A public broadcasting pioneer who helped build the system and another who developed ways for its stations to successfully fundraise were among those remembered in our obituaries this year.
Ward Chamberlin died in March at the age of 95. He was one of the first executives hired at CPB in 1969 and helped create both PBS and NPR. As president of WETA, Chamberlin built the Washington, D.C., station into an important public-affairs producer. PBS President Paula Kerger considered him a mentor and recalled his “tremendous enthusiasm for life.”
Longtime fundraising leader Carl Bloom died in October at 79. He began developing marketing strategies for public broadcasters and other nonprofits in the early 1970s and spent the next five decades refining those techniques at his consultancy, Carl Bloom Associates. “Bloom influenced the evolution of on-air fundraising and the use of big data and online technology in tailoring effective donor appeals,” his colleagues recalled.
Among other notable deaths:
Vidal Guzmán, a Public Radio International executive, drowned while on vacation with his family. He was 60. Guzmán was senior manager of client relations for PRI. He joined the broadcaster in 1994 as senior program manager for its news show The World.
Rich Conaty, creator and host of The Big Broadcast on WFUV in New York City, died of lymphoma at 62. He started the popular program, which featured vintage jazz and big-band music, as a college student at Fordham University in 1973.
Fred Simon, a documentary filmmaker who helped popularize “talking head” interviews of subjects in tight close-ups, died after a long illness at 71. His film Frank: A Vietnam Veteran, which aired on PBS, is considered one of the first portrayals of post-traumatic stress disorder. Simon’s work remains part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Al Vecchione, the EP who oversaw the launch of MacNeil/Lehrer Productions and The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, died at 86. Vecchione also was GM of the National Public Affairs Center for Television, a production center that was a forerunner of the NewsHour with gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings on PBS.
Kip Campbell, a veteran public television engineer at UNC-TV, died at 73 after a long battle with cancer. His engineering colleague Carl Davis called Campbell “a leader in television technology who chose to devote his entire career to public broadcasting. We are all better engineers and broadcasters having known him.”
Dick Brown, who hosted an early local public radio call-in show, died at 82 of cancer. Brown began producing the live show Feedback in 1968 on WJCT-FM in Jacksonville, Fla. Later in his career he produced chef Jacques Pepin’s first U.S. television program.
John Witherspoon, the first director of television at CPB, died at 88. Witherspoon witnessed President Lyndon Johnson sign the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 and later that year assumed leadership of KEBS-FM in San Diego, which he grew into dual licensee KPBS. He was a signatory to NPR’s articles of incorporation in 1970 and founding president of the Public Service Satellite Consortium.
Nancy Zieman, longtime host of Sewing With Nancy, died at 64 after a recurrence of cancer. The Wisconsin Public Television program debuted in 1982 and remains the longest-running sewing show on TV. It airs on 233 public TV stations in 137 markets in 41 states and is among distributor NETA’s most-carried programs.
Grace Hill, who began her career as a receptionist at WCET in Cincinnati and retired after 47 years as an influential program director, died of heart failure at 78. The popular exercise program Lilias, Yoga and You, which was distributed nationally starting in 1973, was created under her leadership. She also mentored pledge producer TJ Lubinsky, who called her “one of the all-time great programmers.”