Dave Creagh, an early All Things Considered executive producer who went on to lead other programs and major-market stations throughout his influential 22-year pubradio career, died Dec. 16 at his home in Blowing Rock, N.C., following a short illness associated with treatment of a cancer diagnosed in November. He was 60.
“Dave was in the vanguard of public radio pioneers who laid the foundations for a vital communications network,” said John Dimsdale, Washington bureau chief for American Public Media’s Marketplace and a former colleague at NPR. “Over his career, he established high standards for engineering, journalism, production and station management. We are all in his debt.”
Creagh became one of the network’s first employees, hired Jan. 2, 1969, as it moved to begin operations in April 1971. He was initially the technical director of ATC and became its executive producer during NPR’s formative years in the 1970s. In the 1980s he managed the CPB-supported Satellite Program Development Fund (SPDF), which provided seed money for programs to be distributed via the new Public Radio Satellite System.
“As a young, station-based reporter in the ‘70s, everything about NPR was intimidating — except Dave Creagh. He was encouraging,” said John Stark, now g.m. of KNAU in Flagstaff, Ariz. The SPDF “was a safe haven, a welcoming portal within NPR for rookies like me. It set the precedent for the expanded National Desk, the Local News Initiative and subsequent spinoffs like Impact of Government. Dave Creagh’s legacy is everywhere in the public radio system.”
Creagh also produced jazz programming with pianist Billy Taylor as host and managed KLON-FM, the Los Angeles-area jazz station in Long Beach now known as KKJZ. He built and managed Baltimore’s WJHU-FM, then licensed to Johns Hopkins University; started and directed the radio doc anthology Soundprint while at WJHU; and became e.p. of Monitor Radio, the daily news service of the Christian Science Monitor, an early alternative to NPR news programming.
“In the days when we often began ATC unsure of exactly how it would end 90 minutes later, Dave’s was the steady hand on the tiller,” said Rick Lewis, who was a newscaster in NPR’s early days and succeeded Creagh in other jobs. “There might have been pandemonium behind the scenes, but the precision of NPR’s sound was already emerging.”
“I always thought of Dave as a modern-day Tom Sawyer,” said Ernest Sanchez, a longtime public broadcasting attorney and a friend of Creagh’s for more than 35 years. “When there was serious work to be done, Dave was capable of recruiting anyone to help with the work, and convincing them they would have fun. And Dave always delivered on the fun, along with serious, imaginative results.”
“He appreciated the art of radio,” independent pubradio producer Jay Allison told Current. “He was open to the new, and he encouraged talented young producers and their unlikely ideas. Not every skilled manager is willing to take that risk. We all still benefit from the people and ideas Dave ushered into public radio.”
As executive producer for Monitor Radio in the 1990s, Creagh hired Sue Schardt, now executive director of the Association of Independents in Radio. The news program unit “did a lot of groundbreaking work,” Schardt said. It was the first to produce a 4 p.m. newsmagazine for public radio, a midday report at noon, a 5 a.m. newscast and a 24/7 newscast. “We were the upstart, the underdog,” she said. “And Dave was the one always pushing the envelope, looking at ways to carve a path forward, to get resources to do more and better.”
She recalled a live broadcast in the mid-’90s, with anchors in Boston and London, on the emerging crisis in the Balkans before NATO became involved. “It was terrifying for us to do this very significant international live collaboration, out of the BBC studios, as a co-production with PRI,” she said. “Dave Creagh was the force behind that. For all of us involved, it was an incredible experience.”
In the mid-’90s, when funding for the field was at risk, Creagh helped launch and later served as senior v.p. of the nonprofit Alliance for Public Broadcasting, which developed discount perks for station members.
Creagh’s longtime friend and colleague Walt McRee was founder and president of the alliance, which was active until 2008. “We’ve lost a valuable man, a formidable professional, a fine mind, great heart and a honed wit,” he said. “Dave had a journalist’s mind and a broadcaster’s heart and was dedicated to straight talk and loyalty to friends and family.”
McRee lived next door to Creagh’s home in the scenic mountains of North Carolina, where local cognoscenti often gathered at what was fondly known as “Dave’s Lounge” for spirits and spirited discussion.
Creagh was born Sept. 25, 1951, in Washington, D.C., the son of Nelda and Edward Creagh, and he became a journalist like his father, a well-known Associated Press correspondent in the 1940s and ’50s. He attended the University of Maryland.
His marriage to fellow staffer Katherine Roe “was one of NPR’s first matrimonial unions,” according to his family, and lasted for 30 years. He is survived by two children, Mary Dolores Creagh and Charles Randall Creagh of Boston; one sister, Elizabeth Martin of Virginia; and several nieces and nephews.
Plans for a spring memorial service in Washington, D.C., are pending; email Katherine Creagh at firstname.lastname@example.org for details. The family suggests donations to local public radio stations or the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.