Carl Zimmermann, Milwaukee TV news pioneer, dead at 96

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Former TV-6 anchor and news director Carl Zimmermann died on Friday afternoon, April 11th. He was 96 years old.

Zimmermann joined WITI-TV in 1959. His reign at the station spanned seven presidencies.

Zimmermann hired Lil Kleiman to be the other person in the WITI newsroom. Years later, he hired Jill Geisler -- at first wanting her to be a sportscaster. Remember, it was a time when women were not mainstream.

"I learned more from Carl in my first six weeks than I learned in four years of journalism school and two years of radio," said Kleiman.

"He didn't look at it as all that unusual. Carl was all about wanting you to do your job," said Geisler. "He was a tough interviewer. He wanted to know that you were going to work as hard as he was. And if you met those standards, he really didn't care gender, ethnicity."

Carl Zimmermann

Carl Zimmermann

Zimmermann hired Joanne Williams to be Community Relations Director, involving TV-6 with community projects.

"He wanted you to get the facts," said Williams. "He wanted you to get them first, but he wanted you to get them right. So he was a true journalist. He was also very community involved."

Zimmermann did not start that journalistic journey at TV-6 however. He was a war correspondent during World War II, working with Edward R. Murrow and Eric Sevareid. While in Europe, Zimmermann was awarded a Bronze Star for frontline radio reporting. Eventually, the Army sent Zimmermann to the Pentagon where he produced the Army television program, The Big Picture.

That was a serious start to a strong career, but those who remember Zimmermann remember another side.

"Carl used to walk into the newsroom and say, 'Hey what time does the six o'clock news come on everyone?' That was the newscast he was anchoring. But there was something about his voice saying it, the voice of authority that made it funny every single time," said Geisler.

A graduate of South Division High School and a product of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Zimmermann's passions centered around his wife, Doree, his five children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Zimmermann's other passion -- civic groups such as the Milwaukee Boys and Girls Club, the Salvation Army and the St. Francis Children's Center.

"It was always good to know that Carl was around. Because it sort of made everything right. He was like Walter Cronkite. When they said if Walter Cronkite was on the air and said everything was alright, then it was alright. If Carl was on the news and said everything was alright, then it's okay," said Joanne Williams.

Wisconsin Court of Appeals Justice Ralph Adam Fine worked for Zimmermann as a reporter. He sums it up as he remembers the silver-haired man who was a fatherly influence to many.

"Well, I can tell you that it's now 2014, that I know of nobody in Milwaukee since I've been here, and I came here in 1970, who had more respect in the community and somebody who loved Milwaukee and who had Milwaukee's interest as the premiere  interest in his own life than Carl," said Justice Fine.

In fall of 2011, Zimmermann was part of the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. His son tells FOX6 News, Zimmermann's health started to slowly deteriorate shortly after that.

Well after his retirement, Zimmermann was still welcomed back inside the walls of FOX6 as both anchor-emeritus and a mentor for some of the station's staff he hired.

Carl Zimmermann, the Silver Fox, TV pioneer, Milwaukee treasure, dead at the age of 96. He will be missed.

We invite you to share a comment on the life and legacy of Carl Zimmermann. Simply leave a comment below.

19 comments

  • Dave Forman

    I grew up watching Carl Zimmerman and caught the TV News bug.
    TV6 was the only TV station I ever wanted to work at and I got my chance working with Carl from 1979 until 1983, along with Lil Kleiman and Jill Geisler. My sincere condolences to his family and his extended TV family. He was truly the dean of Milwaukee TV News. He left such a strong impression on so many of us.
    Dave Forman
    NBC News-Washington, DC

  • Dave Edwards

    Back in the late 70’s I was doing news on a part time basis for ‘another station’ in town. But interested in advancing my career I interviewed for a full time reporter job at WITI by the legendary Carl Zimmerman. He spent an amazing amount of time with me but in the end said he didn’t feel comfortable recruiting someone away from a competitor. He gave me lots of good tips and even recommended me for another TV job in another city. With his passing today, I have to say that I never felt so good about not getting a job. I felt the generous touch of a true journalistic legend. I was saddened to learn today of his passing. RIP, Carl.

    Dave Edwards
    General Manager, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio

  • Scott Enk

    To use an old WITI-TV6 slogan, Carl Zimmermann truly was “Zimmerendous.”

    We Milwaukee-area folks, especially those of us old enough to remember his down-to-earth yet authoritative delivery of the news and his even more powerful, hard-hitting editorials — which often spoke up and spoke for “ordinary” people who would rarely if ever get any attention in modern “newscasts” — have lost one of the true greats of television news from the days when some local newscasts really *were* good news sources.

