Lew Klein, Philadelphia TV pioneer, dead at 91

June 13, 2019 - 10:27 am
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Lew Klein, the Philadelphia TV pioneer and longtime educator whose name is on the Temple school of journalism, died Wednesday, June 12, at the age of 91.

Klein touched the lives of many in the journalism industry, in Philadelphia and beyond. 

He helped develop "American Bandstand" and 6ABC's Action News format, and he produced Phillies baseball telecasts for 15 years.

Temple University confirmed his death on Thursday. 

"He was a man of tremendous spirit and dedication," said Larry Kane, former 6ABC News anchor and KYW Newsradio alum. "The most notable aspect of his life was his absolute determination. I had lunch with him in his home about four or five weeks ago. He just was talking about going overseas again, traveling. He never stopped."

In 2017, the university honored Klein by naming the communications school the Lew Klein College of Media and Communication. Klein received a standing ovation at the ceremony.

"He created an environment of learning at that school that has made Temple University's Klein School one of the finest in the nation," Kane said. 

The university honored Klein again by naming the main performance space after him: the Temple Performing Arts Center Lew Klein Hall. 

Lew Klein with marionette at his first job on a weather show in the 1940s.
Courtesy of Lew Klein
Advancing TV and 'Bandstand'

Klein joined broadcasting at a young age after going to the University of Pennsylvania. His long career began in the 1940s. For his first job, he had to build a puppet for a TV weather show — for $5 a show.

"The very first weather show ever — and it was only on Thursday nights, because nobody cared about the weather except for the weekend. Look what’s happened to that," Klein told KYW Newsradio in 2017.

In 1952, as the nascent television industry was fighting radio for media superiority, Klein started teaching TV production classes at Temple while also working as an executive at WFIL-TV (now WPVI, 6ABC) in Philadelphia, where he got his start. 

"He became the program director and eventually ran all the programming," Kane said. "He was very, very responsible for 'American Bandstand' with Dick Clark. Certainly, there would be no Action News without Lew Klein."

Over the next six decades at Temple and beyond, Klein helped launch the careers of some of the biggest names in television, including comedian Bob Saget and "Bandstand" host Clark. Klein served as an executive producer of "Bandstand" in the years it was produced in Philadelphia.

"It created dances. It created fashions. If something appeared on 'Bandstand,' it became the rage across the country," Klein said in 2017. "The kids who came to 'Bandstand' were kids from West Catholic High School, and as soon as school was over, they would run around the corner and come to 'Bandstand.'

"And the sisters did not like or allow the girls to wear their Catholic school uniforms, so the girls would bring sweaters. And when school was over, they had this sweater that covered everything but their Peter Pan collar that was part of their uniform. Well, Peter Pan collars became a necessity for girls across the country!"

While at 6ABC, Klein directed many programs, including the Sally Starr show, "Romper Room," and "College Press Conference." With Lutheran minister W. Carter Merbrier, he created the children's program "Captain Noah and his Magical Ark," which ran for 27 years. 

Lew Klein
Courtesy of Temple University archives

Philadelphia remembers a broadcasting icon

Paul Gluck, the former longtime director of news at WCAU-TV and KYW-TV, said Klein's impact was expansive. His loss leaves behind a vacuum "that cannot be filled."

"Lew Klein's impact on me and on a legion of other people locally and nationally is all but incalculable," he said. "It's rare to be in this building, in Annenberg Hall at Klein College, and not find him in a corner, sequestered with a student, offering advice, encouragement, trying to help someone who might not be too sure of themselves find their confidence, and find their path."

Gluck, who transitioned to the academic world, with longtime ties to Temple's Department of Media Studies and Production, serving as the general manager of TUTV on campus, said Klein always focused on individual encounters and that personal touch.

"He was a very accessible man for someone who had such extraordinary success," he added.

David Boardman, dean of the Klein College of Media and Communication, echoed similar sentiments of Klein's remarkable professional career. In many ways, he said Klein helped forge the modern television newsroom.

"Over his 67 years at Temple, Lew had a profound impact on thousands of careers, including my own," he said.

"Philadelphia lost a legend in Lew Klein," said Ted Qualli, executive director of PAL, the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia, of which Klein served on the board for 20 years. "He helped create this scholarship foundation. I think it's a loss to PAL, a loss to Temple University ... and whether or not these students recognize it, Lew has played a part in their lives."

"Someone of that stature passing away is a huge loss," added Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney Thursday. "It leaves a big void in the university and in journalism."

Teenagers dance on an episode of Dick Clark’s television program, ‘American Bandstand,’ 1950s.
Gary Wagner/Getty Images

Dr. Betsy Leebron Tutelman, senior vice provost for strategic communications at Temple University, recalled meeting Klein through her father, who worked at WFIL with him. Their families also belonged to the same synagogue. Years later, she reconnected with him after college.

In the early '80s, Klein convinced her to come back to Philadelphia and teach at Temple. "And he said if I came, he would be my mentor, and he has been ever since 1983."

Personally, there are certain characteristics about Klein that she said will live on.

"His smile and how infectious it was. I think about his enthusiasm, and I have to be honest and tell you that I also think about the amazing example that he and Janet set as a couple," said Tutelman. "He's amazingly thoughtful, honest, trustworthy, in ways I can't even begin to tell you. At times when there were things that challenged me in my career, I went to Lew and he'd always have the best advice for how to handle situations."

Tuttleman said Klein's best advice to her was to be true to herself in life and in her career; but he also provided this bit of guidance:

"Always remember that it's not about you," she reiterated. "I think that was probably the most important thing. It's never about you — it's about who knows you. And he tells the students this: Who knows you helps you open doors and advance yourself through opportunities, from the internship to your first job, to your 10th job, to your career."

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KYW Newsradio's Eric Walter, Steve Tawa and Lauren Lipton contributed to this report.

Related: Charles Barkley receives Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Award