Broadcast Pioneers member A. Eugene McCurdy, sometimes called affectionately "Gentleman Gene" lived in Doylestown. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia on November 18, 1999.
The son of Albert & Mary McCurdy, Gene was born in Moline, Illinois. After receiving his undergraduate degree in business administration from Grinnel College in Grinnel, Iowa, he studied for a graduate degree at the University of Minnesota.
During the Second World War, Gene enlisted in the United State Navy where he attended the Navy's V-12 program in South Carolina at Newberry College. Then he went to Midshipmen's School at Tower Hall in Chicago, where McCurdy received his commission as a Navy ensign. The next twelve months saw Gene serving as gunnery officer aboard the USS Phoenix, acruiser in the South Pacific. He saw action in the Philippines, Boreneo, the South China Sea and the Leyte Gulf.
Gene McCurdy began his career during 1946 in Minneapolis. He was a representative for Harcourt, Brace & Co., who were publishers. Then Gene represented The Englander Company based in Chicago. Eventually he transferred to Baltimore where he became their general manager.
He began his broadcasting career in Baltimore in 1956 at WBAL-TV as Sales Manager. Six years later, he came to Philadelphia where he served as local sales manager for WFIL-AM from 1962 to 1966. He left to become vice president and general manager of WRCP AM & FM, here in Philadelphia. He was there until 1968.
That same year, he returned to WFIL-TV as general sales manager/ Later became vice president and general manager. Gene remained with the new owners in that same position when Capital Cities purchased the station, giving it new call letters, WPVI-TV in 1971. Four years later, "Gentleman Gene" left Channel 6 to become president and general manager of WPHL-TV, Channel 17. He ran the Providence Journal-owned independent station for 13 years until his retirement during 1988.
For many years, Gene McCurdy was involved with many charitable causes. He was a member of the executive committee of the United Way; a board member of the Better Business Bureau; vice-chairman of the board for PAL (the Police Athletic League) ; president of the Philadelphia Kiwanis Club; a member of the Communications Group of the Fellowship Commission; on the board of the Crime Prevention League; and a communications lecturer at the Charles Morris Price School of Advertising and the Temple University School of Communications & Theater.
He was on the board of the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters for years and served them as president, receiving their Distinguished Service Award. He served as president of the Philadelphia Ad Club and the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia. From both organizations, he received the "Person of the Year" awards. He also was elected to be a member of Broadcast Pioneers' "Hall of Fame in 1999." For several years, he also served as president of the National Independent Television Association.
McCurdy served as Vice-President of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia and then in 1971-1972, he served a term as the organizations' President (our 10th). The above photo was taken during Gene's term as President. In 1988, McCurdy was our "Person of the Year."
Gene was an elder in the Presbyterian church and a member of the Doylestown Presbyterian Church. McCurdy was a member of both the Mercer and the Michener museums. In his retirement, Gene McCurdy served as a volunteer at the Doylestown Hospital as well as for "Meals on Wheels," where he also served on the board.
Gene loved traveling, which he and his wife had done extensively in the United States and abroad. He loved hiking, reading, golfing, and the Phils, but most importantly, his family.
Gentleman Gene and his wife, Nancy Miedke McCurdy were married for 62 years. The couple had three children. Gene McCurdy passed away on Monday, November 6, 2006 while a patient in the Doylestown Hospital. He was 82.
Broadcast Pioneers member Larry Kane said:
I learned late yesterday that Gene McCurdy had died. Gene was the Vice President and General Manager of WFIL TV, which became WPVI TV, and later the chief at WPHL TV. He was a broadcast legend who brought television into the modern era in Philadelphia, and was one of the most decent men I ever met.
Gene McCurdy was also the man, who along with Lew Klein, George Koehler and a news director named Mel Kampmann, who launched a new format in 1970 called Action News. A few months earlier, they gave the anchor job to a 26 year old reporter who had covered the news in Philadelphia for three years.
Yes, Gene was the man who gave me my chance to become anchor of Channel Six Action News. It was a risk to hire such a young man, but it worked out. Frankly, his decision changed my life, and his careful crafting of the Action News format, changed the way the news was done across the nation.
I owe him the chance he gave me and others, and I will always remember him for his service to our industry.
Broadcast Pioneers' Vice-President Diego Castellanos replied:
I was saddened by the news of Gene McCurdy's passing. Gene personally hired me in mid-1970 to produce and host a weekly TV talk show dealing with Hispanic issues and Latin culture.
