Rhea Feikin, known as “the First Lady of MPT” due to her long association with Maryland Public Television, will retire in late February after more than a half-century on Baltimore’s airwaves.
Feikin, 84, currently hosts MPT’s “Artworks” and “Chesapeake Collectibles” series, and is the station’s principal pledge drive spokesperson.
“Rhea’s retirement brings to a close a remarkable career that spans more than four decades and that won her fans and admirers across Maryland and beyond our state borders,” said Larry D. Unger, MPT’s president and chief executive officer. “We will all certainly miss her at MPT, but she’s leaving behind an impressive legacy.”
A Hampden native and University of Maryland graduate, Feikin began her television career in the early 1960s at WBAL, first with an educational program called “Betty Better Speech” and then with a children’s program, “Miss Rhea and Sunshine.” On the latter show, she not only starred but served as a writer and producer.
Feikin went on to do daily weather reports on WBAL — memorably with her puppet sidekick, J.P. (manned by the late Cal Schumann) — and hosted a game show for the Maryland Lottery.
After leaving WBAL, Feikin freelanced for a while and worked on the MPT show “Consumer Survival Kit” during the 1970s. She then served as host for such local public TV productions as “MPT on Location” (1991-1996), “ArtWorks This Week” (2002-2013) and “Impressions with Rhea Feikin” (2007-2014).
As MPT’s longtime principal pledge drive spokesperson, Feikin told Jmore in a 2017 profile that she sometimes employs her own brand of Jewish guilt to coax dollars out of viewers.
“I’ll say, ‘I have to tell you, the phones aren’t busy at all. And I know you’re watching the show.’ It always makes the phones ring,” she said. “I really believe all that stuff I say on the air. I also truly believe in public television. It doesn’t care who you are. The variety and breadth of people who watch is so fulfilling. You don’t need cable. You just need a TV set. It’s the pathway to amazing programs.”
In 2010, Feikin was honored with MPT’s first star on its outdoor Walk of Fame at its Owings Mills location. Eight years later, the station’s renovated green room adjoining Studio A was named the Rhea Feikin Green Room.
In 2014, Feikin was inducted into the Gold Circle of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter in recognition of her five decades of regional broadcasting service.
A former Stevenson resident who now lives in North Baltimore, Feikin serves as honorary chair of MPT’s current comprehensive fundraising campaign. She has served on the boards of the Baltimore School for the Arts, the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, the United Cerebral Palsy Foundation and the Baltimore County Adult Education Committee. She was a founder of Baltimore’s Center Stage.
Among other honors and recognitions, Feikin was the recipient of the Women in Film and Video’s Charm City Award and was named one of “Maryland’s Top 100 Women” by The Daily Record.
Plans are underway for MPT salutes and tributes to Feikin in 2020.
Of her longevity and success on local TV, Feikin told Jmore, “It’s not brain surgery. But you’ve got to be able to be yourself, because it’s an intimate medium. And you have to hope they like who you are.”