony of the story is that it was not me — but my boss — who got to meet Pope Paul VI in Rome. The closet I ever got to the pope was from the press box in the bleachers at Veterans Stadium.
Q: How did you wind up as a journalist?
A: When I was 18 my dad — who worked across the street from the Philadelphia Inquirer — asked me to join him in a business his boss offered to sell. The company was called City Cleaning Co. based at 401 N. Broad Street. I was in my freshman year at Temple University. Sadly, my Dad, a Polish immigrant with a sixth grade education, had been mopping floors all his life. That’s all he knew. And he needed my facility with English to help him find new business. Well, sadly, Pop never got to buy City Cleaning Co. The reason: I told the old man that my passion was not in sales and marketing but in journalism. I broke his heart. And the rest is history.
Q: How was your job as publicist for boxing champ Joe Frazier different from your job as a business writer with The Philadelphia Bulletin?
A: As different as night is from day. When I was promoting Joe Frazier I was working for Gray & Rogers as a publicist. Our new client was Germantown Savings Bank. The bank wanted to promote a new concept: Pay-By-Phone. In the Philadelphia area GSB became the first bank to offer customers the ability to pay their bills — phone bills, utility bills,etc. by punching numbers on your telephone, much like you pay your bills online today. To promote Pay-By-Phone we hired Joe Frazier to appear in advertising punching out a telephone.And I wrote stories about it that appeared in the media around the country. The gimmick worked and pay-by-phone was a run-away success for years. So there is no confusion, the job of a publicist vs. the job of a journalist is vastly different. You could differentiate the two this way: The job of the PR consultant — like a lawyer — is to present the best case for his or her client, to achieve the maximum exposure with the least negativity. The job of most journalists — unless you’re writing editorials — is to present the news in an unbiased fashion. That is to present both sides of an argument in your presentation. The publicist is largely a spin doctor who is paid to get his client’s story into the media. The journalist is paid by his newspaper or broadcast operation to present fairly — without bias — both sides of a story.
Q: Newspapers — like the horse and buggy —are disappearing. If you had it to do all over again, would you have still entered the field?
A: I spent 15 years of my career in print journalism and eight in broadcasting. I don’t regret having left broadcasting for a full-time job in journalism. The world of broadcasting, I found was too unstable. Here today, gone the next. Yet, today work in print journalism is becoming more and more skittish as newspapers are folding. Yet opportunities, of course, are opening on the Internet. As a newspaper guy I found that my curiosity about people and human events could be satisfied. Basically, I’m a people person. What I hated about public relations is that the media too often characterize those in the field as spin doctors, not always telling the truth. So, if I had it to do all over again, I would have become a psychologist. I like to help people. But I would always continue to write.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Bob Kravitz
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