He hired me despite the fact that I had no previous television experience and only limited radio experience. Then again, there were no Hispanics with TV experience in those days; and I think my print journalism clips convinced him I could exercise editorial judgment, would have a good sense of what might interest the viewing public, and could be trusted to conduct myself appropriately on the air.
In other words (my words) the powers that be would never have to worry about a guest or myself ever embarrassing the station. Once hired, I was given carte blanche regarding choice of topics as well as guests. Then my third guest called Frank Rizzo "a pig" on the air no less than 3 times in one segment. (So much for not embarrassing the station.) But Gene was unfazed and my TV experience survived. (By the way, that "offensive" guest is now a Philadelphia City councilman. Go figure!)
As in the ase of Larry Kane (my colleague and good buddy at Channel 6) I owe a lot to Gene and, of course, to many who followed him and helped me shape my craft, so to speak. But without McCurdy taking that first step, Puerto Rican Panorama would not have been. I will never forget him.
Broadcast Pioneers member Samuel Feinberg adds his comments:
When my wife showed me the obit on Gene McCurdy, I experienced a great feeling of sadness and nostalgia. I went to work for WFIL radio in 1962, a short time after Gene was hired as Sales Manager. I was slated to go into TV sales, since I had just left ZIV television, selling syndicated programing, and Clyde Spitzner, then in charge of overall sales at Triangle Broadcasting, suggested that I start in radio, and when an opening occurred in TV I would then move into that department. Clyde introduced me to Gene and after what I remember as a very cordial interview, I was hired.
I soon realized that working for Gene McCurdy was a wonderful experience, and working with a great sales staff was very gratifying. As I remember the staff consisted of John Barbieri, Jim Felix, Charlie Hoban, Gene Vassall and a very young Tom Monaghan. I liked working with Gene and when the opportunity came for me to move into WFIL TV, I decided not to make the move.
Gene’s sales meetings were a model of what a sales meeting should be. They started on time and Gene moved the meeting along while covering points that had to be made. The meetings were a model I used when I moved on to become GSM at the new Channel 17.
Gene and I made a couple of sales calls together. I particularly remember one on a snowy day somewhere in the western suburbs. I was driving a Saab at the time, and was sure the car could handle the snowy conditions. Much to my chagrin, we slid off the road. We were both unhurt, but Gene made a comment that I was trying to kill him.
Speaking of snow brings back another memory. One of the things that could really bug Gene was that people would use the snow as an excuse to come in late or not come in at all. He kept saying all you had to do was to get up a little earlier! I will miss him.
Broadcast Pioneers member Richard Kellman tells us:
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Gene McCurdy. My fondest recollection of Gene dates back to 1970 when WFIL-AM, FM & TV went their separate ways. I was working officially for AM and loved doing occasional TV pieces. I really wanted to be in TV, so one day I happened to walk past Gene's office and his door was open. On impulse, I walked in and said, "Y'know, Gene, I'd like to work for you." He thought for a moment and said, "Okay." And that was that.
Who knew that the obscure little company that bought the TV station, Capital Cities, would become today's broadcast giant? WFIL-TV became WPVI which launched the first Action News with Larry Kane, Joe Pellegrino and various rotating weathercasters and went on to make broadcasting history as one of the most successful local news brands ever. I had five exciting years as a reporter alongside Kane and the team, and in 1974 went to Buffalo where I just retired after 32 years anchoring and reporting for WGRZ-TV.
You've heard when one door closes, another one opens? I guess the lesson is, when it opens, you still have to walk through it. And the reason I acted on impulse in the first place might have been my assessment of the man, who I thought would be open to a new idea. Gene McCurdy opened a door to opportunity for me, and I'll always remember him for that and for the pleasure of knowing him.
Broadcast Pioneers member Tom Monaghan e-mailed:
Gene hired me on August 27, 1962. Even though my company has been bought and sold many times, I’m still there. Gene was the kindest of all the managers I’ve ever known. WFIL is no longer what it was in the sixties and seventies, but he was always there to help a young new salesman.
It was a sad day when I heard Gene passed away, but his family can always be proud of Gene. I was out of town at the time, but I know my brother Hugh Monaghan and his son, Hugh Monaghan, the Third, represented the Monaghan family at his memorial. I had won a sales contest of three and a half weeks in Europe with my wife and was reluctant to take the trip. Gene McCurdy convinced me to go on the trip. It’s a memory I will never forget.
It was a blessed day when Gene came into my life and so many others. He truly will be missed by all broadcasters. I’m just glad I got to sit with him at one of the luncheons just six months ago.
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
© 2000, 2006, All Rights Reserved
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