Phil Donahue was born in Cleveland, OH, in 1935. His show, aptly titled, The Phil Donahue Show, would change daytime television. It premiered in Dayton in 1967 and ran for the next 29 years.
The show introduced American daytime television audiences to a unique, new, daytime format and became a standard for a wide range of shows that followed, including everything from Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil, to Jerry Springer and Maury Pauvich.
Upon graduating from Notre Dame in 1957, Donahue held several television and radio jobs throughout the Midwest. He eventually landed at Dayton’s WHIO as a newscaster and also had a radio show at the station titled Conversation Piece.
At the time, Johnny Gilbert (who later achieved fame as the announcer on The Price is Right) had a television show on rival Dayton channel WLWD. When Gilbert left in 1967 to pursue work in Hollywood, Donahue came to the station to do a show in Gilbert’s old time slot. The Phil Donahue Show premiered on Dayton’s WLWD-TV in November, 1967.
The show was known for its frank discussions of controversial subjects at the time, e.g., prayer in schools, abortion, sex, and the Equal Rights Amendment. Tempering the “hot” issue shows were shows and interviews with entertainers, and celebrities. Its audiences were primarily women who were encouraged to ask questions of the guests. In addition, Donahue would take on-air phone calls from viewers at home.
In 1970, while still being filmed in Dayton, the show was syndicated nationally. In 1974, the decision was made to leave WLWD in Dayton and move the show to WGN Studios in Chicago. Donahue again moved the show in 1984 to WNBC Studios in New York.
Over its 29 years, Donahue (which the show’s title was eventually shortened to) won 19 Emmy awards and is credited with being the longest running syndicated talk show in American history.
The images in this online exhibit are all of Donahue’s time in Dayton, prior to moving the show to Chicago. You may see an accompanying Donahue exhibit in the lobby of the Paul Laurence Dunbar Library on the Wright State University campus.