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Liz Richards

You remember her from The Morning Exchange but there's so much more to the Liz Richards story.

Liz was born and raised in Mansfield Ohio, the second of four children. She went to Kent State University where she earned her degree in Broadcasting in 1970.

Yes, she was there for the infamous Kent State Riots, but the very night before, her father made her promise to stay out of the brewing troubles on campus. She kept her promise, and did not take part in the melee of the day.

Liz Richards - WEWS Cleveland TV

After college, she returned to Mansfield. Cable television was just starting to be commonplace in homes. FCC regulations at the time required that all cable stations had to be of service to the community. Therefore any local originating cable stations where looking for qualified - but inexpensive on-air talent.

People were only paying about $7.00 a month for cable at the time and it was still considered an unnecessary luxury. So the cable stations did not want to pay high salaries.

Liz and two others got jobs doing the news, building sets and even lugging cameras around. Channel 5's Ernie Sindelar saw her on the air and a year later when FCC regulations changed again he remembered that he had liked her work.

The new regulations mandated that all Broadcast Stations must show compliance with federal law by not discriminating against women. This did not mean the stations had to hire women - just give them an equal opportunity to be interviewed. Ernie Sindelar contacted Liz and asked her to come for the interview

At this time Don Webster and Alan Douglas were doing the Morning Exchange, but the two had a difference of opinion on some on-air issues. The station needed someone to replace Don Webster.

She believes it was sure tenacity that finally wore Ernie Sindelar down to the point where he actually looked at her audition tape. She called him relentlessly. So when the situation arose he immediately thought of Liz Richards. He watched the tape and made the call.

"I'll always remember what he said. 'Little lady, we're going to make you Cinderella.' When I asked him what that meant he said, "I hope your pumpkins waiting outside"

They gave her a contract, which she took home to show her very-protective father. He went with her to the signing. It was 1972 and there was a very special VIP lounge/office with champagne and pizza waiting for them along with Don Paris, General Manager of the Station, Ernie Sindelar and Alan Bush.

Much to their surprise Liz's father told her to leave the room. What happened next was a story Liz had repeated back to her by "the guys" for many years to come.

Her father explained to them that she was leaving her home and her town to come work for them and he further explained that he was holding each of them personally responsible for her well being. He let them know he'd come after them individually if anything happened to his daughter.

Everyone understood the conditions and on April 1, 1972 Liz Richards went on the air with Alan Douglas on Morning Exchange. She was sure it was an April Fool's Joke. Douglas (now deceased) was not happy with his new female co-host and they worked in separate studios to prevent confrontation.

Liz Richards Cleveland Morning Exchange

It wasn't long after that Alan Douglas left and Fred Griffith joined the show. Joel Rose moved over from just doing news and became a big part of the show. It is this trio that most people think of when they think of The Morning Exchange.

And for good reason. They were together for ten wonderful years. The group became closer and closer, personally and their camaraderie showed on the air.

Fred Griffith

Fred Griffith

"I have such wonderful memories of Freddy and Joel. I came from a provincial town and family - I was not worldly at all.

These two men became the most important people in my daily life. Everyone - cameramen and everyone were part of an overwhelming sense of family. I know it sounds trite but it was true."

"I can't say enough good things about Scripps Howard Broadcasting. They were just wonderful!"

WEWS - Scripps Howard Broadcasting TV Cleveland

Although Liz has no aspirations of going back into broadcasting she took a lot of the lessons from her Morning Exchange Days with her when she went back to school and got her Law Degree.

She was the first woman on the air to ever show a pregnant stomach. "Scripps Howard never resisted. They were very evolved"

Liz left the show on March 15, 1979 - a day she remembers well. "I still have the video and I know I would cry if I watched it even now".

Her life was complicated at the time she left. She was married to radio personality Gary Dee and together they had two children, Jeremy and Allison.

"Gary was extremely physically abusive," says Liz "and I thought he wouldn't be mad at me or beat me anymore if I am a better housewife"

With this in mind, she left the Morning Exchange. Morning Exchange launched a massive replacement campaign and she knew for sure those days were behind her. Liz put her all into her house and family. She was determined to make her marriage work no matter what.

But on December 17, 1979 - just six months after leaving the show - Liz Richards wound up in the hospital with "the worse beating of my life. I needed plastic surgery on my face. My orbital bones, cheek bones, nose and jaw were all broken - and a broken tooth."

