David Liroff, a former executive and technology strategist for GBH and CPB, died Saturday in Topsfield, Mass. He was 77.
A cause of death was not disclosed.
Liroff, who retired in 2009 as an SVP for CPB, spent most of his career at WGBH, as the Boston station identified itself during his years there. From 1979–2007 he worked in multiple roles, including broadcast manager, television station manager, VP and CTO. He also served on boards of several national public broadcasting organizations, CPB advisory panels and working groups, and the PBS technology and distribution committee, according to an online archive of his speeches.
“There was no one more passionate about our mission, or more vigilant to maintain the trust of our audience,” said Henry Becton, GBH vice chair and former president. “David personified the best of our public media family and will be sorely missed.” Liroff was the first person Becton hired after he became GM, he added. “How fortunate we were.”
Liroff oversaw local programs like Say Brother, a public affairs program for African Americans that was renamed Basic Black. He also helped lead production of La Plaza, The Ten O’Clock News, This Old House, The Victory Garden and The New Yankee Workshop.
In the 1980s, Liroff oversaw the GBH Media Library and Archives, which later expanded with the American Archive of Public Broadcasting. He created and managed the audience research department, established GBH’s first professionally-staffed audience and member services department, oversaw GBH’s transition to digital production and facilitated the technical transition when the station moved into new headquarters at Guest Street in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood.
Liroff played a key role in public TV’s transition to digital broadcasting. He served on the board of the Association of Public Television Stations, now known as America’s Public Television Stations, including three years as vice chair, and advocated for federal support for public TV’s transition. He frequently spoke at conferences about the impact of new technologies on public broadcasting.
“He was technologically savvy and forward thinking, and his passion and commitment for our system were instrumental in guiding our public service mission,” said APTS President Pat Butler in a statement. “We salute his long years of leadership, his mentorship of so many who followed him into public broadcasting, and his legacy of service that will live forever.”
GBH CEO Jon Abbott also described Liroff as a mentor to many in public media. “When I joined GBH, David was generous in sharing his knowledge, insight and wisdom,” Abbott said. “But importantly, he shared his encouragement for what we could accomplish when we all worked together. He truly embodied the spirit of system-building.”
During an all-staff send-off as Liroff departed GBH in 2007, he told colleagues, “Yes, there’s plenty of room for improvement in the way we do our business — we must change in fundamental ways — that’s true of any organization of our age — but the key to our success in those years — as it continues to be today — is belief in our mission, and remaining true to our commitments.”
Liroff was born June 6, 1944 in Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s in speech and theater from Brooklyn College and a doctorate in radio, television and film from Northwestern University.
Before joining WGBH, Liroff was PD for WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio, and was an assistant professor at Ohio University. He moved on to KETC, now known as Nine PBS in St. Louis, where he was director of broadcasting. After GBH, Liroff joined CPB as SVP of system development and media strategy.
“Over the course of his long career, David Liroff was a serious champion of public television and a pioneer in using audience research to make data-driven improvements in programming,” CPB President Pat Harrison said in a statement. “His keen intellect and passion for public broadcasting’s mission made him an inspiring leader in the industry. May his memory be a blessing to his family and all who knew him.”
In addition to APTS, Liroff served on the boards for American Public Television and Public Interactive, a web services company that NPR acquired in 2008. APT presented its first Lifetime Achievement Award to Liroff in 2008; the Public Television Programmers Association also recognized him for lifetime achievements in 2007.
In retirement, Liroff spent his time walking his Newfoundland dogs, renovating his home in Topsfield, Mass., and campaigning for Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Seth Moulton, according to GBH.
Liroff is survived by his wife Jean, his son Jonathan, his daughter Brooke Fabian, and his grandchildren Lucy and June Fabian.
At his request, there will be no memorial services. The family invites anyone wishing to make memorial contributions to donate to their local NPR or PBS station in Liroff’s name or the name of any loved one.
This obituary has been updated with details about Liroff’s role on the APTS board.