Wanda Ramey is an American television pioneer. She was the first woman news anchor in the western United States and the second woman news anchor on local television in America. Wanda Ramey holds the distinction of being the co-host of the first local television noon newscast in America. She is also one of the most honored women from the early years of local television news.
Wanda Ramey was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, the daughter of Hiram and May Ramey. She attended both high school and college there. After graduating from high school in 1941, she attended Indiana State Teacher's College, now Indiana State University. She graduated in 1945. "I majored in speech, radio and the emerging television industry I worked at the local radio station and at the college radio station where we did everything, announced, wrote and so on. At the local radio station, WBOW, On the Banks of the Wabash, we had a program called the Story Princess of the Music Box and I would introduce this and then have various people tell stones."
After graduation and her on-air stint as the Story Princess, Wanda moved to Oakland, Calif., where her father had been transferred by American Express. After living there for a while, she moved to Los Angeles and took a job at a recording studio. She then accepted employment in the movie theater division of Warner Brothers. After some time there she found a job in broadcasting at a radio station in San Luis Obispo. "I loved that station; it was KPIK, Pick of the Listening. I was on the air and set up interviews and such. I then came back up to the San Francisco Bay Area and worked at a number of stations."
Before her pioneering news work at KPIX, Ramey was employed in myriad broadcast positions in the Bay Area. In 1947, her first job was interviewing celebrities at the Hearst Ranch near Pleasanton, about 30 miles east of San Francisco, for KSFO, a popular San Francisco AM radio station. On Sundays she hosted a program series called The Woman Behind the Man and interviewed the wives of well-known men. Another series she hosted during this period was You Count on Your County. For this program she interviewed officials of the various Bay Area counties about "how they got started and what they were doing and things of that sort." Another Bay Area radio station that she did on-air work for was KROW (later KABL) in Oakland.
In a history written by the Bay Area Broadcast Legends group, some of her pre-KPIX exploits were described: "Wanda Ramey joined the staff of KWBR radio in Oakland as the program director's secretary in 1948. There was no program director, so Wanda filled in at secretary's pay. It was only a year or so before she moved to KROW and began an illustrious on-the-air career which led her to KGO-TV where she hosted a mid-day show."
Few women were on the air in the early days of broadcasting. Wanda tells a story of Vince Francis, general manager at KGO-TV, who told her women didn't do a good job as newscasters. That was the way he informed her that she was fired. Wanda was out of work for months before she took a job on KCBS radio in San Francisco.
According to Beth Ashley, "At 24 she was hired as anchor of a short-lived mid-day news and interview show on Channel 7 [KGO-TV]." The show, broadcast in 1952, was called Midday with Wanda and was the result of her assisting with a program hosted by Les Malloy at KGO. "We did a number of shows from the Sutro Mansion [where the Sutro broadcast tower and transmission facilities are presently located]. It was a great place to go because ... you'd get in the car and start up into the fog and it was a very mysterious feeling ... that the place was like Wuthering Heights and I gave that item to somebody and got credit for having started it and I'm sure I didn't."
After her dismissal from KGO-TV she took a job at KCBS radio doing on-air interviewing work as "Jane Todd." One of her programs was called Meet Me at Mannings, which featured interviews with the wives of well-known Bay Area and national celebrities. While at KCBS she also worked with Dave McElhatton doing interviews at KCBS's studios in San Francisco's legendary Palace Hotel.
In 1957, while she was at KCBS, she interviewed and was hired for a newscaster position at San Francisco's first television station, KPIX, Channel 5. "I got to KPIX through an interview for a woman newscaster. And there were people who came from all over the country, from New York, from Chicago. This was an innovation to have a woman as a straight-out newscaster. And I was chosen ... and if just seemed like the normal thing to me, that was what I was supposed to do. And it was great, and I loved doing it."
KPIX was soon to make history creating something quite original. According to Dave McElhatton in a KPIX news feature on the station's history, Ray Hubbard, an innovative programmer created "The Noon News." There had never before been a half-hour of midday news. The anchors were John Weston, "Channel 5's Guy on the Go," and Wanda Ramey, "Channel 5's Gal on the Go." Wanda was one of the first women news anchors in the country and talented enough to survive the title they hung on her. That may not be entirely accurate. In a videotape of one of the early Noon News broadcasts, the program ends with a superimposition over Wanda Ramey of "Girl on the Beat" as Ramey closes by saying, "Wanda Ramey, Woman on the Beat."
Within the year, KPIX "promoted" Wanda from "girl" to "woman." The spoken introduction to the Noon News became, "Now, live from San Francisco, it's the Channel 5 Noon News, all the news from all the world, with exclusive features from your man and woman on the beat, Wanda Ramey and John Weston."
Local television's first noon newscast, Noon News, was broadcast on KPIX on Monday, February 16, 1959. Without newspaper fanfare, it appeared that day in the "TV Today" listing of the San Francisco Chronicle as "Noon News, New show, Wanda Ramey, John Weston." Within six months the Noon News on KPIX had become the highest rated 30-minute newscast in the Bay Area!
