Steven Miller: Wanda Rame, TV's 'Woman on the Beat,' Broke Newsroom Barriers

Roundup: Talking About History

She was an experienced broadcaster when she took a job as one of the nation's first female local news anchors in 1959, yet Wanda Ramey was billed as KPIX-TV in San Francisco's "Girl on the Beat."

Ms. Ramey, who died Aug. 15 at the age of 85, had been on the air for more than a decade by the time "Noon News" had its debut. She specialized in reporting from the scene at a time when newscasts were conducted mostly from the studio. She rode along on a night police patrol in a high-crime zone, peered into the exotic haunts of a Beatnik from Greenwich Village, and reported on the construction of San Francisco's latest high-rise from inside the emerging building's skeleton.

Within a year Ms. Ramey's hard-news leanings led to a different slogan: "The Woman on the Beat."...

... On New Year's Eve of 1960, Ms. Ramey filmed a report about inmates at California's San Quentin State Prison. The story kicked off a lengthy relationship with the prison community. Ms. Ramey helped to create SQTV, a close-circuit network that still exists at the prison. Ms. Ramey and her husband, Richard Queirolo, a part-time cameraman, helped train inmates in production skills. Eventually dubbed an "honorary inmate" by some of the prisoners, she once brought Ms. Diller with her to San Quentin to perform stand-up comedy. The inmates presented Ms. Diller with a giant wooden "key to the prison."

Ms. Ramey was especially interested in helping the inmates make movies about their experiences while incarcerated, recalls Rick Cluchey, a former San Quentin inmate. His play "The Cage," a stark depiction of prison life, was filmed on cameras provided by Ms. Ramey and her husband and broadcast on public television shortly after Mr. Cluchey was released, in 1966. He subsequently toured the U.S. with a theatrical production of "The Cage" starring ex-convicts, and later became known for his productions of Samuel Beckett works.

Says Mr. Cluchey, "I don't know if people understand how important it is for people of substance to come to the disenfranchised and broken down."

Ms. Ramey left her anchor's post in 1967 to take a position with National Educational Television, the precursor to PBS. She worked in the 1970s as California correspondent for Voice of America.

"[It] was an innovation to have a woman as a straight-out newscaster," Ms. Ramey recalled of her early years at KPIX, in an interview recorded at the University of San Francisco in 2000. It was natural for her to do hard news, she added, and not be "relegated to home hints and recipes."

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