35th Anniversary: Our Wilma Thing

It’s not hard to figure out why Wilma Smith appeared on our cover a record five times. Her eyes pierce, virtually taking the $1.75 out of your wallet for you (that’s how much Cleveland Magazine cost the first time she was on it). It’s the same quality that’s kept her on the air here since 1977.

But while the camera’s love for her is strong and straightforward, ours is more nuanced. In one of our stories, we called her the “Portrait of a Lady.” Other newscasters may sound increasingly chatty and off-the-cuff. Not her. Even her “casual” remarks ring a bit planned, a bit proper. This dignity and decorum has earned Clevelanders’ respect over the years. But it also means that Wilma will always be more revered than adored, more Diane Sawyer than Katie Couric.

Wilma’s other secret weapon is more subtle. There are days, she says, when she leaves the house without makeup and wearing a baseball hat, hoping to run in and out of a store without being recognized. She succeeds only until she speaks. It’s her voice — technically described as “tonal” — that gives her away every time. Low, smooth — it soothes no matter how bad the news. “People always know my voice,” she says. The look, the reputation, the voice ... Wilma always finds a way to capture your attention — and keep it. She certainly did ours.
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