CLEVELAND — Fred Griffith, who graced the Cleveland airwaves for more than 50 years, died Friday morning.
He was 90 years old.
Griffith spent 12 years at WKYC from 2000-2012. He is best known as host of WEWS’ groundbreaking Morning Exchange program, a local staple on morning television from 27 years.
His daughter, Gwen, posted a tribute to her father Friday morning.
"Dad was a brilliant man who had an amazing career in television," she wrote on Facebook. "He, and his television show, changed morning TV."
She said he passed away "very peacefully with his three loving children by his side. As it should be."
A native of Charleston, West Virginia, Griffith served in the Air Force prior to becoming a journalist, and he first came in Cleveland in 1959 doing news and public affairs for radio station WDOK. At one point, he held three jobs: Doing a business radio show on WERE radio, working at PBS affiliate WVIZ, and producing the 11 p.m. news for WEWS Channel 5. He later moved to the latter full time, serving as both news and public affairs director before replacing Alan Douglas as host of The Morning Exchange in 1972.
Following Griffith’s addition to the program, producers decided to change the set format from the traditional newsdesk to one with couches in a “living room” setting, and also began showcasing real-life topics not before covered in a news setting. Griffith was able to develop great chemistry with fellow personalities Liz Richards and Joel Rose, and the show proved such a hit that it often held two-thirds of the local viewing audience. It is now seen as a platform for morning TV shows that followed it.
"We talked about death, sexuality, dealing with career choices, how to establish long lasting relationships, we talked about all those kinds of things that are just routine now, but [at the time] we were pioneers,” Griffith said in a 2006 interview.
WEWS even decided against running ABC’s national show Good Morning America (which itself was inspired by The Morning Exchange) for many years until 1994, when a new affiliate deal forced the station to become the last market in America to air the show in its full two hours. This forced The Morning Exchange to move to 9 a.m., and ratings began to decline. It was eventually reduced to one hour, and Griffith was briefly replaced as host before the show was canceled altogether on Sept. 10, 1999.
Following his departure from WEWS, Fred joined WKYC in 2000 as the host of 15 Minutes with Fred. The show was later expanded to a half hour before Griffith became co-host of Good Company in 2005 (the precursor to Live On Lakeside). He would stay there for seven years before retiring in 2012 at the age of 83. At the time, his more than 13,700 hours on live TV were declared a national record.
Hollie Strano was just one of the people Fred crossed paths with over the years. She shared memories of her late friend and colleague on Friday:
Through it all, Fred was one of the most respected journalistic voices in Cleveland, winning several Emmys for his work and earning induction into the Press Club of Cleveland Hall of Fame. He also remained loyal to the city that became his adopted home.