Washington Press Club Foundation


In 1931, Fran Alvord Harris began a long and successful career in broadcast journalism when she made her debut as "Julia Hayes" on radio station WWJ in Detroit. As "Julia Hayes" she shared household hints with listeners on a half-hour program for three years. For another women's program, she played the role of "Nancy Dixon," offering shopping advice over WWJ and WXYZ. This broadcasting experience and her general visibility at the radio station, positioned her well for a transition into newscasting. Fran Harris benefited from the effects of the Second World War, as the men left for combat or for war reporting. In 1943 she became the first woman newscaster in Michigan. Three years later Harris pioneered in television when she became the first woman on TV in Michigan. In 1964 she achieved further recognition when she moved into management as features coordinator for WWJ-AM-FM-TV, until her retirement in 1974. Fran Harris blended dedication to her work and commitment to the profession with active involvement in community affairs.

Born in Detroit, Fran Alvord wa sthe only child of a father who pioneered in the field of orthodontia and a politically active mother. Her close-knit famiy, which included caring grandparents, provided support for her mother's state-wide women's club involvement and her elected position on the local school board. Fran Alvord was educated in suburban Highland Park and attended Grinnell College in Iowa. In 1929, she graduated with a B.A. degree in psychology and English.

Following graduation, Fran Alvord returned to Detroit. She married Hugh W. Harris in 1932. They had three children. In Detroit she began working in the retail business at Himelhoch's, a local specialty shop. Experience in sales, advertising and personnel preparted her for the roles of "Julia Hayes" and "Nancy Dixon," consumer-oriented radio personalities who appealed to women audiences. During the Second World War, when WWJ lost several of its male newscasters, Fran auditioned and after some consideration was given the job of reading news on the air. In addition to daytime news, she had her own radio talk show in which she interviewed film, stage, literary, and political figures. In 1949 she received a Peabody Award for a show on sex offenders. She also developed a "traffic court" program on television that was widely copied across the country and was the precursor of "People's Court."

Fran Harris continued doing both radio and television broadcasting until 1964, when she moved into management as the features coordinator for WWJ radio and television. She retired in 1974 to assume an active role in her family's business. She served as treasurer of I. C. Harris & Company (an international treansportation firm) from 1957 to 1982, as president and chief executive officer from 1982 to 1984, and as board chair from 1984 to 1985. During these years she also carried on an active role in a wide range of community services, including organizations promoting women's concerns.

For these interviews, research was done in the library of Broadcast Pioneers, Washington, D.C.

Anne Ritchie

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