One reason the Noon News became the top rated half-hour news show in six months was that viewers found the Channel 5 news exciting with Ramey's style of broadcasting. She put on a workman's helmet and from a construction elevator beamed out a KPIX special on the progress of the newest, tallest building in San Francisco. She rode with the S Squad at midnight to give KPIX Noon News viewers the lowdown on San Francisco Detail Police. She brought her viewers face to face with one of their new neighbors, a bearded beatnik recently moved to North Beach from Greenwich Village. She wanted to find out just what makes a beatnik tick.
Wanda has many fond memories of the early days of co-anchoring the Noon News. She enjoys describing those pioneering times and paints a rather vivid picture that helps provide a feeling of what the Noon News must have been like to view and to participate in, "The Noon News was my main thing, always with John Weston ... I remember what fun it was to go in and pull news; you felt really great. Pull the news off the wire, tear it off, that was always fun."
She always had an interview and did one or two stories in the top part of the newscast. Her co-anchor, John Weston, always did the hard-hitting news stories. Since sometimes guests would not show, Wanda always had a taped interview ready. She used a few notes and cue cards but never used a TelePrompTer.
She was popular with the audience and received a lot of mail. Once a viewer named a dahlia after her. Her habit was to answer the first letter but not the second to avoid encouraging unwanted attention. Although she never had a stalker, she was careful.
By the time Wanda began anchoring the Noon News, the commercial value of newscasts and their anchors had been long obvious. According to Wanda, there was always profit potential in the news. Right at the beginning of the Noon News in 1959 she began to participate in some of the commercials broadcast within the program. She remembers doing commercials for Supphose stockings and wearing them but that was stopped soon after the program began to prevent newscasters from being associated too closely with a product.
One of her most vivid memories was the day President Kennedy was assassinated: "We were just about ready to go on the air, and all of a sudden our producer came up and he said, 'My God, the President's been shot.' Well, of course everything changed. We were close to airtime. We got some local people in a hurry to get down there who had known the president and somebody to discuss what the impact might be on this."
In 1963 Wanda was featured in an article titled "From Fashion Shows to Fires, Wanda Ramey Is KPIX's Woman-on-the-Beat." She is described as "calm and reserved" and "petite and mild-mannered ... one of the few women in broadcasting who successfully manages to polish the rough corners off the hard news." The article notes that she was chosen because she is flexible as a newswoman and can cover a wide variety of stories and is adept at interviewing "colorful celebrities and outstanding political figures."
Throughout her career in journalism and broadcasting, she seems most happy with her interviewing. She has interviewed well over 1,200 important and well-known personalities, including Ronald Reagan, Carl Sandburg, John Kennedy, Caryl Chessman, Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and astronaut James McDevitt. She interviewed her mother once on Mother's Day. "But of all these interviews, Wanda still remembers one of her first as the most memorable: Eleanor Roosevelt, the woman who was Wanda's own inspiration and role model growing up."
Her reflections on that part of her life are consistently positive, provide insight into her own character, and are even, at times, touching: "It's the only job in the world I ever wanted and the most fulfilling thing anybody could do, to get a chance to keep up with what's going on and to meet all those wonderful people. I tried to count 'em up once, how many people I had interviewed, thousands that I'd been able to touch their life and they mine for a few minutes at a time; it's been great." Part of her success may be because she considers television an intimate medium. She believes that as a communicator you talk to one person, not thousands.
In 1959 when Wanda was promoted to the position of news anchor on KPIX, she became a source of pride for KPIX. She also provided the station with some notable firsts. According to the station, she was the first woman anchor in the western United States and the second woman anchor in the country. Another source has stated, "Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, Jane Pauley and countless other women in broadcast news have Terre Haute native Wanda Ramey to thank for their rise to journalistic stardom. She has been recognized in both radio and television as a genuine pioneer in broadcasting, paving the way for the many women who today have an easier entree into an industry that has been dominated by men."
In 1958 Ramey married Richard ("Dick") Queirolo, a sheet-metal contractor. He developed an interest in filmmaking and video, was hired as a stringer by KPIX and often accompanied his wife on assignments as well as co-producing feature stories with her for the Noon News. When they began a family, Wanda continued to work. Wanda and Dick's child, Kristie Louise, was born in 1962. "It was good to be on the air at noon because we had a marvelous housekeeper who would come about nine o'clock in the morning and she would stay until I got home, usually around two or two thirty." Wanda remained with KPIX until 1967.
On New Year's Eve in 1960, Wanda and Dick visited San Quentin Prison to film a story on prison life. "This led to a continuous relationship with the prison and its inmates which resulted in the prison's own prison-run closed-circuit TV station [SQTV]."
Over the years she and her husband have taught television journalism as well as film and television production skills to a large number of prison inmates. He helps the prisoners learn the particulars of cameras, while she fills them in on the details of narration and coordination. "Hopefully, they will be able to go into another business when they get out, one that is meaningful and creative for living."
