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Women of WISH: Patty Spitler 

The daughter of an inventor, Patty Spitler spent her formative years in Dayton, Ohio. After getting a taste of the limelight in high school theater, Patty followed in her father’s footsteps and attended the University of Dayton. It was here Patty embarked on what would end up being a hall-of-fame worthy career in broadcasting. 

Taking her place behind the microphone at the University of Dayton’s college radio station WVUD (now WYDB), Patty would write and read news broadcasts during the 6am morning drive before heading to class. As one of the first female morning-drive disc jockeys in the nation, her presence at the rock station would soon make waves in the local radio scene, and she would go on to host a morning show at WSAI radio in Cincinnati.     

Patty Spitler in Cancun.

It wasn’t long after that Patty made the jump from radio to television. In 1977, she would co-host Summertime ’77 on WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio. The variety show featured comedy skits and was hosted by Gil Whitney. Between playing a semi-raunchy character known as “Anita Innuendo,” it was on this show Patty began to interview entertainers who were in town promoting their acts.   

After brief stints in Virginia and Pennsylvania, Patty returned to Dayton, Ohio, where, during the summer of 1982, she saw an ad in Broadcast Magazine for a television station in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

WISH-TV was conducting a nationwide casting call in search of hosts for its new midday show, Indianapolis Afternoon. The search yielded WISH-TV more than 250 resumes and audition tapes from which to choose their new hosts. When she walked into 1950 N. Meridian St. in Indianapolis, Patty was greeted by WISH-TV General Manager Bill Stough and Program Director Karen Miller. 

Her resume and experience aside, Spitler landed the job thanks to her spunkiness and quick wit. When Miller asked during the interview what her favorite game was, Spitler answered, “I like playing chess because I like getting jumped.” That answer alone may have been more than enough for station management to put Patty in front of the cameras.     

Patty Spitler interviewing Director Adrian Lyne

On August 27, 1982, Patty Spitler made her debut on Central Indiana television, co-hosting Indianapolis Afternoon with Dick Wolfsie. Airing weekdays at 4 pm, the hour-long lifestyle show paved the way for modern shows like Life. Style. Live! Spitler and Wolfsie would interview business owners, authors, and follow along with chef-led cooking demonstrations. The Indianapolis News called the show “A bold experiment in live television.”       

At this time, WISH-TV was owned by Dun and Bradstreet by way of a merger with the Corinthian Broadcasting Corporation, which purchased WISH-TV in 1957. The content created for Indianapolis Afternoon heavily depended on cooperation from fellow Cointhian stations in Fort Wayne, Houston, Tulsa, Sacramento, and Norfolk. While news breaks and in-studio guests made up a heavy portion of the content, station management wanted to create a show that was rounded off with national special-interest stories. 

The producer of the new experimental show was Robin Sestero, a tv veteran with experience producing magazine-style programs in the Baltimore and Washington D.C. markets. With the primary responsibility of booking talent, planning segments, and ultimately deciding what made it to air, Sestero was as valuable to Indianapolis Afternoon as its hosts Wollfsie and Spitler.

During its infancy, Indianapolis Afternoon was destroyed by its competitors in the late-afternoon television ratings. Despite celebrity guests like Betty White, the show couldn’t find a solid audience. By May 1983, word was circulating that Dun and Bradstreet was looking to sell off some of its television assets, including WISH-TV. 

In March of 1984 the ink on the sale agreement was dry, and WISH-TV was now property of LIN Broadcasting. While much of the programming on WISH stayed the same, Indianapolis Afternoon, heavily dependent on gathering content from its now orphaned sister stations, was taken off the air. 

Patty Spitler on the evening news.

Spitler thought the cancellation of Indianapolis Afternoon also meant the end of her time at WISH-TV. But, upon looking at her contract, station management discovered there were still three months left on her deal. And it just so happened the station needed a weathercaster for midday newscasts. Much to her surprise, Patty soon found herself behind the weather desk. 

Not shy to admit she was in over her head at her new position, Patty tried her best to adjust to her new role. Reflecting on her time at the WISH-TV weather desk, she says, “I made some mistakes, but I learned.”  

After a year and a half of trying her best to keep Central Indiana informed of impending meteorological catastrophes, in January 1983, Spitler transitioned into the role for which she is most remembered, Entertainment Director for WISH-TV. After anchoring entertainment segments for midday and evening newscasts, station management wanted Patty to take a more active role in bringing Hollywood to Indianapolis.

Just when her television career started to take off, Patty was dealt a devastating medical diagnosis. One day in 1987, Patty was sitting at her desk when she began to feel dizzy. After consultations with a doctor, Patty was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, a condition that causes an abnormal amount of fluid to build up inside the inner ear. While it is rare for the disease to afflict both ears, Patty learned she had Meniere’s disease in both of her ears. For the next 20 years, the disease would slowly cause Patty to lose her hearing altogether. 

Despite her diagnosis, Patty continued her career at WISH. By 1989, she was anchoring the 5:30 pm newscast with Ken Owens and spending her weekends jetting off to New York City and Hollywood to interview celebrities. 

By the early 1990s, WISH began to air quarterly half-hour specials called “Patty.” The specials were an eclectic collection of segments focusing on a specific topic, like country music or the 1992 Indianapolis Monthly swimsuit edition. For each special, Patty would travel to a new location, Nashville, Cancun, etc., and bring back interviews with celebrities. In 1995 Patty earned an Emmy for her 1994 special on game shows. 

While her professional career continued to reach new heights, Spitler’s personal life was at an all-time low. Following a divorce and the death of her mother, Patty was arrested for drunk driving on November 4, 1997. She offered to resign from WISH-TV, but Lee Giles, WISH-TV News Director, wouldn’t accept it. Patty had the full support of station management. 

But as Meniere’s disease continued to ravage her already fragile hearing, Patty decided to step away from her television career on December 24, 2004, bringing an end to a twenty-year run at Channel 8. 

Patty Spitler's book.

In 2009, a friend approached Patty about hosting a television show focusing on animals and pets. After some initial doubts and skepticism, Patty agreed to host Pet Pals TV. Still on the air today, the nationally syndicated weekly show can be seen on over 70 television stations across the country.  In 2018, Patty Spitler was inducted into the Indiana Broadcasters Hall of Fame. In the span of 30 years she has interviewed the likes of Mike Tyson, Dolly Parton, Walter Cronkite, and countless other celebrities.

Whether at a movie premiere in Los Angeles or in front of the camera at The Vouge, her infectious laugh and deep voice were the trademarks of a career that will go unmatched in our lifetimes. Never afraid to get personal or serious with a celebrity, Patty Spitler brought Hollywood, in all its splendor and excess, to Indianapolis like no one else could.