“Wee” Willie Webber, local TV fixture, dies at 80

Posted: May 23, 2010

William W. Webber, 80, a fixture on Philadelphia radio and TV for more than 50 years, died Sunday of a heart attack at Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia while awaiting heart surgery there later this week, his son, William W. Jr., said. He lived on Rittenhouse Square.

Known as Wee Willie at 6 feet, 5 inches, Mr. Webber was a workhorse, a host of children's TV shows and a radio disc jockey, often on the same days.

In 1956, he became host of a two-hour morning children's cartoon show on Channel 6 that ran into the '60s.

From 1965 to 1976, he hosted an after-school cartoon show on Channel 17.

And for three more years, his afternoon cartoon show was on Channel 48.

Mr. Webber was especially proud, his son said, of "his longevity in Philadelphia."

On local radio and TV stations, "people don't last very long. They tend to be in a market and then move on to another market."

Mr. Webber "wore well."

More than that, his son said, "I think he was proud of helping to raise a couple generations of kids with the kids' shows on Channels 6, 17, and 48."

In 1971, Rex Polier, TV critic for the Evening Bulletin, reported that Mr. Webber had added sports reporting to his repertoire, as part of a half-hour show before Phillies games on Ch. 17.

"He continues also as host of Channel 17's four-hour daily movie and cartoon afternoon kiddy bash," Polier wrote. "He will also continue his disc jockey show daily on WIP from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m."

Mr. Webber told Polier he was glad of his broad appeal.

"I talk to the kids and show them Astro Boy and The Three Stooges every afternoon.

"In the morning I talk to their mothers on radio and play middle-of-the-road music for them."

Mr. Webber was well aware of being fortunately in the midst of the Baby Boomer generation, which generally is counted by births from 1946 to 1964.

"I love the population explosion," he told Polier. "Every time it explodes I get a whole new audience."

A fixture on Philadelphia radio and then TV since 1954, Mr. Webber had some foreign dust on his boots.

"He was born in Havana, Cuba," his son said, where "my grandfather was an engineer helping to pave the streets.

"They moved back to Brooklyn; he grew up in the Bushwick section," and, from 18 to 21, worked for radio stations in Manhattan and Lancaster.

But while stationed in Japan as an Army mapmaker, he won an audition with Armed Forces Radio, with offices on Honshu, the island where Tokyo is located.

"He was nicknamed the Honshu Cowboy," his son said, "because he played country and western songs."

A Havana baby. A Honshu cowboy. Then, an American.

It was the military service that earned him citizenship, his son said, "because his father was British."

In 1999, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia named him to its Hall of Fame.

From 2002 to 2004, he was president of the organization and from 2004 to 2006 was its board chairman.

In 2006, the group named him its Person of the Year.

A biography on the Website of the Pioneers, based on a 2005 interview with Mr. Webber, stated that he began his Philadelphia career "as a summer relief announcer in 1954" at WFIL-AM and FM.

In 1956, he became a full-time announcer on Channel 6, where he was host of " 'Breakfast Time,' a two-hour children's show with cartoons, weather, news, and sports."

From 1965 to 1975, he was host of the after-school "Wee Willie Webber Colorful Cartoon Club," from 3 to 6:30 p.m. on Channel 17.

For the three following years, he was host for the cartoons show, "Kids Block," from 4 to 7 p.m. on Channel 48, the Website stated.

Before the good years, the Website states, "he became known in the trade as 'Kiss of Death Webber.' "

In 1953, he was hired by WEEU-TV, Channel 33 in Reading, but "after a little more than a year, the station went broke and Bill signed the station off the air."

In 1963, he joined Channel 3 in Philadelphia and hosted a quiz show which later, the Website stated, "was canceled to make room for a newcomer to Philadelphia, Mike Douglas."

And, the Website stated, "it was Bill who played the last record on KYW Radio before it went all-news."

Mailrooms are the portals to many careers and, after graduating from Bushwick High School in Brooklyn and while taking classes at New York University, Mr. Webber began his career in 1948, at an FM radio station in New York City whose name is lost in the mists of memory.

The Website's last entry in 2005 had him at radio station WPEN, from 1989 to 2005.

His son said that for the last three years he had a records show on WHAT radio five days a week and a Sunday afternoon show on WVLT in Vineland, N.J.

Mr. Webber was also a prominent fund-raiser for Easter Seals and March of Dimes campaigns.

In 1971, Mr. Webber told Polier, "In my business, we're supposed to be 'floaters,' you know. But I hardly leave town from one year to another . . .

"I love the town. I can't even begin to count the Thanksgiving Day parades I've been in."

Besides his son, Mr. Webber is survived by his wife, Constance; a daughter, Wendy Scheid; and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or at wnaedele@phillynews.com.

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