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Cleveland Speakers

Don Webster
Upbeat Nice Guy
Forecasted Music Stars and Weather

Don Webster was born in Ontario, Canada, an only child. When Don was eleven, his father died at age 34 from a congenital heart defect.

Don says they were not "dirt poor" growing up, but they did not have a lot of extras. "I learned the value of a dollar early in life." He attributes his strong work ethic to his mother's teachings. "My mother always told me to do what you have to do - and then a little bit more."

Although his roots are Canadian, Don is now an American citizen and Cleveland is clearly his home. He attended schools in Canada and started his career in radio in Hamilton, Montreal. He then moved to television in Hamilton and finally to Cleveland. His coming to Cleveland was because of a teen age girl.

Don Webster

In September, 1964 Don Parris was vacationing in Erie, Penna. At the time Don Webster was doing a show in Canada similar to Dick Clark's Band Stand, but not live. The signal reached to Erie and Parris's teen age daughter spotted him. She told her father that she liked him and thought he would be good for the Cleveland show they were considering.

Next thing you know Don got a call from the then unknown Herman Spero who asked him how he would like to come and do a show in Cleveland. "They were just putting together the idea of the Big 5 Show then and my answer was "What's a Cleveland?"

Don Webster with David Spero

Don Webster with David Spero,
son of Upbeat producer Herman Spero

Don went and auditioned and they made him an offer - but not a very good one. It took some negotiating but they finally came to terms. The Station had never hired anyone from outside the country before so there was a lot of "i's to dot and t's to cross but we got it done."

Spero booked the entertainment, usually through record companies. As Don explains it was possible to get the big acts on a show like this because "it was before the advent of the big coliseum shows and rock concerts." All of their shows were live with very few lip syncs.

"Cleveland was always a big music center" he continues. "Record producers knew if you could do well in Cleveland you would do well nationally." Accordingly, it was never difficult to get guests to come in.

They would be brought in on a Friday and Don and his team would try to get them a booking at a local High School so they'd get some extra pay out of it. "We didn't pay very much; it was more about the exposure."

Typically they would rehearse the show from about nine in the morning to noon. They would take care of the technical aspects like blocking and lighting. Don never did a lot of pre-interviewing. His feeling was that he got a better result just talking, it came across more natural.

Then they would break for lunch and come back at one o'clock to do the taping. It would take 2-3 hours to tape the one hour show. That show would play at 5:00.

The Beatles with Don Webster

Meet the Beatles
John, Paul, George, Ringo - and Don?

When the show became syndicated, and was renamed the Upbeat Show, there were a lot more dubbed in voices. The show would be sent out to Major cities first (New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Dallas) and then three weeks late it would be aired in the smaller markets.

This was the first show of its kind to go into syndication. It was soon followed by Shindig and Hullabaloo. Once the seventies came around most of these shows quickly became obsolete. The music business got so big that they were able to produce shows in huge venues.

The bigger the venue, the more people could attend. The more attendees the more money. So limited market television shows were no longer practical. As Don puts it "One night at the Coliseum was worth about 8 years on Upbeat!"

Don is not sure why Clevelanders have not made it on the national scene. "Michael Stanley certainly has the talent. Bennie Orr from the Grasshoppers went on to play with the Cars. There was a lot of local talent that never made it out of Cleveland but really should have."

Gene Pitney and Don Webster on Upbeat

Gene Pitney and Don Webster on Upbeat

Don remembers so many of the stars he worked with - in some cases they weren't stars until after they appeared on the show. He found Bobby Goldsboro and Gene Pitney to be very friendly and easy to work with.

All of the Motown acts were professional and cooperative. "Barry Gordy ran a tight ship. Whenever any of the Motown acts came in they were polite, cooperative, on time and looking good. They were all easy to direct and willing to work hard."

Not so about Eric Burdon (of the Animals) or Sly (from Sly and the Family Stone). He found Eric Burton to be a "sour puss" and Sly had a bad attitude. "Sly had no sense of humor about anything. He dressed for attention but when someone gave it to him he would get all upset. Absolutely no sense of humor."

Don considers John Denver to have been a wonderful talent to work with. "He came from a military background and it was evident. He was very professional and disciplined."

