In 1970, he opened the school that later became the Specs Howard School of Media Arts. While his official mission was to teach the skills required for a career in broadcast arts, Jerry’s true passion was helping people achieve their potential.
Broadcast industry legend Julian “Jerry” Liebman, aka Specs Howard, was an innovative entrepreneur, a generous mentor and, above all, the beloved patriarch of a large and loving family. Jerry, who was 96, died Sept. 3, 2022, in his Southfield home, with his cherished wife of 68 years, Ceil, at his side.
Jerry Liebman was born in 1926 in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, a small town outside Pittsburgh. After contracting polio in a local pool at age 8, doctors told his parents he would never walk again. Refusing to accept the dire prediction, his father bought him a bicycle to restore his leg strength. Not only did Jerry regain his ability to walk, he also acquired the resiliency, optimism and determination that fueled his remarkable life.
He attended Allegheny College, where he worked at the student radio station and discovered his calling. As a DJ in Sharon, Pennsylvania, Jerry met his lifelong partner and best friend, Celia. They shared a 68-year marriage filled with mutual love, devotion and respect, raising four children in a home based on Jewish values and traditions.
“They were my inspiration for a loving relationship, the way he looked at her…,” said Kim Schon, the couple’s oldest grandchild.
Jerry Liebman became “Specs Howard” while working as a DJ at a Cleveland rock-and-roll station. When management decided he needed a trendier name, his trademark glasses made “Specs” a natural choice. Howard was chosen after a random perusal of the local phone book, and the name remained a permanent part of his professional persona.
In the midst of a successful run as a popular disc jockey in Cleveland, Jerry accepted an offer from WXYZ in Detroit and the family moved to Southfield. When the job ended due to changes in the radio business, Jerry decided to take a chance on a new venture rather than uproot the family again.
In 1970, he opened the school that later became the Specs Howard School of Media Arts. While his official mission was to teach the skills required for a career in broadcast arts, Jerry’s true passion was helping people achieve their potential, to reach goals they never imagined they could. His door was always open to students and employees who frequently sought the wise counsel he so generously dispensed.
He designed a curriculum based on his firsthand knowledge of the skills radio stations needed new employees to have. Using his contacts in the business, he developed the first program to place students in jobs after graduation. Many successful radio and TV personalities in Metro Detroit and across the country learned their trade at Specs Howard. Five decades and 16,000 students later, the school became part of Lawrence Technological University under the name Specs@LTU.
“Jerry was a rock star…. He touched and inspired so many people,” said Rabbi Herschel Finman, a longtime friend who officiated the funeral service.
Of all his remarkable achievements, Jerry was proudest of his family. His desk was covered with family photos and coming home for dinner was a priority despite his demanding career. He enjoyed special relationships with each of his children as well as his 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
“Growing up, he knew all of my friends and, later, he got to know my children’s friends,” said his daughter, Shelli Liebman Dorfman. “And he adored his grandchildren — they could get away with anything.”
He was an avid reader of newspapers and a variety of nonfiction books, accumulating an impressive store of knowledge on history, politics and numerous other subjects. The New York Times crossword puzzle was part of his daily routine until his final days.
Religion was very important to Jerry and Celia, whose father was a rabbi, and Judaism was an essential part of their household. While walking to services with his son, Jon, he befriended the late Rabbi Shaiall Zachariash, which led Jerry to become a founding member of Congregation Shomrey Emunah, where he remained an active participant.
“My dad always instilled how important it is to smile, stay positive and enjoy life,” said Alisa Zee, his daughter.
Jerry Liebman is survived by his wife, Ceil Liebman; children, Shelli (Dr. Michael) Dorfman, Martin (Judy) Liebman, Jonathan (Mindy) Liebman, Alisa Z. Liebman; grandchildren, Kimberly Schon, Richard (Dr. Penina) Dorfman, Stephanie (Avi) Beneson, Noah Liebman, Rabbi Miriam Liebman (Akiva Fishman), Tara Zdrojewski, Rana (Ty) Austin, Zoe Zdrojewski, Emma Claire Zdrojewski, Josh (Franny) Liebman, Rebecca (Phil) Janis, Emily Liebman and Adam Liebman; great-grandchildren, Shira Schon, Ari Schon, Jake Schon, Eitan Schon, Zevi Beneson, Rachel Beneson, Akiva Beneson, Elisheva Beneson, Noam Dorfman, Nathan Dorfman, Amalia Rose Fishman, Riley Janis, Avery Janis, Jacob Liebman. He is also fondly remembered by Bryan Schon, Dr. Sammi Siegel, Lester Sloan, Randy Zdrojewski and many other loving relatives and friends.
He was the loving grandfather of the late Alexandra Zdrojewski.
Interment was at Nusach Hari Cemetery in Ferndale. Contributions in honor of Jerry Liebman may be made to a charity of one’s choice. Arrangements by Hebrew Memorial Chapel.