Broadcast Pioneers member Phyllis Ariano-McGinnis is a graduate Philadelphia High School for Girls and holds a diploma from the Peirce Business College. She’s a member of the National Honor Society.
She started her career in the “Behind-the-Scenes” area of broadcasting in the year 1944. She worked during 1944 to 1950 Philadelphia’s Pioneer Voice-Radio Station WIP Program Department. She was hired as Executive Secretary and began a thorough indoctrination in all aspects of radio. This involved copywriting, directing, producing, and acting on live dramatic programs. Ariano also assisted in organizing the PRTBA. From 1950 to 1952, she worked in administration at WIP which included Executive Secretary and Assistant to President of WIP, Benedict Gimbel, Jr. She received Intense training as organizer and administrator, in order to keep the station operating successfully and financially productive.
In 1952 to 1956, she went to work for Television Station WPTZ, channel 3 (Philco owned and later sold to Westinghouse) as Executive Secretary to Vice President Rolland V. Tooke. She was indoctrinated into workings of television and operating a successful TV station in a competitive market.
Next, she was employed during 1956 and 1957 at the Aitkin-Kynett Advertising Agency, with Thacher Longstreth. She assisted in organizing Radio-TV Time Buying Department; Account Exec for Fels Naptha Soaps, Girard Trust Bank and Tasty Baking.
Then during 1957 to 1959, Phyllis worked at Radio Station WPEN (owned by Bill Sylk, Sun Ray Drug) as an Administrative Assistant to VP William B. Caskey. She was in charge of office personnel, trouble shooter as needed in various areas including accounts receivable, talent and other contracts.
From 1959 to 1963. Ariano went to work for Westinghouse Broadcasting Company’s Home office in New York. She was the Exec. Secretary-Administrative Assistant to President Donald H. McGannon. This position came with tremendous responsibilities and a workload beyond description. It included among a myriad of duties including the handling of complicated itineraries, conferences, union negotiations, syndicated program contracts, international broadcasters’ seminars, and much more.
During this time, Miss Ariano accepted the task of handling a national fund-raising campaign for Radio Free Europe which was in financial trouble. As a result of its success, she was recognized for outstanding service to RFE. She also traveled to RFE installations in Europe and visited behind the Iron Curtain with a group of station and corporate executives from the U.S.
She was appointed to position of Director of Special Services and Projects for Group W Stations and held this position during 1962, 1964 and 1965. This was in large part a trouble-shooting position involving all the Group W stations and covered matters pertaining to personnel, programming, commercial reciprocal contracts, etc.
RECOLLECTIONS OF AN EARLY PIONEER BROADCASTING ADMINISTRATOR (1944 TO 1965)
Phyllis J. ARIANO-McGinnis (1925 - )
Phyllis Ariano spent her early years in Philadelphia and attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls, where she was inducted into the National Honor Society. After graduation she received her Diploma from Peirce Business College. While growing up, she had dreamed of entering the entertainment world as a popular blues singer and actress, but her family said “no-no-no.” It appears, however, that being close to the entertainment field was just meant to be.
The Employment office (Miss Peirce herself) sent her to interview for a position at Philadelphia’s Pioneer Voice, Radio Station WIP, located in the Gimbel Building at 35 So 9th Street. Two positions were open. She was strongly urged to apply for the Program Department opening rather than the one in the office of the President, Benedict Gimbel, Jr. It was well known that he could be difficult to work for and had a revolving door to his office.
Miss Ariano was hired on the spot in April, 1944 and immediately started her indoctrination into the fascinating “Behind the Scenes” world of broadcasting. She sat in at every meeting, usually taking minutes. The meetings included brain storming sessions, client conferences, union negotiations, auditions and talent contracts, new program plans, everything that concerned both current programming as well as new programs from conception to airing--even post-mortems, when a show failed. Her skills and talents lent themselves to her becoming an early trouble-shooter for varied problems.
A number of notables took a hand in training the young Program Department secretary. Sam Serota, the original “”Uncle Horace” of kiddies shows before Stan Lee Broza’s Horn & Hardart programs, Ed Wallis who later also joined Westinghouse, and Murray Arnold, originally Tom Rocap, d.j., pre-Bob Horn, who later moved to WPEN, all tutored Miss Ariano. They encouraged her to assist in directing, producing, writing and editing copy, in addition to the normal secretarial duties. She handled the commercials and courtesy announcements and public service spots, including the scheduling, for Joe McCauley’s “Dawn Patrol,” working closely with Joe and the Pep Boys themselves. Sometimes when problems arose, she had to work along with the staff of BMI, SESAC and ASCAP.
