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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Louis Rukeyser, RIP

The former host of Wall $treet Week passed away on Tuesday at his home in Connecticut. He had been suffering multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that attacks bone marrow.

He opened each week’s show with a pun-filled monologue summarizing that week in the markets (mostly the stock market). His show aimed to bring Wall Street to the masses, to make what was happening each week understandable for the Average Joe or Josephine, without talking down to them. The show succeeded in spades, garnering the largest audience for any of its kind.

I loved the show as a kid … somewhere in the ‘70s. I don’t know why, for it always appealed to older folks with the puns and calm delivery of its host. It was the kind of thing my grandfather would watch when he wasn’t watching Lawrence Welk. He really liked “That nice, young Mr. Rukeyser.”

From my perspective, he was always as old as the earth. And that was part of is appeal to the show’s principal demographic, once described as “55 to death.” When I was a stockbroker, these were some of my best clients. The show was of little interest to me for investing ideas (once the idea was on a show like W$W, it was old news), but the older folks loved and trusted this guy. If his panel suggested something, my clients were asking about it on Monday. Best of all worlds for a broker, who is by definition a walking conflict of interest.

I can’t remember exactly who underwrote the show … I think oddly enough that Occidental Petroleum was one of them, and of course the underwriting credits would include the ubiquitous “… and the support of public television viewers,” which meant that the money you pledged to one of the 300 or so PBS affiliates who aired it was being used to buy the show from Maryland Public Television.

I do remember that the show was not underwritten by the firm I was working for. Talk about free ride. In fact, the whole Street benefited from the order flow from this show. Thank-you, Mom & Pop America. Thank you, PBS.

In 2002, the geniuses at Maryland Public Television decided to update the show by giving it younger hosts (both were 50-ish), moving Rukeyser to second chair. This was, of course, the death knell of the show.

The people who have money and want to watch this kind of show are middle-aged and older-aged folks, many women. They are now watching people like Suze Orman on CNBC. Some of these people watch PBS at least some of the time, and they are the types who pick up the phones during pledge drives. This is why you will often see Suze’s specials during local Public TV pledge drives. I don’t know why it never occurred to MPT to look at someone like her when casting about for a replacement. Talk about not understanding your market … but then that is why they work for Maryland Public Television.

Rukeyser moved to CNBC for a brief season, but his deteriorating health finally took him off the air in 2003. He was only 73 when he died.



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