Edwin G. Burrows, a public radio pioneer who was instrumental in getting federal aid to public radio — when CPB’s founding legislation initially planned only the Corporation for Public Television — died Nov. 20 in Edmonds, Wash. He was 94.
His public radio career began in 1948 as program director at WUOM, Ann Arbor, Mich., according to the National Public Broadcasting Archives at the University of Maryland Libraries, where Burrows’s papers reside. He helped create WVGR in Grand Rapids in 1961, and in 1966 he was made manager of WUOM and WVGR.
While at WUOM, Burrows helped charter National Educational Radio, the radio division of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB).
In 1967 the first Carnegie Commission report recommended that Congress create a Corporation for Public Television as the conduit for federal funding. The word “radio” did not appear in the report, which “was a product of educational television advocates through and through,” wrote Jack Mitchell in his book Listener Supported: The Culture and History of Public Radio. “Few cared that radio was left out.”
However, Mitchell notes, “a very few crusty old radio guys did care,” including Burrows, who managed to persuade his station’s board to hire an advocate at the NAEB office in Washington, Jerrold Sandler. The two worked with Dean Coston, a former WUOM chief engineer who was then a deputy undersecretary of Health, Education and Welfare responsible for shepherding through Congress legislation relating to education — including educational TV. Coston was able to literally insert “and radio” after each mention of “television” in the legislation.
Though Coston’s guerrilla efforts were not decisive, Sandler and other radio advocates eventually prevailed, and CPT became CPB.
Burrows was also an active producer. From 1968 to ’70, and again from 1975 to ’80, as part of a cultural arts program titled The Eleventh Hour, Burrows interviewed some 500 artists including Alvin Ailey, Robert Bly, Peter DeVries, Joyce Carol Oates and Kurt Vonnegut.
He served as director of the National Center for Audio Experimentation at the University of Wisconsin in Madison from 1970 to ’73, when he returned to WUOM/WGVR as executive producer, a position he held until his retirement in 1982.
Burrows was born in Dallas in 1917. He received a bachelor’s degree in literature from Yale, was named a class poet and member of the editorial board of the Yale literary magazine. He received his master’s degree in literature from the University of Michigan, where he won a Hopwood Award for creative writing. Burrows continued to write poetry throughout his lifetime. His first book, The Arctic Tern and Other Poems (1957) was a finalist for a National Book Award.
He served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Naval Reserve, working as a deck and combat information officer for carriers in the Pacific theater from 1943 to ’46.
Burrows is survived by his wife of 39 years, Beth Elpern Burrows; by three sons from a previous marriage, David, Daniel and Edwin; and by five grandchildren.
“Ed asked that there be no ceremonies in connection with his death,” his family said in a statement through Michigan Radio. “If people wished to remember him, he suggested that they support their local poets.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article used incorrect call letters for WVGR.
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