Much to Miss Ariano’s delight, her acting ability was also utilized when asked to fill in on Maurie Orodenker’s Philadelphia Fellowship Commission’s dramatic series “Hate, Inc.”-A very successful series on Anti-Semitism; and “Under Fire,” another award-winning live dramatic series that paid tribute to WWII heroes. Purely for fun she occasionally sang with Joe Frasetto’s orchestra and later on, Milt Starr’s. She sang along with Leonard McClain, organist. She recorded the Christmas Jingles used for station I.D. announcements every year.
Miss Ariano assisted in the filing of FCC License Renewal Applications which gave her insight into policy and government regulations. At that time stations were required under penalty to devote a certain number of hours or minutes in each category which included Education, Religion, Cultural, Public Service and/or Courtesy announcements, Children’s programs…etc. For the designated period of time the FCC requested, every minute had to be accounted for.
WIP was the starting place for many of the future stars of radio and television -- announcers, news journalists, program hosts, innovators, as well as executives. Some of the budding personalities that passed through were John Facenda, Bill Campbell, whose mentor was Stoney McLinn, Gene Crane, Howard Jones, Allen Stone, John Paul Weber, Roy K Marshall, “Nature of Things” Franklin Institute, Alan Scott, Phil Sheridan, Kit Crane, Mac McGuire, Marty Gable from the Board of Education, Jack Creamer, Alex Griffin. Actually the list is endless and many often do not even seem to “remember” or acknowledge where they began their illustrious careers. Three religious figures who initially came to WIP to introduce some of their productions were Father James Keller, founder of the Christopher Movement; Father George Keiser, a LaSalle graduate working in Hollywood who produced many worthwhile non-denominational programs featuring well known movie personalities; and Father Patrick Peyton “The Family That Prays Together Stays Together.” Father Peyton years later walked into Miss Ariano’s office in New York, renewed their association, and succeeded in getting his new series on TV. The older element of our industry will recall that he was the originator of the Loretta Young Show and others, as well as the moderator of many World Crusades advocating family prayer. Interestingly, Miss Ariano is currently working to promote the Cause for his Sainthood. She has valuable personal correspondence from him.
An important achievement by Murray Arnold who was Program Director, and perhaps at the suggestion of H. V. KALTENBORN, was the initiation of a monthly get-together of executives from all the AM-FM and TV stations in Philadelphia. The group called itself PRTBA, Philadelphia Radio & Television Broadcasters Association. There are many reports about the FOUNDERS of this organization; in reality they could all be considered founders. The Association turned out to be a great vehicle because they were ALL interested in doing the very best for the industry in Philadelphia and they certainly reached their goal. In spite of competition for ratings, this group of broadcasters accomplished a great deal not only for the benefit of their individual stations but also for Philadelphia broadcasting. It was a productive, innovative and energetic group and included the Levy brothers, John McClay, Stan Lee Broza, Roger Clipp, Jack Steck, Billy & Dolly Banks, Pat Stanton et al. They came together in an unique camaraderie, discussing a myriad of topics…copyright problems, programming, potential personnel matters, community affairs, as well as many NAB and FCC problems. It was nothing short of incredible. But it was a definite sign of the times. All of this provided Miss Ariano opportunities to know the executives and the staff of the Philadelphia stations.
After six great training years from 1944 to 1950 with many merit raises and bonuses, Ben Gimbel was again in need of an executive assistant; his second girl was not yet qualified. He decided it was time for Miss Ariano to take the job that Jo Dee (Campbell) had previously vacated when she married Bill. Reluctantly, Miss Ariano agreed.
In many ways the change to the front office proved to be worthwhile. Miss Phyllis (as BG liked to call her) was truly indoctrinated into the duties of an “Organizer” as well as an Administrator. It was a varied position with endless opportunities for growth and getting to know influential individuals in and out of the broadcasting and entertainment fields and corporate management. Most importantly, it afforded the opportunity to acquire really effective people skills. Political figures, corporate executives and top entertainers were frequent visitors to the President’s office. The experience was exciting and enjoyable. One of many fringe benefits included opening night theatre tickets and meeting the great performers of that era. B.G. was extremely close to film and theatre personalities especially Bob and Dolores Hope, Ethel Barrymore (The Corn is Green), Cloris Leachman, Jessica & Hume Cronyn (The Bedpost), to name but a few of the old timers.