John Denver as part of the Chad Mitchell Trio

John Denver sang as part of the Chad Mitchell Trio

He also recalls the Saturday that Otis Redding appeared on the show. Immediately following the show he played at Leo's Casino here in Cleveland. Then Redding got on a plane and headed to Minnesota, but he never got there. Otis Redding died in that plane crash leaving Cleveland.

Mitch Ryder, Don Webster and Otis Redding

Mitch Ryder, Don Webster and Otis Redding. This was Otis Redding's last show before he and some band members were tragically killed in a plane crash in Wisconsin.

The very first time Simon and Garfunkel appeared together under that name was on the Upbeat Show. (Before that they were known as Tom & Jerry).

Simon and Garfunkel in Upbeat audience

Simon and Garfunkel sitting in with Don Webster
in the Upbeat audience

The day they appeared on the show that first time, Don had Bobby Goldsboro on as his co-host. Both Bobby and Don predicted that Simon and Garfunkel would never have a career in the music business. "We both thought they were too weird to make it."

Bobby Goldsboro with Don Webster on Upbeat

Bobby Goldsboro with Don Webster on Upbeat

Don says "The music evolved into heavy metal and the performers changed with the music. People with no background and no history came in acting like they were stars. They got very demanding and rude."

According to Don, every high school kid in Cleveland had white boots, and they all wanted to be on the show. "The show was immensely popular."

Don comes back to Cleveland periodically to do events at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and some other venues. Video clips from the Upbeat Show can be seen at the Rock Hall.

He recently (2/07)made a trip back to Cleveland to emcee the Corporate Club luncheon at Landerhaven with local weathermen.

Cleveland Weathermen Mark Nolan, Don Webster, Dick Goddard and Mark Johnson

Cleveland Weathermen Mark Nolan, Don Webster, Dick Goddard and Mark Johnson

He thinks of his time in Cleveland with great fondness. "Cleveland was good to me. We were a good fit. I had chances to go other places and do other things, but Cleveland always felt right. Back in the 70's Dick Clark wanted me to go work for him, hosting a new show on Saturdays. The money was not too good. Dick still has his first dime." But the number one reason he did not go was because Dick told him they had similar styles and Don was savvy enough to know that would never work.

He also passed up chances to go to San Francisco and Chicago. Every time he got an offer from another city, his station in Cleveland up'ped the ante to keep him here.

Plus, Don knew what he did worked in Cleveland. As he says "It's a funny business. You can be the same person doing the same act and be a huge success in one city and a flop in another city."

He attributes part of this to the make up of the city. "In Cleveland" he says "80% of the people here were born here. In a city like Phoenix only about 8% were born there. Cleveland is a good solid city with a solid fan base. There is also a lot of Europeans here; there is wonderful ethnic mix. Europeans and various ethnic groups may not accept you immediately, but once they do you have a friend for life. They take you in as their own."

In his 35 years here Don made a lot of friends. He played softball here with his good friend and business associate Ron "Captain Penny" Penfound. "We visited a watering hole or two together."

He lost contact with Barbara "Miss Barbara" Plummer but always liked her and enjoyed the times they worked together. He describes Paige Palmer as "a ball of fire" and "an excellent business woman."

But Dorothy Fuldheim was the reigning queen and he remembers so many stories about his time working with her. There was the time that he was in New York City for a few days and spotted a Godiva Chocolate shop. Knowing that Dorothy was a chocoholic he decided to buy her some and bring it back. "I though to myself, I am going to impress Big Red." So he bought the chocolates and gave them to her.

"She opened the box and said -next time, buy dark chocolate. That was Dorothy. She ate chocolates and smoked little cigarettes." He says the diamonds on her fingers weighed her hands down and further described her as "very crusty with a heart of gold."

He also worked with Tom Fields and Fred Griffith. "Fred was a genuinely nice guy."The General Manager at the time was Eddie Cervenak, Al Vargo was the chief engineer and Ken Coleman (Casey Coleman's father) was the sports director.

When Upbeat ended in the early 70's the station really didn't know what to do with him. They created a new newscast and brought in John Hamrick as a fresh face. This was the first Eyewitness News Show.

