Video Vault: Phil Donahue brings his talk show to Cleveland in 1980

Front Row/WEWS hosted a week of homecoming shows

CLEVELAND - Can you imagine scalpers selling tickets for a free TV show? It happened here in Cleveland in 1980.

Phil Donahue and his show were wildly popular, think Oprah-style popular, when it was announced the Cleveland-born talker was bringing his show to his hometown.

WEWS aired Donahue in those days. The five days of taping at the now-demolished Front Row Theater would have space for 3,000 audience members each day. The station received 100,000 requests for tickets by mail, hence the scalping of tickets for a free show.

Donahue grew up in Cleveland’s West Park neighborhood on Southland Avenue. He was in St. Edward High School’s first graduating class in 1953. His first TV job was behind the scenes at KYW (now WKYC) here in Cleveland, but it was in Dayton in the late 60s where Donahue started a local TV talk show.

The Donahue show would become a nationally syndicated show and move to Chicago from Dayton. In the show’s later year’s it would move again, this time to New York.

But it was for a week in late June/early July 1980 when Donahue came home to Cleveland. The clips in our video player start with a story on the Donahue phenomena done by WEWS reporter Roger Morris.

A reception at the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum for Donahue has him accompanied by his new wife Marlo Thomas.

At a news conference, Donahue talked about coming home. “This is as nice as it gets. I mean if I’m not enjoying this, I should give it to somebody else,” he said.

We talked to fans who were lucky enough to get tickets as well as one man, former WGAR disc jockey and WEWS Afternoon Exchange contributor the ‘Real’ Bob James, who did a bit of shtick trying to get into the theater.

It’s interesting to see the names of some of the former Cleveland businesses who were sponsors: Halle’s, Cardinal Federal Savings and Stop and Shop.

Former WEWS general manager Ed Cervenak takes us up in the air for a view of the Front Row from Chopper 5. Finally, we close with Donahue at the news conference again.

Did Cleveland TV stations miss out at hiring him to do his talk show in Cleveland he's asked?

“I don’t think I would have hired me in 1957,” he answered.

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