Broadcast Pioneers member Jerry M. Donahue II was a “song and dance” man (like his dad) long before he was actually a man. At the age of 30 months, he was singing and dancing on Broadcast Pioneers member (and former President) Jack Steck’s “Starlight Stairway,” heard over WFI (later WFIL) Radio. This was in 1932 on the legendary Steck’s “Woodside Park”All-Star show. (Woodside Park after it closed was torn down to be the new home of WDAS Radio. The towers were constructed on the site of the old wooden roller coaster.)
Later, Jerry Donahue went to WCAU to be a huge success on “The Horn and Hardart’s Children’s Hour,” created by and starring Stan Lee Broza, a legendary staple in Delaware Valley broadcasting for three decades. (Stan Lee was also our organization’s very first President.) Appearing on “The Children’s Hour” at that same time was Harvey Neil Perlish, better known to Philadelphians as Broadcast Pioneers member Neil Harvey.
Donahue’s poise and background soon led him into juvenile parts on the dramatic shows (both local and national) originating in Philly. Jerry’s father, Jeremiah, was a well-known “song and dance” man/comedian in our area with many appearances among the area’s “minstrel” companies.
Still in his youth, Jerry Donahue was a natural candidate for Philco’s Channel 3, W3XE (later becoming WPTZ) and their experimental programming, much of it directed by Warren Wright (who would later become the creator of “Willie the Worm,” on WCAU-TV.)
In 1939, Jerry Donahue was a daily performer at the RCA television exhibit at the1939 New York World’s Fair.
During the Second World War, Jerry went back to radio’s variety and dramatic shows and also toured with Jack Steck’s variety troupe on the “War Bond” circuit. It was here that he worked with such well-known show business greats as Eddie Cantor, Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Upper Darby, Jerry Donahue was educated at West Catholic High School and later at Temple University.
Immediately after high school graduation, Jerry worked with ABC news as a special events person at the Democratic, Republican and Progressive Party political conventions held here in Philly.
Afterwards, Bandleader Paul “Pops” Whiteman who had become a programming Vice-President for the fledgling ABC television network, originated a live network show from Philadelphia (and WFIL-TV) called “TV Teen Club.” Jerry performed many roles on that program which was simulcast on both ABC Television and radio.
In 1951, Donahue moved full-time into news at the WFIL stations. There, he worked as a reporter, newswriter, editor and news producer. Then came the Korean crisis. Donahue served two years of U.S. Army duty with the famed Second Division in the Far East.
Afterwards, Jerry returned to WFIL Radio working in the production department and later becoming Production Manager for the station (a position he would hold for decades).
Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson who was Production Manager (and later Operations Manager) at WDAS Radio in the seventies said, “Jerry Donahue raised the bar in Philadelphia radio production. It was he who led the way to the highest standards anywhere and the competition had to try to follow. At Famous 56, Donahue blazed the trail in excellence and I would tell our guys, listen and learn.”
Jerry Donahue produced Philadelphia 76ers basketball games and Eagles football for WYSP for ten years. During those times, the Eagles Radio Network had between 10 to 18 stations carrying the broadcasts. Jerry Donahue told the Broadcast Pioneers late in 1997 that those sporting events had won on numerous occasions, "The Achievement in Radio (AIR) Award for "Best Sports Reporting." The Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters presented the award, and it marked 9 trophies that these shows have won in the previous six years. He also worked at the Donnelly Directory as a producer.
He was a past commander of the Delaware River Power Squadron, where he taught boat and sailing courses for a decade. Donahue also taught radio production at Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, for three years and was a past judge for the Headliners Award Program in Atlantic City, NJ.
He has received many honors including the prestigious Dupont Award, the Alfred P. Sloan Award for highway safety, the Freedoms Foundation Award, and numerous citations from civic, government and religious groups.
Jerry and his wife, the former Frances Standish, also a broadcast pioneer had three children. Jerry Donahue passed away on Sunday, February 24, 2002. On Friday, November 19, 2004, in front of a half dozen relatives, Jerry Donahue was inducted into our "Hall of Fame.”
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by the Donahue family
Text written by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
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