'Wee Willie' Webber dies, a beloved radio, TV star

Posted: May 24, 2010

BILL WEBBER often said that he didn't look forward to retirement. He said that he wanted to continue working until they put him in the ground - "and maybe longer."

William W. Webber, known as "Wee Willie Webber" to countless TV and radio fans in Philadelphia for more than half a century, longtime officer of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia and a man who never turned down a request to do a fundraiser, telethon or other charitable benefit, died yesterday. He was 80 and lived in Center City.

He had gone into Presbyterian Medical Center for heart surgery but died before it could be performed.

Webber wore many hats in the local broadcasting scene, from hosting children's shows, to playing what he called "middle-of-the-road" music as a disc jockey to interviewing celebrities as a talk-show host.

He was still working until a short time before his hospitalization. One of his stints was with disc jockey Jerry Blavat on WVLT in Vineland, N.J., as well as spinning platters on Philadelphia's WHAT.

"He was a really good guy who just enjoyed doing the work he did," Blavat said. "He never wanted to be more than Wee Willie. He was 6-foot-5 and I'm 5-foot-6, so when I stood next to him, I told him he really was Wee Willie.

"The persona he created was his own personality. If you sat with him at a restaurant, people knew who he was when they heard his voice. He was friendly with everybody. He loved the fact that people recognized him.

"He was a true professional. Whatever he was asked to do, he was right on the mark, ready to do it. He loved personal appearances, meeting his fans."

His fans spanned generations. Gerry Wilkinson, president of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia, remembered watching Bill's children's show, "Breakfast Time," in 1957 at the age of 8.

"Kids watched him on TV and their parents heard him on radio," said Willie's son, William W. Webber Jr. "His fans covered a whole range of ages.

"He was really a great guy. He was my best friend as well as my dad. I lost my dad and my best friend. The whole family is very proud of the career he had in Philadelphia."

Bill Jr., who runs Selector, a music-software company used by over 7,000 radio stations around the world, said that his father "loved what he was doing, loved people and loved Philadelphia."

Kal Rudman, publisher and philanthropist, can attest to Wee Willie's generosity. Rudman was a school teacher who yearned to be on the air.

Bill Webber was at WPEN at the time and Rudman recalls rapping on the window of the studio to catch his attention. Bill invited him in and later uttered to supervisors what Rudman called "those immortal words, 'Why don't you give the kid a break?' "

Rudman went on the air at a station in Camden a short time later, starting a long career as a DJ and announcer before he began publishing music magazines and handing out money to worthy causes.

When the Broadcast Pioneers holds its annual dinner and produces a program, Rudman always runs the same ad: "Thank you, Bill Webber, for opening doors for me."

When his son, Mitchell, was born in the old Doctor's Hospital, Rudman stopped off at the WPEN studios, at 17th and Delancey streets, and asked Webber to make the announcement of the birth on the air.

"When I got to the hospital, doctors and nurses were standing around," Rudman said. "One said, 'You have a famous baby. We just heard his name on the Bill Webber Show.'"

Bill Webber was born in Havana, Cuba, where his father was an executive with a company that was paving Havana's streets. His father, Reginald Webber, was a British subject, and his mother, Madeline, was from Brooklyn.

As a child, Bill was taken to Brooklyn where he graduated from Bushwick High School. He later took courses at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Having been born in Cuba to a Brit, it wasn't until after his Army service during the Korean War that Webber became a U.S. citizen.

He was a mapmaker in the Army before becoming a disc jockey on Armed Forces Radio in Japan, playing country/Western music. He was called the "Honshu Cowboy."

Returning to civilian life, he hosted a children's cartoon show, "Breakfast Time," on Channel 6, starting in 1956, then an after-school cartoon show, "Wee Willie Webber's Colorful Cartoon Club," on Channel 17 from 1965 to 1976. The show then moved to Channel 48 and was called "Kid's Block."

All the while, he was a disc jockey and talk-show host on local radio. He also did commercials and hosted a pre-game show for the Phillies.

He served as president of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia for two two-year terms starting in 2002, and later became chairman of the board.

He met his wife, Constance Russell, while he was doing "Breakfast Time." She was taking a tour of the station and he met her in the hall. They were married in 1958.

In 1965, he played the last song on KYW before it became an all-news station. It was Doris Day singing, "Que Sera, Sera."

"Bill always reminded us of what radio should be," said South Philly rocker Charlie Gracie Jr. "Anyone who listened in knew Bill loved what he did by his exuberance and enthusiasm. He could make the dullest commercial sound like a trip round the world, the deal of a lifetime, one that you should never pass up.

"Bill knew he was blessed to work in an industry he loved for so many years, and he made us, his listeners, feel so good as we basked in that radiance."

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Wendy Scheid, and four grandchildren.

Services were being arranged.

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