Ruth Lyons (broadcaster)
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|Birth name||Ruth Reeves|
October 4, 1905|
|Died||November 7, 1988
|Show||Your Sunday Matinee
Collect Calls From Lowenthal
Your Morning Matinee
The 50 Club
The 50/50 Club
|Spouse(s)||John D. Lyons (divorced)
Ruth Lyons, (born Ruth Evelyn Reeves October 4, 1905, died November 7, 1988) was a pioneer radio and television broadcaster in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is said Ruth Lyons accidentally invented the daytime TV talk show. Like Arthur Godfrey and others of the era, Ruth built a TV empire.
A little-known fact is that Ruth Lyons' radio career began with a one-shot appearance as an accompanist for a singer on WMH in 1925, and a regular post as pianist on WSAI beginning in 1925. She went to work full-time at WKRC in 1928; she worked as a radio show pianist/organist and as the station's music librarian. Ruth's first broadcast was accidental. She was pressed into service one morning when the station's only female show host called in sick. She needed only a couple of minutes to become familiar behind the microphone, and took over as host.
Lyons' prestige grew when she and other staffers broadcast non-stop during the Great Flood of 1937, calming listeners and asking for donations for the victims. Lyons praised the big-heartedness of Ohio Valley residents, but listeners said that their generosity flowed because they considered her a real friend and friends helped friends in need. While at WKRC, Lyons hosted a weekly radio show called Your Sunday Matinee; an amateur songwriter, she wrote a new song for each Sunday broadcast of the show. Bandleader Paul Whiteman was a guest on the show in 1938 and was impressed by Lyons' songwriting abilities. He offered to buy some of Lyons' original compositions with one stipulation: the music would need to be published under his name. Lyons politely declined. In 1942, WKRC lost Lyons to WLW over a ten dollar raise. Owner Hulbert "Hub" Taft (Taft Broadcasting) later said that the ten-dollar raise had cost his company millions in advertising.
At WLW, she was the hostess of Petticoat Partyline and Consumer's Foundation. Lyons was then teamed with Frazier Thomas, first on Collect Calls From Lowenthal and then on Your Morning Matinee, a popular morning radio show. After WLW parent company Crosley Broadcasting purchased New York City radio station WINS in 1946, the show was also heard over the station for two years. Lyons and Thomas co-hosted the show until he left to establish his own media production firm.
The 50/50 Club started on WLW Radio as The 50 Club. Fifty women were invited to a daily, one-hour lunch which was broadcast live. The program was renamed The 50/50 Club when the audience was expanded to 100 people in 1955. Lyons' trademarks were concealing her microphone in a bouquet of flowers and the white gloves she and her studio audience wore while singing "The Waving Song", as they waved to the viewers at home.
The program made its television debut in May 1949. It was later simulcast on radio (WLW AM) and went to 90 minutes. It was picked up by NBC for 11 months in 1951. Ruth bristled under the structured advertising, network time cues and loss of show control. The NBC idea died and The 50/50 Club returned to its local status, although it was seen on the other stations of the midwest Crosley Broadcasting network in Dayton, Columbus, and Indianapolis. Lyons' television show was popular enough to have a three year waiting period for studio audience tickets. The show was also a powerful outlet for advertisers; potential sponsors had a one year waiting period before there were openings for their commercials to be able to be scheduled. The mention of a product name on the program meant stores would quickly be sold out of the item.
Guests included Bob Hope, Arthur Godfrey and pianist Peter Nero, singer Arthur Lee Simpkins. During the 1950s, when nightclub venues were numerous throughout the nation, two of the most prominent in the country were Beverly Hills and the Lookout House, in the Northern Kentucky area of "Greater Cincinnati." Virtually every headliner, including Jack E. Leonard, Nelson Eddy, Ted Lewis, Pearl Bailey, Myron Cohen, and many others, appeared on Ruth Lyons' program. One of Ruth's favorites, the popular singer, Don Cornell, regularly appeared in the area, and even served as substitute host for the show during her occasional absences. David Letterman and Phil Donahue, both appeared on her show. Letterman appeared when Lyons' sidekick, Bob Braun, hosted the show in the 70s. In an audio biography of Ruth Lyons, called "Let Me Entertain You--A Ruth Lyons Memoir CD;" Letterman tells how his mother, who never turned on a TV during the daytime, was transfixed by it when The 50/50 Club was on.
She frequently mentioned her husband, Herman, on the show, in a warm, family, light (and often humorous) context. Herman Newman was an affable, popular professor of English at University of Cincinnati, and maintained an identity separate from the program and his wife's celebrity. Adopted daughter Candy Newman became an integral part of The 50/50 Club. Candy died of breast cancer (her doctor was Dr. Charles Barrett, and she had undergone a radical mastectomy at Cincinnati's Holmes Hospital) in 1966. Ruth suffered a series of small strokes which took her off the air for some time. Those close to Miss Lyons say Candy's death took the life out of her as well. Ruth Lyons retired from broadcasting in 1967. She died on November 7, 1988.
The Ruth Lyons Christmas Fund began in 1939 and still provides Cincinnati-area hospitalized children with toys, Christmas decorations and even needed hospital equipment. Since its beginning, the fund has raised tens of millions of dollars.
- Banks, Michael A., ed. (2009). Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Invented Talk TV. Orange Frazer Press. p. 260. ISBN 1-933197-49-8. Retrieved 18 February 2011.
- "Broadcast Pioneer Dies At 81". Portsmouth Daily Times. 8 November 1988. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- "Early TV Hostess Dies". The Bryan Times. 8 November 1988. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- Greene, Bob (15 November 1988). "Ruth Lyons' talk show wasn't the trashy tabloid television of today". Bangor Daily News. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- Radel, Cliff (17 October 2004). "Ruth Lyons, the film, coming soon". Cincinnati Enquirer. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- "Rushville Suburb of Bentonville, Morning Radio Audience Learns". National Road Traveler. 25 July 1946. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
- "Bentonville Woman Dances With Frazier Thomas At Morning Matinee". National Road Traveler. 15 July 1948. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
- Thomas Quits WLW To Set Up Own Firm. Billboard. 26 February 1949. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
- Crosley, John (24 September 1952). "Radio and Television". The Portsmouth Times. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- "Ruth Lyons To Return To Airwaves Oct. 10". The Portsmouth Times. 13 August 1966. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- "Who Is Ruth Lyons?". WLWT. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- Before Oprah: Ruth Lyons, the Woman Who Invented Talk TV, by Banks, Michael A. Orange Frazer Press, Wilmington, OH. 2009. ISBN 1-933197-49-8 .
- Horstman, Barry M (1999-05-13). "Ruth Lyons: 'Mother' captured hearts and ratings". The Cincinnati Post (E. W. Scripps Company). Archived from the original on 2007-02-14.
- Ruth Lyons at the Internet Movie Database