Her parents had no idea what was happening to their daughter, until this incident. "I don't know what finally hit me - why this time - but I finally said 'This Is It' I was not willing to give up my life for my marriage. So I filed for divorce."

The seventies were just the beginning of awareness and sensitivity on the issue of Domestic Violence. Ohio was one of the first states to follow in Wisconsin's footsteps and enact Domestic Violence Legislation.

When she went to court for her divorce people were outside the courthouse with signs calling her "Bitch" and blaming her for the break-up. "Many of the beatings had taken place in front of the kids, and I didn't want them to think this is the way things should be. So I decided to press criminal charges as well"

After the divorce proceedings were over, Liz took her two children and moved to Florida where her family now resided. She traveled back and forth to Cuyahoga County Courts trying to enforce child support orders.

This is where she first learned about the court system and how it works. She learned as she went, often picking up tips by watching her now ex-husband's attorney in action.

"I have lived in Camelot on the Morning Exchange and in Hell with Gary. I've lived high and I've lived low. Each place I lived I kept doing the right thing and the right thing would always eventually come to me."

Liz Richards went to law school (Stetson College of Law, St. Petersburg Florida) on AFDC (Aid To Families With Dependent Children) and food stamps. She was literally in Welfare lines. But she never gave up and just kept struggling.

Liz Richards with John Hambrick

Liz Richards with John Hambrick

"Wonderful things do happen to ordinary people. Lightning can strike twice - I am proof of that."

When she first opened up her practice in St. Petersburg it was in an old crack house that had been shut down by the city. She bought it on the spur of the moment and rehabbed it herself. Now she has a beautiful bungalow office, just outside of downtown.

Liz has found a life that allows her to be as aggressive and assertive as she needs to be and "get paid for it. I no longer have to wait for a pat on the head saying I did a good job". She is comfortable now; ethically and financially both.

Of course the type of law she practices is Domestic Violence Law and she brings her personal knowledge with her to help women (and men) in need.

Liz was back in Cleveland recently for a family reunion and took time to tour the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. She went to see her very first apartment -the Americana on Euclid Avenue and her old house in Bratenahl.

Her number one priority on her trip back home was a shopping trip at Value City -still one of her favorite shopping spots. Of course no trip to Cleveland would be complete without a trip to Little Italy for dinner.

"I love Cleveland. I claim it as my home. I spent the best years of my life there." She would like someday to have a home in Greater Cleveland for the summers and a winter home in Florida.

Dorothy Fuldheim

Her memories of Cleveland include the great Dorothy Fuldheim whom she absolutely loved. Liz remembers that it took Dorothy awhile to warm up to her, but once she did they were great friends.

"Dorothy was "the Queen Bee" and I was like a mosquito. The floor crew opened doors for her, pulled her chair out and there were flowers on her desk at all times. And the men - they all flirted with her.'

Liz asked her once how she managed all this and Dorothy smiled and said, "It's something you're born with or you're not".

Dorothy Fuldheim

Dorothy Fuldheim

When Dorothy left the station she gave Liz her desk - the same desk that Liz had so often seen her sit behind smoking her cigar. She'd open the desk drawer and take out ginger snaps - a taste that reminds Liz of Dorothy Fuldheim to this day.

Joel Rose

Liz Richards also worked with Joel Rose and was saddened by the news of his death. She was gratified to find out the DNA samples did not connect him to any wrongdoing - something she knew in her heart all along.

She equates her time on Morning Exchange to a family. Dorothy Fuldheim was undoubtedly the Matriarch. Don Paris and Ernie Sindelar played the role of parents. Fred Griffith played the role of older brother and Joel Rose, the younger brother. The support staff and camera crews played the role of school friends and extended family.

Liz Richards is one of the lucky ones - she came from a good family and found another one at Morning Exchange. She's surrounded herself with people in her new profession that love to smile and help others.

But it wasn't luck that brought her to the place she's at today - it was a commitment to doing the right thing regardless of the situation or the ramifications.

She is a strong, centered woman who turned adversity into a blessing. She is now helping the people she could have so easily identified with just a few years ago.

She has also overcome poverty and the welfare system, showing that you can stand up straight and proud as long as you are willing to work.

Liz Richards is much more than a smiling face from The Morning Exchange; she is a role model for us all.

Profiled by Debbie Hanson

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