WIP, all things considered, was a great place to work and especially to get “broken in.” In spite of Ben Gimbel’s eccentricities and the fact that he was a hard taskmaster, and in many ways fussy to a fault, the employees ultimately seemed to profit from the experience. Actually, his bark was worse than his bite and there was a generous side to his personality. He rewarded loyalty and hard work. The training was invaluable. Many went on to great success! They had all “passed the test.” Interestingly, his son, Teddy Nathanson, inherited his father’s work ethic and purely on his own merit, enjoyed a successful career at NBC. Ted chose to use his mother’s maiden name after his parents’ divorce. He was a talented and fine person.
Fond memories of those days at WIP include the Friday after-work cocktail hour at the Ben Franklin Kite & Key Room, Ben Gimbel taking the ladies to Chinatown for luncheon on Friday, the fabulous formal dinner dances for all employees which were held at the Ritz-Carlton or the Warwick Hotel, getting Chef Johann Lamprecht’s Shrimp Lamaze recipe in 1948 before it was made public, the generous merit increases and yearly bonuses and the beautiful and unusual Christmas presents. Most important was the friendliness of the entire staff. It seemed everyone was always willing to pitch in when needed, even to helping in the mailroom to run off last-minute copy or schedule changes on the old fashioned mimeograph (ditto) machine. It seemed that some advertisers would invariably want to change their commercial announcements right at closing time or with minutes to “air time.” Those were the “good ole WIP days.”
The “radio” training period was over for “Miss Ariano” when an opening at Philco’s Television Station WPTZ beckoned. She became Executive Secretary to Rolland V. Tooke - no relation to KYW’s Franklin A. Tooke – pronounced “took”. Rolland at that time was second-in-command to Ernest B. Loveman, Philco Executive, when they were located in the Architects’ Building. The position was hers, BUT, because other station executives were not comfortable “pirating” from B.G. it was necessary for her to work very briefly somewhere else before starting.
It was early in the year 1952, the beginning of another fascinating position and the ultimate stepping- stone to her New York experience.
Executive Secretarial duties were now geared to Television. Additional activities were included and, once again, everyone was willing to SHOW AND TELL what needed to be done. Miss Ariano’s involvements were primarily in the administrative area, which made it even more challenging. She had to learn about this new media – TELE casting – and again with help from everyone, including the technical department, the process was expedited and she quickly felt at home.
A short time after her move to WPTZ, Philco sold the station to Westinghouse and the channel went on to be most successful in the Philadelphia market, with an agreement to air some of the NBC network programs.
Four years later, in early 1956, NBC managed to get approval to swap their Cleveland TV station with the now Westinghouse Broadcasting Company Channel. They were in need of a Philadelphia NBC owned outlet. Miss Ariano chose not to move to Cleveland. The new VP never came through with the position he had promised to create for her so she accepted a good severance and left.
Immediately, Thacher Longstreth asked her to join him at the Aitkin-Kynett Advertising Agency. “Doc” Kynett had an interesting request. He wanted to expand the agency into the Broadcast Media. They were in Print Media exclusively at that time. So Miss Ariano agreed to assist in organizing the time-buying branch of their media department.
It was a great success and she became A-K Time Buyer and Account Executive for Tasty Baking, Fels Naptha Soap, Girard Trust Bank and other smaller advertisers. This was an interesting and all-consuming position, but Miss Ariano was a woman doing a man’s job. That aspect of the position was not rewarding. She had been there one year. She had given her all to make the endeavor successful and it had become a lucrative area for the Agency. So when a call came from Murray Arnold who was now working at WPEN to ask if she was happy, the pull to return to her first love could not be resisted. It would once again be an Executive Secretary-Administrative Assistant position with the VP Wm B Caskey who was in charge of the radio station owned by Sun Ray Drug (Bill Sylk.) Upon tendering her resignation, she appreciated the assurance from Doc Kynett that if she ever wished to return to A-K the door would be open.
