I'm Don Quayle and I live in Bethesda, Maryland. I am right now retired and have been for a number of years after a very lengthy career in first, educational noncommercial broadcasting, later turned into public broadcasting. I came into the eastern part of the country at the invitation of Hartford Gunn who used to be general manager of WGBH television and radio. He asked me to move to Boston in 1960, which is why I was manager of WGBH-FM at the time that the March on Washington occurred.
I remember that the main reason that he wanted me to come to WGBH grew out of a seminar that we had in Wisconsin, of managers of educational radio and television stations. And evidently at that time I held forth on a passion of mine, which was that networking and interconnection would be the only solutions to noncommercial broadcasters being able to provide a quality broadcast service, because by doing that you could aggregate the resources that all stations had, and upgrade quality of every stations’ program service. So he asked me to come to Boston not only to manage WGBH, but to start a regional Radio Network. Which we did; that was the Educational Radio Network, and it interconnected stations by telephone lines from Boston to New York to Philadelphia and Washington and back. And I emphasize that because this was a round robin style of interconnection.
We then fed other stations by off air relay to Amherst, Massachusetts, WAMC in Albany, three stations at that time in New Hampshire for the New Hampshire network, and ultimately five stations in Maine. Later there were a couple of stations built in Vermont, and some other stations expanded in upstate New York in Syracuse and Rochester. So we had the Northeast pretty well covered.
The problem was that in looking forward to the future, we didn't have a station in Washington D.C., which was critical to this whole concept of a regional network. What we did as a result of that was we put a new transmitter on the air in Boston, and a new station with a new transmitter on the air in Amherst, WFCR. At the time that we bought that new transmitter, and put it on Great Blue Hill - which is what GBH stands for - we sold our old transmitter to American University, so they could put a station on the air. And WAMU went on the air on May 6, 1961, using that transmitter. Now that transmitter is the number five transmitter that Major Edwin Armstrong built. He was the inventor of FM broadcasting. And when WAMU a few years later bought a new transmitter for broadcast, that transmitter was donated and still exists at the Smithsonian Institution.
We put that network together, and a gentleman by the name of Jerome Wiesner, who came from MIT, joined the administration of the new Kennedy administration when he was elected president. We learned that he had to divest himself of certain stocks, so as to not have a conflict of interest, and knowing that he had come into certain cash, we asked him for a donation to help support this new network. He agreed, and it was with that money we rented the telephone lines from the telephone company for that round robin interconnection. And when we signed on the air in the fall of 1961, Jerome Wiesner was the speaker that dedicated the establishment of the Educational Radio Network from the studios at WAMU at American University.
And through NET, National Educational Television in New York, we persuaded the Ford Foundation to put up money that they had originally dedicated to radio, to support this network. They did that through NET. At that time, this would have been July of ’62. I moved from WGBH to New York and became Director of Radio Services for NET. What we did by doing that is we put the ‘R’ back into NETRC. It then became, it became the National Educational Television and Radio Center.
There were two aspects to the radio; one was this regional connected network, of which I was then the director. The other one was the Broadcast Foundation of America. And what that was simply was the collection of radio programs of the great concerts of Europe, and some 15-minute press review programs. So the Broadcast Foundation of America was set up in order to handle these programs, because of a political difference of opinion between WNYC and NET, and the National Association of Educational Broadcasters, NAEB that had wanted this project to get underway decided they didn't want to handle these programs so NET said they would. So we had the Educational Radio Network and Broadcast Foundation of America as a part of NET, funded by the Ford Foundation with monies that they have previously allocated for radio.
We did a number of things that were broadcast by the regional network, the main one being our daily magazine program, which would broadcast at five o'clock, with inputs from every station. And that’s why the round robin interconnection system was so important because every station could feed the network as well as received from it. That is the ones that were interconnected by the landline. That program was produced by Susan Stamberg, who's now at NPR, and it was a precursor, if you will, to the All Things Considered that NPR started many years later. But anyway, we had that program, which is daily magazine program, and a co-host of the program in Washington and in Philadelphia. We did that, and we covered a number of smaller, less significant live events prior to the March on Washington.
The March on Washington, coming in late 1963, was a traumatic experience for me personally. And I made the first of two major mistakes in my career in public broadcasting, because I was on vacation at the time, and I was going to leave when we heard that the March was going to occur. I was going to leave vacation and come back to Washington so we could all be involved in it. And then I learned that the money at the Ford Foundation had run out. That they weren’t going to give any more money to radio. They had finalized the grant that they were going to give to NET, and it had three major provisions: they were going to give NET $6 million, the largest grant ever given to noncommercial broadcasting at that time. The three major conditions were: one, that instructional television would be cut out; second, that stations’ relations would be cut out, they would not fund that; and third, was that radio would be cut out. So radio funding at NET would end. That meant that the Educational Radio Network would end, as it was then constituted.
At that particular moment, knowing the March on Washington was coming up, I reasoned that it was better for everyone who was actually involved in the actual production of programming to have that last opportunity to do that coverage of that event. The resources were there, I was still director of the network, they had all they needed in terms of production personnel in order to do the job, and we decided to go ahead. I decided not to let them know that the de-funding would take place until after the event was over. And I was not actually in Washington at the time that the coverage on the March happened. But I do believe, as I recall, that the ERN coverage of the March was the only live broadcast of that event. And there were film cameras; there were TV units down there recording everything. But I don't think that anybody else broadcast it live except the Educational Radio Network, and it was the last big live broadcast that ERN did until it was reorganized later.
The primary coordinator of the broadcast was George Geesey and Susan Stamberg here in Washington. They informed everybody about what would be done from downtown on the Mall, and the arrangement of the interconnection system was such that every station along the route could feed into it as long as you broke the round robin. So that if it was feeding up from Washington and Philadelphia wanted to insert they would stop the feed and feed on and that would go around and everybody would get the broadcast. People in Philadelphia and Boston and New York would tell George what if anything they had to offer or they had to contribute. In addition, some of those people came to Washington from some of the other stations and were down on the Mall at George's beck and call, Malcolm Davis, that worked for me at NET in New York, who had come from BBC Radio many years before that, was live on the Mall and working at their behest, so George and Susan organized it and everybody contributed what they could.
The broadcast certainly was the most significant thing that the Educational Radio Network did, and it was interesting that it was the last big event that ERN covered and performed. It also provided one of the strongest arguments for renewing the effort involving stations to be interconnected and to form a network. It was one of the strongest arguments that I used when we were at CPB to argue for the creation of PBS and NPR. Because with that kind of programming, with that kind of coverage of events that could be then national, it was important that those networks be formed and be organized. And I think that a lot of the work that we did at ERN and at EEN proved to be a very strong precursor to arguing for a national network later on, when the funds became available through CPB.
I was aware of some of the impact and some of the essence of what the March on Washington was all about when I heard the “I have a dream” speech. Prior to that time, it was part of a rising feeling of searching for self-rights, for individual rights, for eliminating racial prejudice, and we realized that an event such as this was something that was newsworthy, would make news, would be significant. We never knew how much of an impact it would have until you heard that speech. Even then it was kind of hard to judge in to the future but you listen to that speech even today, and it just curdles your blood! It just makes you so pleased, and so optimistic about what the future could be, and how closed-minded the past had been.