In 1965, Wanda's student inmates thanked and honored her by naming her an "Honorary Inmate." That same year, as part of a film workshop taught by Wanda and her husband, a group of inmates produced a sports documentary. During the summer of 1966 a documentary on emergency farm labor was shot on location in the San Joaquin Valley by a small and select group of their students.
As a result of Wanda Ramey and her husband's early community service commitment at San Quentin, a group of about 50 of their trainees produced a telefilm, The Cage. It was broadcast on Wednesday, February 15, 1967, at 10 p.m. on KQED, Channel 9, San Francisco's pioneering educational television station. According to San Francisco Examiner columnist Dwight Newton, "It is ... a grim, sometimes gripping, semi-real, semi-fanciful half-hour drama of four convicts captive in a barren, bunkless, chairless, concrete cell ... [It] is by no means a slick, professional production. Much of the equipment was begged or borrowed."
The prison allowed the telefilm to be produced because of the potential therapeutic value to the participants and of the possibility of obtaining funds to acquire equipment for the prison's film workshop. Wanda and her husband's work with the inmates at San Quentin Prison continued into the 1990s.
After leaving KPIX, Wanda went to KQED, San Francisco's public broadcasting television station, to work on a national series called The Public Broadcasting Laboratory. Then she was asked to do Voice of America. "That was good. You pick up on local stories and feed them by telephone to New York. 'This is Wanda Ramey with the Voice of America in San Francisco' was the end cue." She was the Bay Area correspondent for the Voice of America for well over 10 years. According to Wanda, whatever was an important local story was welcome. During the late 1960s she also worked as a hard-news reporter on KGO-TV's Newsbeat nightly newscast.
Since retiring from television and radio in the 1970s, she has continued to stay active in media. She has produced a number of videos for the Buck Center for Research in Aging. She has co-written a history of the Tamalpais retirement community, where she and her husband reside. She has participated on the Board of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and is active with Broadcast Legends, an informal group of media pioneers. She has also worked with her husband on various media projects for his production company, Q-Rolo Film and Video Productions, as well as continuing with him on their San Quentin prison volunteer work.
For her more than 40-year career in television and other media, Wanda Ramey has been honored with many awards and much recognition of her significant achievements. In 1958 she received the Emmy Award for Television Journalism from the Northern California Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In 1965 she was the first reporter and first woman to be named "Honorary Inmate" by the prisoners of San Quentin Prison. In 1968 she was honored with the Alumni Distinguished Service Award from Indiana State University in recognition of notable achievement reflecting honor and distinction on her alma mater.
In 1982 she received a commendation by the City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors "on the auspicious occasion of her being honored by the Golden Gate Chapter, American Women in Television, Inc., for her outstanding contributions to broadcasting." In 1982 San Francisco Mayor Diane Feinstein issued a proclamation commending Wanda Ramey "for her dedication and invaluable contributions to the broadcasting industry and ... on her truly impressive and distinguished achievements.
Other awards include the American Women in Radio and Television, Golden Gate Chapter, Outstanding Achievement in Broadcasting Award (1982); the Woman of Achievement Award from Women in Communications (1986); the Silver Circle Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Northern California Chapter, "in honor of your contribution as a Northern California television pioneer" (1989); and a Special Honor from the Society for Professional Journalists (1990).
She also served the community in various roles. She was the first female president of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of AFTRA; the first female member of the Press Club of San Francisco; and an active member in AWRT (American Women in Radio and Television); the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and Women in Communications, Inc. (WICI).
Wanda Ramey is well respected and loved for her spirit, friendship, helpfulness and positive outlook. Phyllis Diller, her longtime friend and the godmother of Wanda's daughter perhaps expressed the feelings of many when she said at the 1986 WICI luncheon honoring Wanda Ramey:
Having Wanda for a friend is like having a million dollars in your checking account, Wanda has been my closest personal friend for more than three decades. She is a remarkable woman. Dear Wanda Ramey was one of the few people who gave me total support at the beginning of my career when it was "iffy." She's a trailblazer in broadcasting; a loyal wife and a wonderful mother. She's as soft and quiet as a rose petal...
Wanda Ramey has a number of insights concerning television journalism and her career, both as a pioneer television journalist and as a skilled communicator. She says she never felt discriminated against because she was a woman. She also did not accept barriers that someone else may have placed in her way. "I was just going to do this ... without thinking about the fact that there might be somebody to say, 'Why are you here? What are you doing in the news field and not doing recipes or child care items?'" She also considers the news to be more shocking than in the past. She describes the news in the "olden days" as "kind and gentle."
Wanda Ramey is one of the many pioneering women in American local television. While many had somewhat parallel career paths, they all had their own unique place in the development of television. For Wanda, it was a positive and fulfilling career. "The most important recognition was being selected and getting the job to be the first woman. That was very special, always has been. The first woman to do hard news and not being relegated to home hints and recipes, and it was natural for me not to do them but to do the hard news."
From an oral history interview conducted on September 22, 2000, by Steven C. Runyon of the University of San Francisco. This excerpt was included in "Indelible Images: Women of Local Television" (Copyright © 2001, Iowa State University Press).
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