    Many of us will never forget his editorials — so famed that they became the focal point of a comic promotional spot for WITI showing Mr, Zimmermann facing a firing squad in an unnamed Latin American “banana republic,” asked for his last words, and then delivering a pro-democracy, anti-dictator editorial so powerful that in the next shot, the “petty little dictator,” as Mr, Zimmermann called him in the editorial, found himself in Mr. Zimmermann’s place.”Any last words, petty little dictator?” he asked the dictator.

    More seriously, few if any of us who saw and heard him deliver his famous championing of common sense and decency — from three foster children arbitrarily removed from a loving home in 1972 for the sake of bureaucratic convenience (Mr. Zimmermann, seeming to look Milwaukee County’s child-welfare establishment in the eye and trying to burn his words into its soulless being, pointedly noted the “hundreds of angry letters” the station had received regarding the children’s plight), to his famous rejoinder to the “Burn, Baby, Burn” contingent of the mid-1960s (“Learn, Baby, Learn!” he said), to his memorable comparison in the late 1960s of young idealists often condemned as “hippies” and “peaceniks” to a famed young long-haired fellow whose birthday was celebrated around the time of the editorial, late December, and many more — wish we could clone his courage and his readiness to challenge the powerful and the comfortable.

    When Carl Zimmermann spoke, people, including many in positions of power, really did listen. He was one of the last carriers of the great tradition of his mentors Eric Sevareid and Edward R. Murrow. This true pioneer will be missed — and remembered.

    Scott Enk (fifth-generation Milwaukeean)
    senk8105@sbcglobal.net

  • kathy

    This really hit home, I grew up watching Carl and loved listening to his editorials. He has left a lasting impression on so many. Blessings to Carl’s family, thanks for sharing him with us all those years.

  • Debbie

    I grew up on channel 6 with Carl and the crew. I met him back in the mid 70’s at a school awards ceremony he was invited to speak at. He handed out our awards, and for us 12 & 13 year olds it was meeting a major celebrity. I think I still have his autograph somewhere!
    I am sure he was an awesome role model.

  • Lyle Schulze

    Carl Zimmerman taught me professionalism in my first job in the broadcasting business. He always wanted to do the right thing. Genuine, caring and very down to earth. I consider it a privilege to have worked my first job in television broadcasting with Carl Zimmerman. He was the consummate professional. The best newscasts I worked were Carl and Jill Geisler anchoring with Ward Allen & Albert doing weather and of course Earl Gillespie doing sports. What a team! That’s when TV6 was #1! Rest in peace Carl.
    Lyle Schulze
    VP/General Manager
    WCTI-TV
    Greenville, North Carolina

  • Eva Olson

    “Milwaukee treasure” is absolutely right. He defined local TV journalism, always professional, always clear and upbeat. He was OUR Walter Cronkite.

  • Eddie Doucette

    Carl was an outstanding professional and a wonderful person. He had a sensitive understanding of young people trying trying to make it in the broadcasting profession…I was one of those who benefited from his support while working at WITI. Eddie Doucette

  • Todd Kramer

    We welcomed Carl into our home every evening like a family member. He was honest and truthful in his reporting. Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin has lost a great professional reporter and human being. Your voice will truly be missed. God bless Carl.

  • David Whitton

    I collect war documentaries and I have always enjoyed the “Big Picture” with Carl Zimmerman as the host. He is such an engaging character and I have often wondered what happened to him after others took his spot. It was on a whim that today I looked the web to find out more about him. Having learned so much about him from this article I can only feel that he was a wonderful man.

  • Don Amundson

    Bonnie and I enjoyed our time at TV6 in the early 70’s It was like family. Carl was such a gentleman, we appreciated how he would treat everyone the same. I fondly remember chatting around the “Kitchen Set” with the entire news crew.

  • Dan Rutz

    Although I never worked for him, I caught the broadcast news bug from him in a Jr. High career project. Two highlights from that 1965 assignment; an interview with him (prior to the 6:00 news, so he had to have more important things to do), and an invitation to sit in the control room for the TV-6 News at 10. All these years later, including eighteen as CNN Sr. Medical Correspondent, I recall him fondly; with admiration, and graditude.

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  • Universal One Church

    Condolences to his wife Doris, his son’s Jack, Scott, Richard, daughters Mary Beth and Susan. Not only as a voice of the people, but as a neighbor I grew up listening to and watching Carl on WITI. Every kid in the neighborhood knew that the house on 105th St was in fact Carl Zimmerman’s. The man sure touched many lives. It is just amazing how many years Milwaukeeans were blessed with the legendary Carl Zimmerman. Please know each of you are in my prayers and Carl may you R.I.P. Thank You Carl Zimmerman…..Brother Michael

    If you don’t believe in God, it’s hard to believe in good
    @UniverOneChurch ©2016 UniversalOneChurch.org

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