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TV's 'Wee Willie' Webber dies at 80

A host of children's shows from the 1950s to the '70s, he also got generations to tune in as a longtime DJ.

William W. Webber, 80, a fixture on Philadelphia radio and TV for more than 50 years, died of a heart attack Sunday at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center while awaiting heart surgery there later this week, said his son, William W. Jr. He lived on Rittenhouse Square.

Known as "Wee Willie" at 6-foot-5, Mr. Webber was a workhorse, a host of children's TV shows and a radio disc jockey, often on the same days.

In 1956, he became host of a Channel 6 two-hour morning cartoon show that ran into the '60s.

From 1965 to 1975, he hosted an after-school cartoon show on Channel 17.

And for three more years, his afternoon cartoon show was on Channel 48.

Mr. Webber was especially proud, his son said, of "his longevity in Philadelphia."

On local radio and TV stations, "people don't last very long. They tend to be in a market and then move on to another market."

Mr. Webber "wore well," his son said. More than that, "I think, he was proud of helping to raise a couple generations of kids with the kids' shows on Channels 6, 17, and 48."

In 1971, Rex Polier, TV critic for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, reported that Mr. Webber had added sports reporting to his repertoire as part of a half-hour show before Phillies games on Channel 17.

"He continues also as host of Channel 17's four-hour daily movie and cartoon afternoon kiddy bash," Polier wrote. "He will also continue his disc jockey show daily on WIP from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m."

Mr. Webber told Polier that he was glad of his broad appeal: "I talk to the kids and show them Astro Boy and the Three Stooges every afternoon. In the morning I talk to their mothers on radio and play middle-of-the-road music for them."

Mr. Webber was well aware he was fortunate to be working in the midst of the baby boomer generation.

"I love the population explosion," he told Polier. "Every time it explodes I get a whole new audience."

Before gaining fame in Philadelphia, Mr. Webber had some foreign dust on his boots.

He was born in Havana, where, his son said, "my grandfather was an engineer helping to pave the streets."

The family moved to the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, N.Y., and from 18 to 21, Mr. Webber worked for radio stations in Manhattan and Lancaster, his son said.

While stationed in Japan as an Army mapmaker, Mr. Webber won an audition with Armed Forces Radio, with offices on Honshu, the island that includes Tokyo.

"He was nicknamed the Honshu Cowboy," his son said, "because he played country and western songs."

A Havana baby. A Honshu cowboy. Then, an American.

It was the military service that earned him U.S. citizenship, his son said, "because his father was British."

Broadcast Pioneer

In 1999, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia named Mr. Webber to its Hall of Fame. He was president of the organization from 2002-04 and board chairman from 2004-06. In 2006, the group named him its person of the year.

A biography on the website of the Pioneers, based on a 2005 interview, states that Mr. Webber began his Philadelphia career "as a summer relief announcer in 1954" at WFIL-AM and FM.

In 1956, he became a full-time announcer on Channel 6, where he was host of Breakfast Time, the two-hour children's show.

When he was on Channel 17, the Wee Willie Webber Colorful Cartoon Club ran from 3 to 6:30 p.m. And on Channel 48, his Kids Block ran from 4 to 7 p.m., the website states.

Before the good years, the website states, "he became known in the trade as 'Kiss of Death Webber.' "

In 1953, he was hired by WEEU-TV (Channel 33) in Reading, but "after a little more than a year, the station went broke, and Bill signed the station off the air."

In 1963, Mr. Webber joined Channel 3 in Philadelphia and hosted a quiz show that "was canceled to make room for a newcomer to Philadelphia, Mike Douglas," the website says.

And "it was Bill who played the last record on KYW Radio before it went all-news" in 1965.

'I love the town'

Mail rooms are the portals to many careers, and while taking classes at New York University after graduating from Bushwick High School, Mr. Webber began his career in 1948 at an FM radio station in New York City whose name is lost to memory.

The website's last entry, in 2005, had him at WPEN-AM from 1989 to 2005.

For the last three years, Mr. Webber had a records show on WHAT-AM five days a week and a Sunday afternoon show on WVLT-FM in Vineland, N.J., his son said.

Mr. Webber was also a prominent fund-raiser for Easter Seals and March of Dimes campaigns.

In 1971, he told Polier, "In my business, we're supposed to be 'floaters,' you know. But I hardly leave town from one year to another. . . .

"I love the town. I can't even begin to count the Thanksgiving Day parades I've been in."

Besides his son, Mr. Webber is survived by his wife, Constance; a daughter, Wendy Scheid; and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were pending.