The face and voice of Delmarva news

John B. Greenberger was ‘Delmarva’s Walter Cronkite’

Date Published: 
March 31, 2017

Special to the Coastal Point • Christina Weaver: Bruce Mears holds a newspaper article about his grandfather, John B. Greenberger.Special to the Coastal Point • Christina Weaver: Bruce Mears holds a newspaper article about his grandfather, John B. Greenberger.“This is the 7 p.m. edition, WBOC-TV News, and once again I say, ‘I am John B. Greenberger. It’s a good evening.’”

Lifelong local residents may recognize that sign-off as the one they heard every evening until 1975 when families congregated around their television to watch Delmarva and then national TV news. Greenberger was the local voice and face of Delmarva news from 1940 on the radio and subsequently from 1954 on both radio and television.

“Walter Cronkite followed my grandfather on CBS every evening,” said Millville’s Bruce Mears. “In fact, they resembled each other and had the same perfectly enunciated tone of voice. Around here, he was known as ‘Delmarva’s Walter Cronkite’ and was quite the local celebrity.”

John Massey, 93 and a regular visitor at the Roxana Cheer Center, was asked, out of the blue, about John B.:

“Greenberger — I’ll never forget him,” Massey said. “I used to watch him every night and thought he was so distinguished. I was just a country boy, but he made our news sound just as important as the rest of the world. Back then, WBOC was the only local station.”

Greenberger’s daughter is Martha White, a lady held in high esteem in the area because of her many years as a beloved English teacher and librarian at Indian River High School.

White explained that Greenberger was actually her stepfather.

“When I first saw him, I thought he was Clark Gable himself, he was so handsome! He could do no wrong, and I did my best to never disappoint him. I majored in English because of him and his love of words, and became a teacher because of his love of people.”

“At the start of each school year,” said White, “I looked into the eyes of every student and just knew that they were my tomorrow. There is no greater thing than to be a teacher, and to have had the privilege of my students teaching me through their perspective.”

White said she will never forget July 14, 1954. She was working in a restaurant in Ocean City, Md., to make money for college.

“The owner came in and told me she had something to show me. Then she turned on the television, and there was my father reading the news. They kept it a secret from me, and I couldn’t believe my eyes!”

According to White, Greenberger’s own childhood had ended abruptly when his father died and he became the “man of the family” for his two younger brothers. He graduated from East Stroudsburg (Pa.) State College, worked briefly at WGAL in Lancaster, and was on his way to seek bigger opportunities in Florida when he happened to stop in Salisbury, Md.

“At that time, Salisbury only had two stoplights,” said White. “But he noticed a sign that said ‘Future Home of WBOC Radio.’ He looked at how modern the new building and its equipment was and at the surrounding countryside and knew immediately he felt at home.”

Like most young men of the era, Greenberger served his country during World War II. While in the Army Air Force, Greenberger continued his broadcasting career, including, at the end of the war, with the Armed Forces Radio in Alaska. On the day the news broke that the war was over, Greenberger celebrated by buying a diamond ring. He wore that ring until the day he died.

White said the day her son Bruce was born was an awakening for her father.

“He was always very serious, old-school, but when he came to see me and the baby in the hospital, a nurse pointed out the similarity in their noses. It was as though a lightbulb went off and he felt able to live, through his grandson, the childhood he never experienced. Of course, I named Bruce for my father’s famous middle initial, B.,” she said.

Bruce Mears grew up on a chicken farm on Railway Road in Millville — land the family still owns and where his award-winning home designer and builder business has been located since 1985. He remembers that at least every other weekend he would go to Salisbury to stay with his grandparents.

“I loved being with my Pop Pop and have so many happy memories,” said Mears. “He took me to church and Sunday school, and I credit him with my faith. His basement became a workshop where I was allowed to use his tools and make whatever I wanted, which I’m sure led me to my career.

“He loved birds and animals, and we used to walk in cornfields after the harvester came through and string up extra corn cobs for squirrels to eat. When the squirrels threatened to take over, we’d catch them in traps and take them to the woods to be released. One day, however, a squirrel broke out of the trap in the car and scratched Pop Pop badly. That was then end of us feeding squirrels!

“He took me every year to the skipjack races on Deal Island, to Baltimore where we sat in the press box at the old Memorial Stadium for Oriole games, and once to Miami, where we flew over the city in the Goodyear blimp.

“We always had the radio on in the car, and sometimes I’d hear him say that the next song was dedicated to his grandson. ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ by Nancy Sinatra was one time I remember clearly. And, of course, we’d watch him read the news on television, like everyone else in Delmarva.”

Mears has three treasured possessions: a scrap book of memories from Greenberger’s professional life; the diamond ring that he wears every day, just as his Pop Pop did; and his grandfather’s pride and joy, a Carolina sky-blue convertible 1965 Plymouth Belvedere II.

Mears knew the car very well from helping maintain it from a young age.

“My grandfather never drove it faster than 35 miles per hour, even on our road trip to Miami,” he said. “I knew when it was willed to me that I would keep it the way I got it. There are still some cigar ashes in the ash tray and in the trunk are some records, a long wooden case of film exposures, a baseball glove and paperwork. I still keep and update his log of miles and gas that he kept in the glove compartment.”

Mears drives the car on special occasions, such as the Bethany Beach Fourth of July Parade, in which he has driven local politicians and even, on one memorable occasion, Coastal Point staff. Next time you see this one-of-a-kind automobile in a parade, you will know it used to belong to John B. Greenberger.

Wayne Cannon is another long-time radio personality who still can be heard occasionally on WGMD. It is his goal to start a Delmarva Radio & Television Hall of Fame to honor area broadcasters and record local on-air history.

Cannon said, “I grew up watching John B. Greenberger. I looked up to him and respected his no-nonsense, trustworthy demeanor. The first person I hope to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is John B. Greenberger.”