COPE, BETTY (20 Dec. 1925 – 14 Sep. 2013), a Cleveland native, was a woman director in the male-dominated early days of television. She led the way to found WVIZ TV (Channel 25) and bring educational television to Northeast Ohio. She was the first woman to become the president and general manager of a major market TV station in the US.
The daughter of Iri Cope (1897-1967) and Marcella Shupe Cope (1904-1965), Betty Cope was a HATHAWAY BROWN graduate and attended Marjorie Webster Junior College in Washington DC because it had a TV broadcast program.
Cope’s first job in broadcasting was as a receptionist and “Girl Friday” at Cleveland’s first commercial television station, WEWS TV (Channel 5), when it went on air in December 1947. She soon was promoted to the position of director and producer responsible for a number of popular and long running shows including the DOROTHY FULDHEIM show.
When WEWS needed more daytime programming, she turned a newscaster named RON PENFOUND into TV host Captain Penny. Later, while managing WVIZ, she was responsible for hiring and promoting another local broadcasting legend, Fred Griffith, host of the “Morning Exchange” from 1972 until 1999.
In 1953, Cope appeared on the long-running CBS quiz show “What’s My Line,” where panelists tried through questions to guess people’s professions. None of the panelists guessed that she was a TV director even though she had directed a show with Steve Allen, one of the panelists, just a few months before.
Her tenacity was legendary. During the Thanksgiving blizzard of 1950 when the airport and many roads were closed, Cope was determined to get to Chanel 5 from her home in SHAKER HEIGHTS. She was producing a Christmas show with Santa Claus and didn't want to disappoint Cleveland's children. So, she got a horse from a riding academy near her Shaker Heights home and made it to the station for the broadcast. “How do you tell the kids Santa Claus isn’t going to make it in a snowstorm?” she said.
In the 1960s, she led the group that brought educational television to Northeast Ohio with the launch of WVIZ. She argued in one '70s speech that commercial sponsors control most TV, and in the Nixon era, she was part of the fight to keep public TV free of government control. WVIZ was the country’s 100th public TV station. It was then part of the National Educational Television (NET), which became PBS in 1970. Cope made the crucial decision to focus the station's resources on creating instructional programming that could be sold to school systems nationwide. Classroom programming became a long-term source of revenue for the station.
Several of Cope's programs at WVIZ predated shows that would become PBS favorites. Before Charlie Rose, for example, there was the talk show “Robertson at Large,” with author and Cleveland Press newspaper columnist DON ROBERTSON. Long before C-SPAN’s weekend “Book TV,” Cope was airing one of the country’s first shows devoted to the appreciation of literature hosted by local book reviewer, EUGENIA THORNTON-SILVER. And the WVIZ show with Ralph and Terry Kovel, “Know Your Antiques,” was a precursor to the popular PBS show, “Antiques Roadshow.”
Cope was well-known to Northeast Ohio viewers through her appearances on the station’s pledge drives. From 1965 until her retirement in 1993, Cope could be seen and heard on and off the air building support for noncommercial, educational, informational TV.
WVIZ recorded only three deficits during the 27 years Cope was at the helm. When she retired in 1993, the station had 50,000 paid members and was broadcasting from a state-of-the-art studio in its own building on Brookpark Road.
Twice married and divorced, Cope had no children. She died in 2013 in her Bainbridge Township home when she was 87 years old.