Edward H. Elias was born on February 1, 1931 in Kearney, New Jersey to Herman and Sophie Elias. At age 4, the family moved to the Olney section of Philadelphia. An only child, from a very young age, Ed showed a great inquisitiveness not only for tinkering but in radio - both broadcast radio and ham radio - followed by the advent of another burgeoning technological phenomenon - television.
While still in high school, Ed began his broadcasting career in radio at WTEL, a foreign language station, where his duties involved daily listening to insure the station was on the air and broadcasting. It was during his high school days that he not only began his involvement with amateur radio but when his interest in television came to the forefront. According to his lifelong friend, Ed Plews, “I remember one day after school Eddie told me I had to come to his house. He had something to show me. Well, I went over and we went up to his room and sitting there was a TV set. Eddie had built a tv set. It became out daily ritual of running to the Eliases to watch TV.”
On graduating Olney School in 1948, Ed matriculated to Temple University School of Engineering, graduating in 1951. A strong believer in the power of networking and never knowing from where a life connection will come as “connections certainly make things easier,” while at Temple, one of Ed’s instructors was Broadcast Pioneers member Irv Ross, who was also Engineering Supervisor at WFIL-TV. On graduation, Ed applied to WFIL and as he described it, on their receiving his application, Irv Ross said, “Great. We got a place for you.”
In 1952, Ed took a short leave from WFIL, joining the Army. He quickly found himself stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, in the SigC Mobile TV Section. In addition to regular military training, Ed was involved in not only making training films but in training officers on radio and TV communications. While at Fort Benning, Ed was also doing engineering work at local Columbus radio station WDAK, helping the station add television to its broadcasting compliment. It was there that he met his future wife, Lois, who worked for station owner Alan Woodall.
Married in 1954, Ed returned to Philadelphia and his job at WFIL. Doing whatever needed to be done, Ed proved to be multi-faceted in his technical skills, knowledge and adaptability doing camera work and engineering both in studio and on location from parades to news to sporting events to “Bandstand” and popular kid shows like “Happy the Clown” and “Sally Starr.” In 1958, while Ed was on location with Bill Webber doing “Bandwagon,” Lois gave birth to their daughter, Debbie Lynn. Bill Webber had the pleasure of announcing on air to Ed that he was a father. The following year in 1959, their son, Edward was born, also while Ed was working. So devoted to his work that holiday celebrations were now scheduled around the WFIL programing schedule. In 1961, son Robert joined the clan while Ed was working a Phillies game. 1964 saw not only the move of WFIL from 46 th & Market Streets to 4100 City Line Avenue, but also the birth of Ed’s youngest, Pattie.
As the years passed and technology advanced, so did Ed. Moving up in the ranks while gaining valuable knowledge with the cutting edge of broadcasting and computer technology, Ed was always happiest in his Engineering Lab. While many over the years believed that technology would replace the need for engineers, Ed disputed same, saying, “You always need the engineers. People don’t always think so. But it’s an evil necessity, I guess.”
Often described by his colleagues and peers as “the calm in the eye of the storm,” Ed became as much of an institution in broadcasting as WFIL/WPVI itself. Surviving and flourishing through multiple general managers, corporate changes from Triangle Publications to Capital Cities Broadcasting to Cap Cities buy of ABC and then Disney’s buy of ABC, at one point when Ed expressed the thought of possible retirement, then ABC CEO, Michael Eisner, told him emphatically “no,” a sentiment that was echoed by current Disney-ABC CEO, Bob Eisner, at the dedication of the new WPVI building in September 2009, telling Ed, “I’ll see you for your 60th anniversary.”
Ed is the only person to have worked at the last three facilities for WFIL/WPVI television - 46th & Market Streets, the iconic “round” building at 4100 City Line Avenue and the newest construction also bearing the 4100 City Line Avenue address, the latter of which he helped construct. Through his career, he saw it all. From single camera black and white cameras to color and then on to high-def and digital. Nothing phased him and he embraced it all.
A lifetime member of the American Radio Relay League, Ed maintained advanced radio licensing throughout his life. During his Army stint at Fort Benning, Ed also became a a member of the Military Amateur Radio System (M.A.R.S.), now known as Military Auxilary Radio System, a civilian auxiliary of licensed amateur radio operations who assist the military not only with the handling of “Marsgrams” messages and phone patches for overseas servicemen to phone home, but also in aiding with military and emergency communications with FEMA, Homeland Security and other state and local agencies. Ed took his duty as a “Martian” to heart, aiding servicemen and the military not only during Korea, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, Viet Nam, the Gulf War and more recently Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the U.S. invasion of Grenada, the Bay of Pigs and other escalating conflicts the world over, even participating in what would be his final Sunday night MARS check-in on March 21, 2010.
A longtime member of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, Ed believed in the importance of broadcasting history and in its preservation. Working with the Pioneers, Ed had already begun providing his own archival broadcasting materials from radio and television for digital preservation, something that will be continued by his children. He was also a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers.
Survived by his children, Debbie, Ed, Bob and Pattie, and his grandchildren, Matthew, Mark, Edward and Tommy, he has left a rich legacy not only in broadcasting, but in life. His son Ed is a broadcast engineer at WPHL. His son Bob, a computer design specialist, is an ARRL member. His daughter, Debbie, a journalist and film critic, is also involved in film production and film preservation. His daughter Pattie echoes Ed’s well known frugality. As for the next generation, grandson Edward is already showing great interest in what his father and grandfather do.
As Ed himself so eloquently stated at the 2004 Symposium hosted by the Broadcast Pioneers, “I’m very pleased to have been in the business or, in the business. I wouldn’t give it up. I’m the one that’s anxious to get to work. I’m always looking forward in my mind to what’s going to happen the next day, what I want to work on or what needs to be done. It’s a good field.”
On Friday, Novmber 19, 2010, Ed Elias was posthumously inducted into the Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Bio originally donated by Ed Elias' daughter, Debbie
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