KYW Eyewitness News Team, 1974

Six months after Jessica joined Mort Crim (left) and Vince Leonard (right) on the anchor desk, the KYW Eyewitness News team shot to #1 in the ratings. Jessica was 26 years old.

In the early 1970s, women everywhere were demanding equality in the workplace. When Jessica was hired at KYW-TV in 1972, the winds of change were at her back.

The Philadelphia chapter of NOW (National Organization for Women) had launched a campaign for more women to appear on television in non-traditional roles, beginning with the local news. At the same time, the Federal Communications Commission had enacted new anti-discrimination regulations. NOW had federal law on its side, and local station managers knew it.

Jessica was already anchoring the weekend news, and had established herself as a solid local reporter. We knew she’d be perfect to represent the new face of feminism in the media, and we pushed hard for her to be promoted to a top anchor position, equal to the male anchors.

KYW-TV made history in the summer of 1974 when it announced that Jessica would be Philadelphia’s first female prime time news anchor. That day, the general manager said to me, “I want you to know that NOW played a big role in this. But Jessica wasn’t promoted because she is a woman. She was promoted because she is the best.”

In those early days of the Philadelphia women’s movement, Jessica was a hero to our local chapter. She was the first woman to crack the media glass ceiling in an era when women were treated as second-class citizens and their opinions and talents were largely ignored.

 — Lillian Ciarrochi, Past President, NOW Philadelphia Chapter


Eyewitness News Promos

You say you want a revolution? Put Jessica Savitch on your primetime news anchor desk. In the ‘70s, in major TV markets, anchors were men. Old men. When KYW-TV added Jessica Savitch as co-anchor, they weren’t just adding a TV personality. The weather guy was a TV personality. Because no young woman had ever done this in a major market, Jessica Savitch was a phenomenon.

She couldn’t walk down the street in Philly without being mobbed. Was she happy about it? Not really. She was worried about it, worried that people wouldn’t take her seriously, worried that she would be judged on her looks and not on her reporting skills. Sure she was blonde, and sure she was pretty. But she was, first, a very good journalist. And that’s what mattered most.

— Maury Z. Levy, Former Editorial Director, Philadelphia Magazine

Maury Z. Levy wrote several articles about Jessica and the KYW Eyewitness News team for Philadelphia Magazine. Articles include Please Don’t Send Me Panties and We Interrupt This Issue To Bring You An Eyewitness News Bulletin.

 

The KYW Documentary Unit, left to right: Paul Dowie (audio), Joe Vandergast (photographer), Jessica and Alan Kohler (editor)

KYW was a pioneer of the multi-part “news series” concept. They were reports that centered on a particular topic or issue that aired consecutively for several days, usually during a ratings period.

Jessica and the KYW documentary unit created three groundbreaking series, each of which focused on changing roles for women in society. Rape – The Ultimate Violation aired in 1974 when the subject was strictly taboo on television. The series is credited for prompting new legislation protecting the rights of rape victims and won a Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications.

Natural High showed viewers a new approach to childbirth, shunning anesthesia and involving the father in the process. The series included an actual birth, which, at the time, was considered too graphic for television.

Lady Law followed the first crop of female police officers in Philadelphia, probing the controversy over women’s fitness for duty. The series won awards from the Broadcast Media Conference and the Association for Women in Communications.


Jessica’s Final KYW Newscast, August 19, 1977