A leading advocate for independent producers and openness in the governance of public broadcasting, Laurence S. Hall died Feb. 21  after a recurrence of cancer, according to one of his sons, Ole Hall. He was 74.
Hall was one of “the three Larrys” — the others being Lawrence Daressa and Lawrence Sapadin — who were among the leaders of the 1980s movement to secure a role for independent producers in public TV.
If there was one person responsible for that “modest miracle of legislation,” Daressa said recently, it was Hall.
“He’s the person who should have won a Ralph Lowell Award,” said Jeff Chester, an activist who worked for the legislation.
Hall’s day job was theoretical physics, working in nonmilitary research at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. But he became an activist supporting the United Farmworkers strike in the early 1970s.
His ex-wife, Nancy Hall-Manning, said Hall loved KQED-TV’s groundbreaking, shirtsleeves Newsroom news program, which started during a newspaper strike in 1968. “It was wonderful because you could get real, honest information,” she recalled. But foundation aid dwindled, the show declined, and KQED became a disappointment to many activists.
Hall supported a staff strike at KQED in 1974 and founded the Committee to Save KQED and the California Public Broadcasting Forum, said fellow activist Henry Kroll. The groups watchdogged the station for the next decade. In 1980, the forum challenged KQED’s license for its little-used second channel, KQEC, leading to the FCC’s revocation of its license in 1988. The channel was snapped up by the independent PTV station KMTP.
After failing to get California to require open meetings and open records for public broadcasting stations, Kroll said, Hall took the issue to Washington, where he worked with Carter administration official Henry Geller to put the provisions into the Public Telecommunications Financing Act in 1978.
“To me, the most long-term and most important victory they had was to get the sunshine laws passed,” says Dee Dee Halleck, a media activist and filmmaker who lobbied with Hall for the legislation.
Hall and other advocates for independent producers also won an amendment in the same 1978 law requiring CPB to devote “substantial” funding to indie productions. A decade later, the three Larrys, Halleck and other advocates won support from House Democrats, including John Dingell (Mich.), Henry Waxman (Calif.), Edward Markey (Mass.) and Al Gore (Tenn.) for a stronger provision in the Public Telecommunications Act of 1988, mandating CPB to fund an independent agency to support indie works.
In 1991, CPB began funding the Independent Television Service created by producers. This eventually led to public TV’s ongoing series P.O.V., Independent Lens and similar filmmaker showcases on local stations.
“What really motivated Larry was a profound belief that a vibrant democracy needs an independent form of media,” said Kroll.
“He was persistent to the point of irrationality,” Daressa said. Activism was Hall’s social life, said Hall-Manning. He was an imposing presence and skillful advocate, friends said, but he was strong-willed and often alienated colleagues as well as opponents.
In recent years, activists lost track of Hall, though he was seen occasionally attending the opera. He returned to physics, making notes on the back of grocery lists and working on a paper to disprove leading theories of black holes, said his ex-wife. His family hopes to get it published.
Hall is survived by four sons — Dana, David, Ole and Quincy. Friends and family will attend a memorial service May 22 at David Hall’s home in Livermore, Calif.
Hall raised questions about KQED operations that later led the FCC to revoke its license for second channel, 1988.
Hall and colleagues criticized KQED management before and during its fiscal crisis in the early 1990s. “Those people over the years have been the single most destructive force in the history of KQED,” said former employee Jim Scalem.