Her name was Betty Stoddard Muncie, and she passed away on Sept. 15 at the age of 90.
As a radio and TV personality she set the Nevada standard of excellence for all of her gender that followed. Arriving here in the 1940s, she started her career in radio along with her husband, Bob Stoddard, at station KATO, which was located for many years on the mezzanine of the Mapes Hotel. As soon as TV became available hereabouts, she quickly and easily made the transition to the tube. Possessed of an engaging personality and mellifluous voice, she had been an instant hit on radio as she conducted interviews with the vast array of celebrities that used to make Reno a regular stop on their itineraries. Names like Liberace, Clark Gable, Max Baer, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy were just a few of those she entertained mic-side. Unlike present day interviewers on network TV, she did not do frame-long, rambling questions in such a manner that the interviewee could only answer yes or no. Betty had the intelligence to pose interesting questions with brevity so the guest could ramble in his or her own style.
Even though early-day television here was in grainy black and white – and was often off the air as much as it was on – the pictures gave Betty the opportunity to showcase her other great talent, which was good looks, topped off with an easy and winning smile.
Also, unlike many of today’s femmes on TV, Betty’s talents did not stop when she was off camera. For then she would set out to personally sell the sponsors for her show. She never failed to deliver and usually reappeared at the station with check in hand for her spots. One early day, a TV station manager was quoted as saying, “If we didn’t have Betty’s show and the business she brings in, we might not be able to stay on the air!”
A tireless and energetic person, her day did not end when she left the studio. She was responsible for the majority of the fashion shows that were staged in Reno in those days and could be spotted all over town picking up outfits from her sponsors’ stores. Then she would recruit her models, show them how to model the gowns and then take the mic to emcee the show.
If there were any charitable causes that needed her help she was the first to volunteer and a marvelous recruiter to get other ladies to also pitch in.
During the 1960s, my office at the Mapes was adjacent to the KATO studios, which later became KBET, and so I would see both Betty and Bob on a daily basis as we all traipsed the long hallway to our respective offices.
The local media in the middle of the last century here was a male-dominated business for the most part, with women basically relegated to receptionist or secretarial duties. Betty changed all that as she broke the gender gap and could hold her own with any man on the air or in salesmanship. By so doing, she set the stage for many young women who followed in her footsteps.
On particular example of how easily she stepped into the previously all-male strongholds was when she unexpectedly showed up at an early day meeting of the area’s Good Old Days (G.O.D.) club. That group had originally been formed by local PR, publicity and newsmen to meet once a month and discuss stories that had never seen print. The language was usually salty and biting – much like that of the GI barracks in World War II. That quickly changed after Betty’s first visit and by breaking the gender line for other women. Today’s G.O.D. meetings are attended by as many female members as they are by men.
Most of the media people in Reno during those bygone days were of the opinion that Betty would move on to larger markets and even to network assignments. Fortunately, that did not happen and she continued on at the very pinnacle of her profession for years.
I remember that whenever I needed a female voice for radio or TV commercials the only person I ever called on was Betty. She would look at the copy once, do a read through to check the timing and then deliver it perfectly — on the first take — as Tad Dunbar, the eulogist at Monday’s affair noted.
In his well-prepared and moving eulogy, Dunbar noted that when he first arrived in Reno to begin his stint on KOLO-TV, Betty was already a well-established figure and actually the star of the station.
Other family members delivered poignant personal remembrances on Monday and they were capped by the emotional tribute delivered by son, Dick Stoddard, himself a current TV and radio personality. Emcee for the service was Betty’s son-in-law Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer. Following the church ceremony everyone was invited to a reception at the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa.
In order that her breakthrough status will continue to be remembered locally an endowed scholarship has been established in her name at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. As stated in the description of the scholarship, “The Betty Stoddard Muncie Scholarship will be a lasting legacy for the courageous woman who became the guest in so many Northern Nevada homes via radio and TV.”
Gifts and donations can be sent to: The Betty Stoddard Muncie Scholarship Fund, c/o UNR Foundation, Mail Stop 0007, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557-0007.
Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.
Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in Harry Spencer’s column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.