Don had earned his pilot's license and part of his instruction included the study of meteorology. He kept up the meteorology studies and he joined the Eyewitness news as a Weatherman. The line up was John Hamrick, Dave Patterson, Gib Shanley and Don Webster. The team had a great rapport and was an instant success.

"You can't create chemistry. It's either there or it's not. With us it was there. Especially between Gib and me. We used to razz each other on the air and people loved it."

Channel 5 Newsteam in 1982 - Dorothy Fuldheim, Gib Shanley

Channel 5 News Team in 1982 - Gib Shanley, Ted Henry, Dorothy Fuldheim, Jeff Maynor and Don Webster

Don has watched the business change over the years and become more of an enterprise. He feels the newscasters and station officials are afraid to go outside the box. He finds it "senseless to hire good people and not let them be who they are."

Don contends that everybody has the same news, weather and sports so it is the delivery that sets a team aside. He would like to see the station managers "let people be themselves."

But having said that it is only fair to point out that Don believes there must be parameters set in anything open to the public. He feels, for example, that a lot of today's music is outside of the parameters. "A lot of the lyrics lack decency and some are blatantly pornographic."

He also misses the music you could whistle in the shower. "What music from today can you do that to other than country music? Country music is about real people."

Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad with Don Webster

Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad with Don Webster

He also sees how newscasts have changed. When he first started "news was news". But he finds that even network news has added entertainment packages. Reports from bloggers and people on the street hold no credibility for Don who wants news to deliver facts.

He also does not want to be able to tell what the reporter's political affiliation is. "A reporter's job is to report not offer opinions. If someone is relaying a news story they should have the credentials behind them that allows me to trust their information. I should be able to trust that what they say is just the facts and there should be no slant towards conservative or liberal thinking."

Don senses that the day of a once daily major newscast with one big anchor person is over. He says "When Walter Cronkite said it, you knew it was true. If Peter [Jennings] had lived he would have been king of the hill. As it is all three of the current "big names" including Katie Couric lack credibility."

He finds the same to be true of newspapers and expects that they will not be around much longer. Some papers, like the Wall Street Journal, still maintain their integrity in Don's view.

Don has been married to his wife Candi since 1992. She works part time in Pittsburgh - for a company that does trade shows (ECRM Imaging). She travels about twenty weeks out of the year.

It was Jan Jones who brought Candi and Don together. Don was in management at the station and had just gone through a divorce. (He says of the eight years he spent in management that he was mentally ill and got out of management shortly after a lobotomy."

Morning Exchange was going to Florida to broadcast live from DisneyWorld. He saw Jan Jones and mentioned to her that he wasn't quite in the mood and wouldn't be going. "Jan said oh yes you are and I know who you're going with."

She re-introduced Don to Candi whom he had met briefly 20 years prior. Jan invited Candi, who went along to Disney. The two hit it off instantly and were married three years later.

Candi had worked for MCI for a long time but always had a second job at Casual Corner. That's where she met Jan Jones who bought her clothes there.

Don and Candi are now living in Hilton Head, South Carolina and really enjoy it. His wife expected him to have a problem adjusting to the new life as an unknown. "She knew I wouldn't be getting preferential treatment in theaters and restaurants and such." But Candi didn't need to worry. Don absolutely loves it.

He sees it as the best of both worlds. As he says "I can relax down here and yet I can go up to Cleveland and get my fix. I tell people I'm going up to Cleveland to be Don Webster for a few days. Here I'm just Don."

Don Webster with wife Candi

Don Webster with wife Candi

He says everything you hear about southern hospitality holds true in his new home. Everyone is nice and friendly. "At first I thought I was getting really old because everybody called me Sir. Then I realize down here everybody is called Sir."

According to Don, Ron Howard [actor and director] lives in Hilton Head a good part of year, and the rest of the year in Connecticut. Ron didn't want to raise his kids in California and recognized the down to earth qualities Hilton Head had to offer.

There is a part of him that misses Cleveland though. He misses some of Cleveland's good restaurants and he misses looking at the entertainment pages in the Plain Dealer. "No matter what you want, Cleveland's got it. Good Golly Miss Molly" he says "people just don't appreciate what they have."

