Phil Weinberg dead at 86


He put Peoria, IL’s public television station, WTVP-TV, on the air in 1971 and served as dean of the engineering school at Bradley University and then the communications and fine arts school, before returning to engineering until his retirement in 1989. Philip Weinberg died this month at age 86.

Calling Weinberg “a Renaissance man, one of those visionary transformational figures” in an obituary published by the Peoria Journal Star, Jeff Huberman, dean of the university’s Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts, recalled that Weinberg was also one of the first to put computers on the desks of faculty members.

“None of us would be in [the public TV] business if it wasn’t for Phil,” noted current WTVP General Manager Chet Tomczyk.

In a note to RBR-TVBR, radio group owner Fred Weinberg recalled how his father came to get into public TV. He had taken a trip to New York to see his family and seen Sesame Street for the first time.  Then he saw how WNET in New York worked and WGBH in Boston, returned to Peoria and said, “I can do that.”

“When he was silly enough to tell people what he thought, many of them looked at him like he was crazy.  Oh no, they said.  You need a government agency with tax money to build a television station,” Fred said. “But that professor thought it would be best if such a TV station was solely supported by the community—that the community should have skin in the game. So he raised $125,000 and built WTVP-TV, Channel 47, which went on the air in 1971. I know because I was there that day at one of my father’s finest moments.  I hit the high voltage switch to turn the transmitter on.”

While the TV station is what Phil Weinberg was best known for, his proud son noted that he also founded the Electrical Engineering department at Bradley in 1956 and, among his proudest possessions are those group photos taken every year of his faculty and graduates during the 20 years he ran that department. He then founded the College of Communications and Fine Arts and was the Dean of that College for nine years.

“Apparently, pivoting from engineering to Theatre, Journalism, Music and Art was not much of a challenge. And neither was returning to the College of Engineering to become Dean there when he was needed,” Fred noted.

The son said his father wasn’t comparable to TV dads Ward Cleaver or Ozzie Nelson. For one thing, the family would have been shocked if he’d ever come home from work at five o’clock.

“On the other hand, Ward Cleaver never gave the Beav a chance to write a FORTRAN program on an IBM 360 when he was a freshman in high school. Or the chance to run a video tape machine just a few years after they were invented. Or produce a basketball game for the TV station he put on the air. Or help build that TV station,” said Fred Weinberg.

The funeral service and burial took place this month in Peoria. Memorials, in lieu of flowers, may be made to: WTVP-TV Channel 47, 101 State St., Peoria, IL 61602 or The Philip and Rose Weinberg Family Scholarship, Gift Records – Bradley University, 1501 W. Bradley Ave., Peoria, IL 61625.