We of the Baby Boomer generation were the first generation to grow up with television in our lives. The black and white images on our television screens affected our lives more than anyone could have ever dreamed possible. The national television networks and the people we saw on their broadcasts became part of our families and NBC, CBS, and ABC entertained, informed and influenced us. More important to us viewers, both young and grown up, were the local TV stations who sent us those images and the local personalities who seemed to be talking to us personally. Channel 6 WFBM was the first station on the air in Indianapolis, debuting Memorial Day 1949, and was NBC’s local broadcaster. Channel 8 WISH was the CBS affiliate and started broadcasting in July of 1954, and from October of 1957 Channel 13 WLWI was the ABC station. Channel 4 WTTV was an independent station with some ABC affiliations until 1957.
The people who spoke to us from the television screen were somehow magical. There were the nation’s television newsmen and women whom we all knew, but the announcers, live show hosts and hostesses and news people on our local outlets were our friends and neighbors. We knew that they worked in the television studios in Indianapolis but they were still ON TELEVISION. That made them our own “stars” and they were celebrities to us, just like the ones on national television.
I came to notice and admire a handsome fellow with a rich, smooth, and mellow voice who was a staff announcer on Channel 8. Joe Leamon was a nice looking, clean cut guy who appeared at different times of day to do commercials and program lead-ins, but it was more often his voice that was heard. I learned to recognize his distinctive voice. For fourteen years Joe worked as a WISH TV staff announcer. He was also during this time an Irvington resident and he and his wife Lois had strong ties to the neighborhood.
Joe was born in Dayton, Ohio and his father was a teacher. Before Joe started school, his father found a post in the Cleveland public school system as a mathematics teacher and the family moved there. Joe grew up in Cleveland and attended public school and high school — possessing a pleasing singing voice, he became attracted to music. The Leamon family had a strong connection to Hiram College in northeastern Ohio not far from Cleveland. Joe’s parents both attended Hiram and met each other there. Joe enrolled there with the thought of studying pre-engineering or electrical engineering. While there he met the girl whom he would marry, Lois Wooddruff. Lois’s parents had both attended Hiram so it seemed fated that the two would meet. Joe took a year off and lived with relatives in St. Petersburg, Florida, so Lois graduated a year ahead of him in 1949. After graduation Lois got a job at Western Reserve Library in Cleveland. Then after Lois’ grandmother died in Indianapolis, she came to help her grandfather and found a position at Disciples of Christ Missions Building in Irvington, which is now the Bona Thompson Center and Joe soon followed her. Joe and Lois married and Joe chose to continue his education in Indianapolis.
Joe decided that the Jordan School of Music at Butler University was where he would go back to school and become a music teacher. He also worked as a milkman on a route for Polk’s Milk (remember them?). While at Jordan, he had a friend and fellow student who was singing for a religious program that lasted 15 minutes a show and was being telecast three days a week on Channel 6, then the only TV station broadcasting in Indianapolis. The friend had to leave to go into the service and advised Joe to audition for his spot on the show. Joe got the job and handled the singing and program introduction duties, and in doing so he became comfortable with announcing and with TV cameras. The show lasted about three years while he was finishing his teaching degree. After graduation, Joe tried his hand at teaching music but wasn’t comfortable in a classroom situation.
In 1954, Channel 8 started broadcasting in the Riddick Building on North Meridian Street and the station was looking for staff announcers. Joe auditioned for one of the jobs and was hired along with Stan Wood and Gene Allison. Thus, he began a 14 year career at Channel 8. He did program intros, public service announcements, commercials, programing updates, sign-offs, and occasionally filled in as the weatherman. One of his assignments was to be Santa Claus in the L.S. Ayres-sponsored Christmas show. I was one of the kids that sat on his lap. (I can’t remember what I asked for.)
In the 1960s, Joe created the character of Uncle Buster for a Saturday morning children’s program that had a “Mr. Rogers” feel to it. Uncle Buster was not a silly or lightweight babysitting program. Uncle Buster owned a General Store and Curiosity Shop and had guests and fun learning experiences. It was telecast for several years during the mid-1960s. Then Joe hosted a Sunday afternoon public service program called “Ask the Doctor.” A panel of local physicians would answer questions, sent by viewers about medical problems and maintaining good health — sort of a pre-Dr. Oz type show. Once a month a panel of dentists would come to answer questions about dental health. Joe enjoyed these segments as much as the doctor-themed shows.
During those years Joe and Lois lived in Irvington. first renting some upstairs rooms in a house on North Hawthorne and then buying a house on North Campbell. They raised their four children, and joined the Downey Avenue Christian Church, where Joe became and is to this day a member of their choir. Lois Leamon joined the Indianapolis Marion County Library staff and worked at the Irvington Branch library where she eventually became the Library Manager, becoming much admired in the Irvington community.
In 1970, the FCC enacted national regulations to prevent cigarette manufacturers from advertising on television. This led to a tremendous loss of advertising revenue for both the national networks and local television stations. This, along with advances in electronic broadcasting equipment that eliminated certain jobs, led to cutbacks in station personnel. After fourteen years, Joe, along with several other station personalities, found themselves laid off.
Joe was able to find a position with the Indianapolis Public Library system as the shipping, receiving and supply clerk. He was first in the basement of Central Library. The whole basement area became too cramped for space and the supply depot was relocated in the old Riddick Piano showroom and warehouse on North Illinois, which meant that he was working about 100 yards away from his old digs at Channel 8. The building also housed the Library Films division and the Extension/ Bookmobile office.
In 1982, I was working at Central Library with the intent of getting my librarian certification. I took a transfer to the Extension/Bookmobile division on Illinois street. It was there that I became acquainted with Joe Leamon. Of course, I remembered him from his Channel 8 days and I found him to be exactly as I thought he would be — a warm, friendly, and soft spoken man and supportive and understanding friend. I think he was amused by the fact that I remembered his TV personalty days and that I had stood next to him when he was Santa and gave him my Christmas wish list. I confessed that I recognized his voice.
Joe retired from the Library in 1990. Lois soon followed. However, another more adventurous phase of their lives was opening up. The couple loved camping and had camped extensively in various National Parks across the country. They went one better in retirement and started working during the tourist season at some of the nation’s most beautiful national parks. Starting with Glacier National Park, Joe and Lois worked in the gift shops or the park hotels. They worked in the Grand Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park, and at Crater Lake in Oregon which was apparently their favorite spot. They had a tremendous time together, and a book could be written about their adventures in the park system.
In 2012, after 62 years of marriage Lois passed on. She and Joe have a legacy of four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Joe now lives in a retirement community on the south side of the city with his dog Zachary. He stays active and enjoys his hobbies which include trains and railroading, music, and camping. His ties to Irvington remain strong as he maintains his membership in Downey Ave. Christian Church and he still sings in the choir.
Over the years, Joe has appeared in a number of local and regional television commercials including ones for Ivy Tech and the Cambridge Inn Cafeteria. He currently has a spot in an IPL commercial. Joe has a gentle grandfatherly look that serves him well on the screen.
Joe is a shinning example of a life well lived, and it’s not over yet. Joe is a true television pioneer. He helped give local television a face and more importantly a voice. We Baby Boomers grew up with Joe and he won’t be forgotten by us. So good luck Joe and continued good fortune.