Gordon Greb, professor emeritus of San Jose State University, entered radio in 1934. Active for more than sixty years in broadcasting, he is one the oldest radio and television pioneers of Northern California’s Broadcast Legends organization.
His career took him from radio and television in San Francisco, Oakland, San Rafael and San Jose to Hollywood, Washington, D.C., London, and Beijing. Greb completed his B.A. at the University of California at Berkeley, M.A. at the University of Minnesota, and Ph.D. candidacy at Stanford University.
Before becoming a university professor, Greb worked in nearly every phase of broadcasting as an actor, writer, reporter, editor, producer, news director, news anchor, TV and radio documentary producer, call-in show host, narrator, and station manager.
A pioneer of college education in broadcast news, Professor Greb founded the State of California’s first university-level degree program in broadcast journalism in 1957 at San Jose State University. He was named a “distinguished broadcast educator” by the Association of Education in Journalism and Mass Communications in 1996.
Director Bill Briggs, director of the SJSU School of Journalism, recently announced that on the fiftieth anniversary of Greb’s Broadcast Journalism program in spring 2007 there will be held on campus a reunion of all of his RTVJ grads from throughout the world. Some of his grads are professors themselves, including Dr. Rick Whitaker at the University of New York, Buffalo, and Professor Bill Knowles at the University of Montana, Missoula.
As an authority on the history and development of broadcasting, Professor Greb taught the subject at the University of Beijing in China; Cambridge University in England; universities in Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Thailand; as well as at Stanford, Oregon, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. He was singled out for his broadcasting expertise for interviews by the BBC on broadcasting’s future and over PBS on its past.
During Professor Greb’s career in radio and television, he has served as a judge for the Emmy Awards of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences as well the statewide chairman of radio and television awards committee of The Associated Press.
In Hollywood he was a newsman for CBS, NBC and ABC, which may have influenced him when he joined San Jose State College in 1956 to call himself a “starmaker,” since he was preparing talented and able young students for their own careers in broadcasting. He predicted that one day his graduates would be seen and heard worldwide, which indeed they are, from Moscow and Iraq, to Washington, D.C., and Sacramento.
Greb’s introduction to the radio microphone began in 1934 when he was a 12-year old boy. He took part in an afternoon adventure serial, “Rusty, the Boy Aviator,” heard weekdays over KTAB (now KSFO). It was listed in the San Francisco press as “Boy Aviator” and aired Monday through Friday at 5 p.m. The sponsor was Dr. Corley's So Kleen Toothpaste.
The show’s producers spotted the youngster’s voice when he won a contest on KTAB and was heard with schoolmate Jack Corbett (later a motion picture producer) on a Saturday matinee show they themselves originated called “The Adventures of Gordon and Jack.”
While at KTAB in 1934, young Greb met Charles "Doc" Herrold, lately of KQW/San Jose (now KCBS/San Francisco). Years later as an academic Greb’s research would prove that Herrold was America’s true radio pioneer – the inventor of radio broadcasting into everyone’s homes, starting in 1909.
Working with so many radio pioneers, its no wonder that Greb, too, had a part in its beginnings. In 1942 he began what many consider to have been the Bay Area’s first all-local news program on KROW, in collaboration with Dave Houser, who later became a well-known TV newspaper columnist.
Russ Coughlan cut Greb’s first audition disc and Scott Weakley worked the controls in the Oakland studio for the program, “Observing the News,” which won the Billboard magazine award for best local radio news. By 1943 both newscasters were in World War II as Army privates but returned to newscasting at KROW after the war.
Over the years Greb helped put three new radio stations on the air KRCC/Richmond, KTIM/San Rafael and KSJS/San Jose. He supervised news programs news for KUOM at the University of Minnesota, 1948-49, a closed-circuit campus station at San Bernardino Valley College, 1949-50, and the KOAC newsroom at the University of Oregon, 1950-51.
His marriage to Darlene Alcock of Van Nuys took him to Columbia Square, Hollywood, in 1951, where he served a CBS news writer, editor and field reporter for the West Coast News Headquarters of the network at KNX. But his tenure at CBS was short-lived during the McCarthy era.
News Director Jack Beck wanted to keep Greb, saying, “I’ve had writers for The New Yorker magazine on the desk here not as good as you and I wish you’d stay.” But Greb’s offer to substitute an Oath of Allegiance – “to fight all enemies, both foreign and domestic, in support of the U.S. Constitution” – was rejected by CBS as a replacement for its loyalty oath. So Greb left for Stanford University to study political science and constitutional law.
