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Betty Cope

Betty Cope

Betty CopeCope, a Cleveland native who grew up in Shaker Heights, was a Hathaway Brown graduate and attended Marjorie Webster Junior College because it had a broadcast program. Her broadcast career started as a receptionist at Cleveland's first commercial television station, WEWS Channel 5, when it began broadcasting in December 1947. Although the infant medium was pretty much a men's club, Cope soon became a director and producer at Channel 5.

"Back in those days, receptionist or secretary was about the only off-camera job a woman would get at a TV station," said Fred Griffith, whose long career in Cleveland television started when Cope hired him at Channel 25 in 1967. "But she was a very smart individual with great vision, and she quickly rose through the ranks at Channel 5."

During the 1950s, she appeared on the CBS quiz show "What's My Line?" and stumped the panel. They failed to guess she was one of the first and still very few women directing television programs.

Her tenacity, largely responsible for getting WVIZ started, was legendary. During a December blizzard in the early '50s, Cope was determined to get to Channel 5 from Shaker Square, where she was living at the time. She was producing a Christmas show with Santa Claus and didn't want to disappoint Cleveland's children. So, she saddled up a horse and made it to the station for the broadcast.

She left Channel 5 to start her own production firm, but her greatest legacy is WVIZ. In the early '60s, she spearheaded the group dedicated to bringing an educational television station to Northeast Ohio.

WVIZ became the country's 100th public TV station. It was then part of National Educational Television (NET), the organization that became PBS in 1970. And Cope was the first woman to become the general manager of a major-market television station in the United States.

Cope became well known to Northeast Ohio viewers through her appearances during the station's pledge drives and auctions. Her many honors included an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Baldwin Wallace University, the distinguished service award from the Society of Professional Journalists and the governor's award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. She was inducted into the Cleveland Journalism Hall of Fame in October 2005..

"She managed to personalize her relationship with each of us. Everything she did was creative, and that included making special days even more special for all of us. Every Easter, we decorated everything and had 40 people out there, each with a hidden Easter basket. She was very caring about individuals."


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