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William Robson; Radio Producer-Director

April 17, 1995|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

William N. Robson, one of the last survivors of radio's Golden Age of live broadcasts and a director considered "the master of mystery and adventure" because of his extensive and popular projects, is dead.

His wife, Shirley, announced from Alexandria, Va., that the producer-director and oft-times creator of ingenious melodramas had died at their home there April 10 of the complications of Alzheimer's disease. He was 88.

In a broadcasting career that spanned four decades, Robson worked with personalities ranging from media legend Edward R. Murrow and a young Massachusetts senator named John F. Kennedy to the satirist Stan Freberg.

Robson's shows involved the simple plot lines of "Big Town," a newspaper adventure starring Edward G. Robinson and Clare Trevor, as well as the imaginative complexities of "The CBS Radio Workshop," on which "interviews" with Shakespeare vied for air time with science-fiction expeditions.

It was the latter show that sometimes featured Kennedy and Freberg as actors and brought Murrow and Robson together for the first time. The relationship between the latter two was to culminate in the 1960s at the Voice of America, where Robson won several George F. Peabody awards, radio's equivalent of the Oscar, while working for Murrow.

Robson had graduated from Yale in 1928 and had gone to work as a screenwriter for Paramount before moving to radio as a writer and director in the early 1930s.

Through the next 40 years, he produced and directed such programs as "Escape," a high-adventure series, and "Doorway to Life," one of the first media efforts to examine the psychological problems unique to children.

During World War II he supervised "The Man Behind the Gun," a much-heralded program that personalized the battle heroics of America's GIs, and "Open Letter on Race Hatred," called by Time magazine "one of the most eloquent programs in radio history."

Those programs were to bring him the first of his six Peabodys.

Robson was one of the last directors of "Suspense" (1956-59), a show considered by many historians to have been radio at its finest during its two-decade run.

At the Voice of America, he was responsible for many innovative shows, among them "New York, New York," on which Garry Moore interviewed celebrities visiting the city, and "200 Years Ago Tonight," a series about the Revolutionary War produced during the bicentennial year of 1976.

One of those shows, about the Battle of Lexington, brought Robson his last Peabody.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three sons and one grandson.

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