Two pioneering pubcasters in Philadelphia, John B. Roberts and Bruce Harrison Beale, died on the same day, March 8 . John B. Roberts, one of the founding directors of WHYY-FM/TV in 1957, died of a spinal infection at his home in the retirement community of Rydal Park in suburban Philadelphia. He was 94.
In 1953, Roberts had founded the Temple University public radio station, WRTI-FM, now an outlet for classical and jazz music, and taught communication at the university from 1946 to 1988.
“When I was an undergrad at Temple in the 1970s, “WRTI was staffed and managed by students,” said Temple faculty member Paul Gluck, who served as station manager of WHYY-TV from 1999 to 2007. “In my time as a student newscaster, we knew that when big stories broke or serious issues arose, we could always turn to Professor Roberts for calm, reasoned guidance, even as deadlines loomed large in front of us.”
Roberts was born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., son of John and Evelyn Roberts, and attended high school in Long Branch, N.J. He earned a bachelor’s degree at New York University in 1940 and a master’s at the University of Iowa in 1941. He began his teaching career at University of Maine. He also worked as a Navy broadcaster during World War II.
Roberts reported and anchored news programs for Philadelphia’s ABC television and radio station WFIL (later WPVI), between 1952 and 1972. He served as president of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia from 1992 to 1994, and was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1996.
“As a journalist, he was a strict constructionist who was relentless in his search for the truth of every story upon which he reported,” Gluck said. “As an educator, he offered an honest, pragmatic view of journalism, while he firmly enforced high standards of excellence.”
Roberts is survived by his wife, Agnes, and several nieces and nephews.
The family suggests donations to the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 2886, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004.
Bruce Harrison Beale, who spent some 20 years at WHYY and 26 years at WHRO in Norfolk, Va., died of an apparent heart attack at his home in Norfolk. He was 82.
Beale worked as a director, production manager and program director for WHYY in the 1960s and ’70s, and appeared on the air as host of a weekly program on the University of Delaware athletic teams, the Blue Hens.
He left for WHRO, where he was named production manager in 1979 and production director in 1982. He retired from full-time work in 1995, serving as a consultant for the station until 2005.
“Doing a TV show with Bruce directing was like playing a concerto with [German virtuoso] Carlos Kleiber conducting,” Raymond Jones, announcer on WHRO-FM, told Current. “He was an absolute master of his craft and a person with many hilarious stories to tell. He will really be missed.”
“I remember one instance during a remote television production in Virginia Beach involving the symphony orchestra,” said Keith Massie, retired v.p. of engineering services at WHRO. “Members of the orchestra were disturbed by the bright lights. A crisis was at hand until Bruce addressed the orchestra, explaining to them that television required the lighting that was being used in order to make them look the best possible.” Only then did the orchestra decide to continue. “Bruce was one of a kind,” Massie said.
Beale was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Central High School. He was an Air Force veteran.
He is survived by a son, Stephen; a daughter, Marianne Kranz; a half-brother, Robert Beale, and two grandsons.