In 1957, while enjoying her work at WPEN she received another call, this time from Rolland V. Tooke who was now a VP for Westinghouse in their home office in New York. The President of WBC, Donald H. McGannon needed an Executive Secretary-Assistant. Miss Ariano accepted the position, happy to return to WBC and willing to move to New York.
This was the beginning of an even more fascinating period in her broadcasting career. Phyllis clearly remembers the many diverse individuals she met and admired, realizing most have been long gone, though probably not forgotten.
The move to this prestigious position in New York came with tremendous responsibilities and an unbelievable workload. D.H.McGannon was a human dynamo; his brain and body were in perpetual motion and he expected the same from his staff. He was an indomitable spirit, an influential spokesperson in the industry, as well as in education, government, civic and community affairs. Keeping up with him was the greatest challenge one could face. He conducted meetings on the plane, train, auto – he never stopped. He accepted chairmanship of organizations almost daily and never said no to any challenge presented to him or favor requested. His background as an attorney and then with DuMont Television had prepared him well for the giant task of growing Group W to its ultimate success, including its entrance to the area of syndicated programs.
Mr. McGannon relied on Miss Ariano to keep him focused, even accepting her input and suggestions in some cases. In order to keep him on target, especially with his overbooked schedule of speeches, appearances. global trips, plus the ordinary day-to-day operation of the GROUP W stations, she had to always be one step ahead of him. All of this was in addition to the normal routine of handling correspondence, phone calls, visitors, and any unusual or urgent problems that might arise. Fortunately, she had a very capable secretary of her own. Arranging company conferences, booking guest speakers (even picking them up at the airport), setting up in advance for such events, sometimes in other cities, were all a part of her ordinary workday. Meeting many interesting and influential individuals along the way made these tasks worthy of the extra time and effort they required, which included being available 24/7.
In time she was appointed to Director of Special Services and Projects for Group W. In this capacity she was able to apply the invaluable experience she had gleaned through the years in both radio and television programming and administration. WBC owned and operated radio and television stations across the country and she would be working with all of them. The supervision of commercial reciprocal arrangements for the WBC network and assisting with company policy updates were but a small part of this expansive position.
One of her most rewarding accomplishments while based in New York was handling a national radio and television fund-raising campaign for Radio Free Europe. RFE was running out of funds sorely needed to continue beaming information behind the Iron Curtain. The success of the campaign culminated in an enlightening, albeit sometimes frightening, tour of the RFE installations in Lisbon and Munich. There were visits into the Communist held areas including East Berlin, as well as meetings with then Mayor Willy Brandt. It was in Munich that she first met Marty Oebbecke, brilliant engineer who was primarily responsible for RFE’s success. The frightening experience was being in East Berlin on the day of President Kennedy’s planned Cuban Blockade Speech. Following a call from Washington, they were luckily whisked through Checkpoint Charlie after regaining their identities and personal belongings. Only one was detained. He was an NBC cameraman who had hidden his camera upon entering, and he was released the next day. Flying over the barbed wire Iron Curtain in a US Army helicopter with Russian guns pointing up at them was almost as frightening. The important part of all of this was the proud and grateful feeling of being from a free country, being an American.
In 1964 Phyllis announced her retirement and her upcoming marriage to William McGinnis, a senior sales representative with Flintkote. She returned to the Philadelphia area. At the same time the FCC announced their reversal of the original NBC-WBC Cleveland for Philadelphia swap. In 1965 she assisted Mr. McGannon with WBC’s re-entrance into the Philadelphia market prior to her permanent retirement from the broadcasting field.
Phyllis and her husband are long time residents of Westtown. They are proud parents of Michael Neumann McGinnis, Esq. She is a three-time cancer survivor dating back to 1974 and an active member of four national cancer support organizations including M.D. Anderson, Cancer Hope, Friend for Life and Imerman Angels. Her story “Hope Springs Eternal” has been published in the Phoenix National Ostomy Magazine.
In spite of her years and having to give up her therapeutic and beloved pastime of playing golf, she and her husband retain their thirty-five year membership in the Penn Oaks Golf Club. Phyllis continues her many hobbies and activities, still singing with her Church Choir and the West Chester Senior Center Chorus as well as playing her Yamaha keyboard. Phyllis remains an avid reader, while maintaining an active interest in all that is going on in this ever-changing world.
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