Don Webster with Upbeat Dancers

Don Webster with some Upbeat Dancers

He thinks Cleveland may have missed the boat back in the 60's and should have gone to a metropolitan government. "Now" he says "there are 50 or 52 municipalities with their own little thiefdoms. There are no council members at large which means people loose site of the city as a whole and think only about their own section. Their own police. Their own fire department."

Don confesses that he has no answer but is still troubled when he stops to think about all the places like Sterling Linder Davis, The May Company and Halle Brothers that were all downtown and are all gone now. He hopes Cleveland will find a way to get more people living downtown.

Don is a die hard Browns fan. "It breaks my heart but I'm a fan. I think the owner of Browns needs to know people are as gung ho as they are. It's time to put his foot down and get on the side of the fans. Cleveland fans are greatest in world. They deserve so much more."

And the Browns aren't the only Cleveland team Don still calls his own. He is a huge baseball fan and loves the Indians. He's even started watching the Cavs and finds them to be really exciting.

Don is in his element when he's doing television. He thinks he does better having 50,000 people watching him than five. "I'm not good at small talk. I'm not shy, but I like to be a good listener too. This may stem from the fact that I never had an ego. A lot of people in this business like to talk about themselves."

Don Webster at home behind the mic

Don Webster at home behind the mic

He has never forgotten the advice he got when he first started out in this business. He was told that no matter how many people where watching at any given time it all broke down to a person here or there sitting in their family room or lying in bed. He was told to talk to them. He followed that advice and it has worked well for him.

Don's number one pet peeve is rude people, including people on cell phones in cars and restaurants. He thinks most people would do better if they followed the golden rule a little more carefully and treated people the way they'd like to be treated.

Don enjoys solitude. Although on the surface it may sounds like a contradiction, it's really not. He has a great wife, who he is eternally devoted to. He has a great dog, Daisy Belle Beujangles who he loves to spend time with. She is a Springer Spaniel -and Don describes the breed (and Daisy) as "a very smart, great dog".

Don Webster with dog Daisy

Don Webster with dog Daisy

He has always had dogs and they have always been a part of the family more than a pet. "She is ten years old but still thinks she's 3. We live by a private beach on Port Royal Sound and she spends a lot of time in the water. She loves it and so do I."

Don Webster's dog Daisy

Don Webster's lucky dog Daisy

Don mainly uses his computer for e-mail but boasts that his wife is a computer whiz. He does love to read - and always has. Historical novels, good mysteries, just about anything "I have very eclectic tastes. I always told my kids there's not a thing in the world you can't find out about if you go to a library." He doesn't watch too much television though.

Don and Candi love to travel. While he was still working he hosted a lot of tours to many countries throughout the world. When he retired rather then giving him a gold watch he was given the opportunity to continue doing the tours. They'll be off to Alaska in June. And Italy in September.

Don is also still doing some television work. He just signed a contract for Basement Systems of Ohio® and represented them at the Home & Flower show at the IX Center in February.

Don always tried to keep his children out of the way of cameras and tabloids. "When the station would do special shows for Christmas and go to the newscasters' houses and such I would never allow it. I wanted them to know that what I did was a job, I was nobody special. I could have sold shoes or been a salesman and it would have been the same; nothing to get excited about."

He has three sons, David, who lives it Atlanta; Pamela, who lives in the Naples Florida area and; Kelly who lives in Cleveland. He's proud to say he had four grandchildren.

Don Webster in his Waterguard Basement Waterproofing shot

Don Webster today

Although he has been on television for decades there is no arrogance or conceit in Don Webster. He has worked with some of the music industries biggest names, yet he tells the stories because he is asked, not to boast. He has led an interesting life and still talks about parameters and solitude.

There is a down-to-earth-guy-next-door aura about Don and that may be why we invited him into our homes for so many years. He is generous with his time and his talent and is a true gentleman.

See a lot more photos of Don and stars such as Gene Krupa, Stevie Wonder, The Monkees, and many more from the Upbeat Show

Profiled by Debbie Hanson (2/07)

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