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Howard DeMere: An ‘Unwitting’ Television Pioneer Signs Off

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The first weathercaster for KSD Channel 5, the first television station in St. Louis, quickly abandoned the job in favor of sales. Howard DeMere replaced him. It was 1949, and Mr. DeMere stayed on for most of the next 30 years, becoming one of the most familiar and celebrated personalities in St. Louis television history.

Mr. DeMere marveled at television, a medium that did not exist when he was born.

“(TV) turned civilization upside down,” Mr. DeMere wrote in a recent blog post, “a new art form, new language, different commerce and a much laxer moral code.”

But he did not lament the changes wrought by time and innovation. He suggested that people learn to love the changes.

“Relax and enjoy,” he advised. “Every new technology arouses public fear and indignation. TV did. Hold back the dawn? It can't be done!”

Mr. DeMere, a television pioneer and self-described “techno-geek,” died Wednesday (March 12, 2014) after suffering a massive heart attack at his home in University City. He was 89.

Funeral services are being planned.

Out of Wichita Falls

Mr. DeMere did not claim any natural broadcast talents. He attributed his skills to communications courses that his mother encouraged to help him overcome his shyness.

Credit Provided by the family
Howard DeMere with his grandmother Sula Howard Barwise in Wichita Falls, Texas.

When he was 14, he interviewed his mother’s cousin, who owned a radio station in his hometown of Wichita Falls, Texas, for a school project. He got an “A” for the report and his cousin hired him to work after school and on Saturday mornings as an office boy. He was bitten by the media bug.

“I was infatuated by the whole concept of interviewing, and this gave birth to the reporter in me,” Mr. DeMere said.

He continued working at the radio station until he graduated from high school and entered the U.S. Army as World War II wound down. Early on, leaving Wichita Falls was “the farthest thing” from his mind. He returned there to attend Hardin Junior College following his military service. He began announcing for the school’s radio station.

But a transfer to the University of Oklahoma in Norman was his first step out of Wichita Falls. One of his professors was a news director at WKY, the first radio station in Oklahoma City. He helped Mr. DeMere, who by now had a wife and child, get a job as an announcer at the station. Mr. DeMere moved his family to Oklahoma City and commuted to Norman until he completed his degree in 1948.

The unwitting pioneer

Following graduation, he interviewed with the NBC television affiliate in Chicago. He turned the job down, and began looking for work in St. Louis, an area he was drawn to because of his family’s history. Mr. DeMere’s great-grandfather, J.H. Barwise, had lived in St. Charles before he apparently developed wanderlust and moved his large family by covered wagon to Texas. He founded what became the city of Wichita Falls.

Credit Provided by the family

Mr. DeMere was hired by KSD (now KSDK) in 1949, and there he remained for most of the next three decades. As an Army reservist, he spent a year fighting in the Korean War. In the ‘60s, he briefly tried his hand at running a radio station in Florida before returning to KSD.

At first, the station didn’t sign on until 3 in the afternoon and was off the air on Sundays and Tuesdays. 

“I was an unwitting pioneer, and we used very rough and crude equipment and methods to get on the air,” he told patch.com. He expressed shear amazement at the advent of Doppler radar as a weather-predicting tool long after he’d hung up his maps.

For years, Mr. DeMere was the lone weathercaster. Over time, he was joined by Clif St. James, better known as Corky the Clown, and Dianne White, the first full-time African-American weathercaster in the nation.

Television stations eventually began hiring meteorologists to broadcast the weather. “That’s what did me in,” he told St. Louis Public Radio (KWMU) as he prepared to be inducted into the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame in 2011. He retired in 1979, the year KSD became KSDK.

For several years after leaving television, Mr. DeMere worked as a news announcer and writer for KSD radio. He later spent 10 years as the public affairs officer and spokesperson for the U.S. Army Aviation Systems Command in St. Louis.

That’s all from here

William Howard DeMere, the only child of Nina Barwise DeMere and Clarence DeMere, a livestock salesman, was born Dec. 4, 1925, in Wichita Falls, Texas.

An oil painting by Pau Marquis. Mr. DeMere said that heI took some lessons from him, enough to discover he should continue other pursuits.
Credit Provided by the family
An oil painting by Paul Marquis. Mr. DeMere said that he took some lessons from him, enough to discover he should continue other pursuits.

Mr. DeMere had a heart attack in 1991, from which he fully recovered to resume his usual activities of flying, hiking, running and cycling.

He declined to call himself famous, but allowed that his life had been interesting “because it has covered such a long period during the rapid development of this country and the television industry.”

He put his stamp on a fledgling industry.

When KSD added a 10 o’clock newscast in 1956, Mr. DeMere knew he was about to hit the big time, but he wasn’t sure he was ready.

“That first night, I was scared to death,” he recalled on KWMU. “I didn’t know what to say, how to get off camera, how to say goodbye. So, I stumbled around and I said, ‘well, uh, that’s, that’s all from here – Howard DeMere. Goodnight.’”

It’s the sign-off he used for the rest of his television career, without stuttering.

Mr. DeMere’s first marriage ended in divorce. He was preceded in death by his parents.

His survivors include his wife of 40 years, Nancy Zimmerman DeMere, and his children, Marsha (Dale) Gebhardt, of Ferguson, and Jeff (Jamie) DeMere, of North County; six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are pending. Memorials would be appreciated to a charity of the donor’s choice.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.