News radio pioneer transformed NYC's WCBS

CBS Radio VP Joseph Dembo, who turned New York City’s WCBS Radio into a successful all-news broadcaster, died Monday in Manhattan. He was 83.

Picked by CBS chairman William Paley in 1967 to convert an also-ran flagship radio station to the fledlging all-news format, then-VP and g.m. Dembo assembled a team that included anchors Charles Osgood, Lou Adler, Steve Porter, Jim Harriot and Robert Vaughn, street reporters Ed Bradley and Steve Flanders and sportscaster Pat Summerall. He also hired a future president of CBS News, Ed Joyce, to be his news director.

Born in Vienna, Dembo immigrated to the U.S. as a child. He grew up in New Brunswick, N.J., and graduated from Rutgers U. with a journalism degree in 1950. He entered broadcasting in 1952 at NBC in New York, where his assignments included “Esso Reporter” on WNBC-TV. He also served as an associate producer on the “Today” show.

A 28-year veteran of CBS, Dembo worked in radio and TV including as anchor of “News-on-the-Hour” national broadcasts on the CBS Radio Network. Dembo joined WCBS Radio in 1960 and was named executive producer of the station within a year. In 1962, he was appointed director of news and public affairs for WCBS, creating the award-winning series “WCBS Radio Looks at Television.”

He was exec producer of “The CBS Morning News” from 1974-76 and ran the Eye’s news bureaus in Rome and Athens before that, from 1971-74. He left “The CBS Morning News” in 1976 to go back on-air, a role he last performed at WCBS, where he could be heard delivering the station’s editorials as its general manager. As a CBS News correspondent, he reported for the CBS News radio documentary series “Newsmark,” in addition to his daily “News-on-the-Hour” duties for the CBS Radio Network, a job he held until November 1978.

Dembo was upped to exec editor for hard-news broadcasts for the CBS Radio Network. He added the title of news director before being made a network VP in charge of all of CBS Radio in 1982.

In 1988 Dembo left CBS to teach at Fordham U., where, until just last year, he was a professor of media studies teaching courses on journalistic ethics, the history of radio and television journalism and a class on the Edward R. Murrow era at CBS. A stern enforcer of Murrow’s reporting standards, he kept a picture of the CBS News icon on his office wall at CBS News.

So it was ironic when he made headlines in 1992 because a newsletter published by journalists’ org the Society of the Silurians wrongly reported that he had died. Dembo recalled receiving calls from people he hadn’t heard from in 30 years and even an offer for his Manhattan apartment.

Dembo also served as acting president of National Public Radio and for three years was a member of the NPR board of directors.

In 1988 he received the Orson Welles Award for lifetime achievement from the Radio Advertising Bureau.

He is survived by his wife, Margot; three children; and two grandchildren.

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