Pioneer of Public Television and Founder of KETC/Channel 9 Dies
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St. Louis, MO — January 5, 2018 — The last surviving founder of KETC (now known as the Nine Network of Public Media), Raymond H. Wittcoff passed away peacefully on January 2, 2018, at his home in Phoenix, Arizona. He was 96.
Wittcoff holds a significant place in the Nine Network’s history. He served as chairman of the Committee on Educational Television in 1951 after realizing that television might be “the most powerful instrument for education ever invented.” He became chairman of the Ford Foundation’s National Citizens Committee for Educational Television whose mission was to campaign for the reservation of noncommercial channels and to encourage civic leaders throughout the country to support the building of such stations.
A conference of education leaders was held where he outlined a proposal for a national education television network. The Ford Foundation established and became the major financial supporter of the National Educational Television Network (NET), a precursor of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Wittcoff served as NET’s chairman.
The committee recommended the creation of the independent St. Louis Educational Television Commission (ETC) to be the licensee of KETC/Channel 9, inspiring its call letters and what became known as the St. Louis Plan. He raised the money needed to sustain the St. Louis Educational Television Commission, making St. Louis the first city to do so, and served as its chairman. KETC went on the air in the fall of 1954. Wittcoff’s tenure on the KETC board ended in the early 1960s.
He was born December 5, 1921, the only child of Edward Wittcoff and Sadie Friedlob of St. Louis. A tennis and soccer player at St. Louis Country Day High School in St. Louis, he attended the University of Chicago at 16 where he majored in political science and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1942. Wittcoff became a commissioned officer in the Navy after graduating.
In 1946, he went to work for his father’s hat manufacturing business, Caradine Hat Company, in north St. Louis. It was at the Caradine-owned International Fur Exchange Building near the central business district where he spearheaded the leasing of some of its office space when hat sales declined (most notably to Southwestern Bell). This led to a career in real estate when he and his father founded the Transurban Redevelopment Corporation, where Raymond was installed as president. The company’s first big build-lease was the Thomas Jefferson Building, a new building adjoining the Fur Exchange Building.
In the late 1950s, he served as second chairman of Downtown St. Louis, Inc., which stimulated revitalization efforts and the development of the Eero Saarinen-designed Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium II for Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals. He even traveled to the White House with a delegation of city leaders to persuade President John F. Kennedy to come to St. Louis for the dedication of the Arch.
In the early 1960s he was elected to the board of Jewish Hospital in St. Louis; from 1979-1983 he chaired the board. His friendship with Washington University Chancellor Bill Danforth lead to a suggestion that the Washington University Medical Center (consisting of Jewish Hospital, Barnes Hospital, Children’s Hospital, and WU’s medical school) take a lead role in the redevelopment of the neighboring Central West End area. In the mid-1970s he became a trustee of Washington University where he served on various committees. He served two separate terms as chairman of the board of Washington University Medical Center. He successfully mediated negotiations to merge Barnes Hospital and Jewish Hospital in 1996.
After a very successful run in developing the south end of downtown St. Louis (Gateway Tower, the Equitable Building, Boatman’s Tower), he became director of the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S. and Chairman of its Investment Committee.
Wittcoff received many awards during his lifetime, including the Nine Network 2011 Pioneer Spirit Award for his outstanding contributions to public television in the St. Louis region. He was recently featured in the Nine Network special historical documentary on the revitalization of the Central West End.
He is survived by his wife Roma; his children Mark and Caroline; his grandchildren Nicholas Wittcoff, Jack Fuchs, Lauren Fuchs, and Ryan Fuchs; his stepchildren Joel Broida, Richard Broida, Melanie Broida, Marna Broida, and Debbie Broida; step-grandchildren Alexa Broida, Nikki Broida, Matthew Werl, Daniel Werl, Max Weiss, Sasha Weiss, Julian Weiss; and step-great grandson Conner Werl.
A memorial service will be held at Sagewood, 4555 East Mayo Boulevard, Phoenix, Arizona, on Sunday, January 7, at 2:00 p.m. A memorial service will be held in St. Louis at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Nine Network, Washington University, or a charity of your choice.
About the Nine Network of Public Media
The Nine Network of Public Media is a multifaceted organization creating a network of individuals and organizations empowered by public media to strengthen civic life. One of the nation’s most watched public television stations, Nine Network offers the people of the St. Louis region multiple ways to explore the world and become engaged in civic life. Nine’s platforms include four distinct broadcast channels (Nine PBS, Nine World, Nine Create and Nine PBS KIDS), the Nine Center for Public Engagement, the Public Media Commons, social media, and multiple websites accessible at nineNet.org. Nine Network’s rich legacy of serving the community was launched in 1954 and continues through our vision of a strong and healthy community working together through public media and our mission of igniting the spirit of possibility.