Not long afterward the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed Greb’s understanding of the Constitution. Seeing that Hollywood was tired of being censored and controlled by government, Greb took steps to overturn movie censorship after researching and writing a thesis on the subject.
In 1952 he submitted his brief to lawyers fighting a censorship case on appeal from New York. Greb’s argument for film freedom included not only theory and law but also affidavits of support from major Hollywood writers, producers and directors, including Screen Actors Guild President Ronald Reagan, and it became an influential factor in the case after the nine justices heard it in the oral argument.
The result was that the U.S. Supreme Court in a unanimous decision in 1952 struck down film censorship in Bustyn v. Wilson, et al., in a precedent-setting case.
“We had ninety cities and eight states with film censorship boards and more were coming at that time,” said Greb. “I felt that we were certainly going to lose freedom of radio and television unless we prevented government from censoring Hollywood. This was a victory for every form of mass communications in the United States.”
San Jose State College became interested in Greb after he became News Director of KSJO in San Jose in 1954. Offered a part-time position at San Jose State in 1956, Greb joined the faculty full-time the next academic year and made the station’s newsroom a college laboratory for his students until one could be set up on campus.
Greb was an award-winning newsman, praised by the United Press Bureau for his investigative reporting in a 1956 story. He uncovered corrupt practices in the state capitol, exclusive to KSJO and the UP, which finally resulted in the resignation of State Treasurer Gus Johnson.
He also urged that KSJO hire Harry Geise when he dropped by the station in 1956. It was the first time anyone thought of putting a weatherman on a radio station’s news staff Geise’s first radio job in the Bay Area. Later Geise became one of the most famous weathermen in the country, moving to KGO-TV and KCBS radio, San Francisco, and KCBS-TV, Hollywood.
At San Jose State, Greb founded the Radio-Television News Center and produced on-the-air news from there for the next twenty years. His RTNC students did daily five-minute radio news programs for KXRX, KEEN and KSJS, and his TV staff aired “SJS Reports” and “Update” programs over KNTV and KTEH-TV.
During the protest years of the Viet Nam war era Greb anchored TV documentaries for PBS stations in San Mateo (KCSM) and San Francisco (KQED) from SJS campus studios operated by Glen Pensinger and Bob Reynolds.
During the 1950s, Greb made certain his San Jose State students were up-to-date, regularly taking them to KPIX and KRON to see how their 15-minute “Shell News” programs were produced by a three-man staff: one writer, one cameraman-writer, and one anchorman. It was done with one Bell & Howell 70DR 16 mm silent film camera. And Greb got two of the same cameras for his campus staff.
From the 1950s through the 1970s, Greb had colleagues come from San Francisco to give guest lectures Tom Franklin, Roger Grimsby, Russ Coughlin, being among them – and others from the San Francisco Chapter of the Radio-Television News Directors Association of which Greb was a member.
In 1959 Greb published research in the Journal of Broadcasting proving that KCBS was the world’s first broadcasting station, founded in 1909 by Charles Herrold. This brought CBS President Arthur Hull Hayes to San Jose State along with top stars from the network to help celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of broadcasting.
The Golden Anniversary of Broadcasting was saluted worldwide on the CBS network and involved all the stations in the San Francisco Bay Area. Years later Mike Adams joined the SJS faculty and suggested to Greb that they team up to produce a PBS-TV documentary and book about Herrold (detailed at www.CharlesHerrold.org). Among Broadcast Legends participating in the 1959 event were Don Mozley, Ken Ackerman, and Dave McElhatton.
(An audio recording of a 1945 KQW broadcast salute to Herrold, featuring Ken Ackerman, Clarence Cassell and Jack Webb and including comments by Herrold himself, is presented on the Bay Area Radio Museum's website.)
Greb co-anchored the evening news at KNTV (Channel 11) in San Jose with Jim Dunne for a brief period in 1962. Broadcast Legend Fred LaCosse was floor manager. Dozens of men and women who worked at KNTV were Greb’s former students, including Darla Belshe, who left KNTV in the 1970s to take over his broadcast journalism program when Greb became graduate studies coordinator.
In 1969 Greb recommended Valerie Dickerson for a job in San Francisco to Chet Casselman of KSFO. It was the beginning of her brilliant career in radio and television. Today she is at CNN in New York, after serving on news staffs at KRON, KGO-TV, and the CBS flagship stations in northern and southern California.
With more than a half-century in broadcasting both as a practitioner and as an educator – Greb is now hoping that he is qualified to be both a candidate for television’s Silver Circle as well as the Broadcast Legends Hall of Fame.
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