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Henry Heilbrunn’s vast career in media and business started at OHIO and WOUB

Published: April 26, 2022 Author: Cheri Russo

When Henry Heilbrunn arrived at Ohio University in the fall of 1969, he planned to study journalism to become a writer and reporter. Somewhere along the way, the skills he learned in class and at WOUB Public Media led him down a different path – one that involved international business, emerging technologies, and new media.

“In high school in Long Island, New York, I was editor of my school newspaper, and I found that learning how to write well was really critical. I also worked as a news clerk at the local news station, WGBB, where I learned how to say things succinctly and communicate orally,” said Heilbrunn. “I thought both were important. So, I chose Ohio University because it gave me the opportunity to do both. My focus was that I wanted to work in print and broadcast. I had the opportunity to be trained in writing and work at WOUB.”

Heilbrunn’s approach was unique. He decided to study newswriting in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism but work on his broadcast skills at WOUB.

“I was likely the only student who was in the newswriting sequence, that didn’t work at The Post,” said Heilbrunn laughing. “WOUB really dominated my time outside of class.”

When Heilbrunn first started at WOUB, he wasn’t permitted to be on the air. The WOUB news director at the time, Doug Caldwell, didn’t like Heilbrunn’s New York accent.

“I was upset when Doug told me that. He didn’t like my regionalism from New York and told me that I needed to get rid of it before he would put me on the air in Appalachian southeast Ohio,” said Heilbrunn. “I worked with a speech graduate student for 10 weeks to rewire my brain to eliminate the accent. I didn’t enjoy the chore I had to do then, but I certainly appreciate it now.”

After Heilbrunn was permitted to be on the air, it wasn’t long until there were big stories for him to cover. In 1970, there were protests on campus over the Vietnam War and the National Guard shootings at Kent State. Heilbrunn remembers covering them for WOUB Radio.

“It was uncomfortable,” said Heilbrunn. “I stood behind the National Guard line watching students who were protesting. I was trying to be objective, while worrying if I were going to be drafted after graduation.”

Heilbrunn started reporting for WOUB TV’s NewsWatch when he was a sophomore and by his junior year, he was anchoring the newscast.

“The 1972 election coverage was one of the most prominent memories I have from my time at WOUB. We had 100 students out in 13 counties and Columbus covering the election results live on radio and television,” said Heilbrunn. “The presidential election was Richard Nixon versus George McGovern, and there were many congressional and state races to follow. It was a big election.”

The experience Heilbrunn got in the classroom and during his time at WOUB helped him land his first job before he graduated. As juniors, Heilbrunn and student TV co-anchor Eric Land started an audio collection and dissemination service, Buckeye Sound, for radio stations associated with the AP that employed students.

“I started working at the Associated Press in Columbus in 1972 in a summer relief position, and by the spring of 1973 they offered me a full-time position. So, I took my final quarter of classes by correspondence.” 

Heilbrunn went on to work at the Associated Press in New Jersey as its bureau chief. Then he became intrigued with the emerging technology of the mid-1970s and was recruited to the organization’s headquarters in New York where he became director of cable television services and director of new technology.

Cable television and satellite broadcasting were threatening print and over-the-air television,” said Heilbrunn. “And I continued to pioneer new media after that, including through the Internet.”

Heilbrunn worked for CBS, NBC, Microsoft, AT&T, Viacom and IBM. He was one of the founding executives of Prodigy, a consumer-oriented online service that launched in 1988 as a partnership between CBS, Sears and IBM. Heilbrunn ran product development and subscriber retention marketing with $100 million revenue responsibility and more than a million households as customers. Prodigy was described as a “first-generation innovation” by the New York Times in 2011. Eventually, Heilbrunn did consulting work with Europe’s largest satellite operator. He also worked as an executive at Luminant Worldwide Corp. where he directed strategy development and implementation of ecommerce for Global 1000 companies.

Heilbrunn served as a visiting professor at Ohio University, a guest lecturer at the University of Leipzig in Germany and as a Shapiro Fellow at George Washington University in Washington D.C.  He also served as a national trustee of Ohio University from 2010 to 2013.

“Ohio University and WOUB propelled me further to consider my journalism as a key career – and helped me to hone my skills to be successful in it and beyond it.”

To learn more about WOUB, visit woub.org.