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Hartford N. Gunn Jr.; PBS Pioneer, Ex-Chief at KCET

January 03, 1986|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Hartford N. Gunn Jr., the first president of Public Broadcasting Service, a former general manager of Los Angeles' Channel 28 and the executive credited with connecting the PBS system by domestic satellite, died Thursday in a Boston hospital of cancer.

Gunn was 59 and most recently was a consultant to the Satellite Television Corp. in Washington where he was working on projects to bring TV programs from satellites into individual living rooms.

Gunn devoted his entire professional life to public television, gravitating to it when it was in its infancy.

First Job in Boston

His first job was at Boston's WGBH in 1952, a year after he graduated from Harvard School of Business at age 25. He became director of operations and then general manager of the station in 1957 at a time when there was fewer than a dozen people on its staff and its radio counterpart had yet to go on the air.

With David Ives and the late Ralph Lowell, all of Boston, Gunn was at the forefront of the campaign to pressure Congress to create a national PBS network. When it was created in 1968, Gunn helped turn the concept of a network devoted to culture, information and education into a reality that now includes 240 public outlets.

In 1970 he moved to Washington to become the first president of the embryonic network and then became vice chairman in 1977.

The network was conceived to unite the growing number of educational TV stations across the land, and Gunn became responsible for the programming of National Educational Television and the Children's Television Workshop as well as shows generated by member stations.

Came to KCET in 1979

In 1979 he was lured to Los Angeles by KCET, Channel 28, as senior vice president and general manager to oversee local operations. But he lasted only three years, resigning amid a series of massive layoffs generated by financial setbacks.

Before moving to Los Angeles, Gunn established the network of satellite communications that now makes possible the complicated triad of entertainment and cultural, educational and instruction and special-interest and regional programs transmitted to PBS outlets.

Barbara Goen, director of public information for KCET, said Thursday that Gunn, a bachelor, "not only contributed to KCET but was a pioneer in the entire field of public broadcasting and those of us who work in it owe him a great debt."

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