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Winter D. Horton Jr. dies at 80; co-founder of L.A. public television station KCET

The broadcasting pioneer helped shape public television programming in the 1960s and later was appointed by President Clinton to the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

November 14, 2009|Christopher Reynolds

Winter D. Horton Jr., a broadcasting pioneer who co-founded KCET in Los Angeles, helped shape the nation's public television programming in the 1960s and later was appointed to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's Board of Directors, died of natural causes Thursday in Pasadena. He was 80.

Born June 2, 1929, in San Gabriel and educated at the Midland School in Los Olivos and Pomona College in Claremont, Horton got his first taste of show business at 19, as a gofer for his uncle, stage and screen actor Edward Everett Horton.

Horton began his television career at KFSD, an NBC affiliate in San Diego, and went on to spend a decade as television producer for Benton & Bowles Advertising. But much of his career was devoted to public television, and in 1964, he was among the co-founders of Los Angeles public television station KCET.

"He was very deeply involved in the early days," said Al Jerome, president and chief executive of KCET, who called Horton "forceful, but always a pleasure to deal with."

From 1965 until 1970, Horton served as vice president for development at National Educational Television, the forerunner to the Public Broadcasting Service. In 1972 and 1973, Horton worked as a consultant to the Children's Television Workshop, the producers of "Sesame Street."

Horton also founded and served as president of Centre Films Inc., producing films, videos and documentaries for PBS and commercial networks in the 1970s and '80s.

"I first met Winter back in the '70s, when I was working for the Osmonds," U.S. Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) said, referring to the family singing group from Utah. "He became a consultant to the Osmonds and we became very good friends very quickly."

When Bennett took over the top job at Salt Lake City-based Franklin Quest (now FranklinCovey), Horton signed on as vice president of marketing for the business tools company. And when Bennett won his Senate seat in the early 1990s, Horton became first his communications director, and later, his special projects director.

In 1997, with Bennett's encouragement, President Clinton appointed Horton to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting board, which distributes federal funds to hundreds of public television and radio stations nationwide.

At his Senate confirmation hearing, Horton crossed swords with U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over the propriety of advertising on PBS. Horton opposed it.

"I can't imagine Sesame Street's Count von Count 'selling' anything but numbers, or Fred Rogers 'selling' anything but the concept of 'you are a very special person,' " Horton was quoted as saying.

"Even though McCain was controlling his confirmation, he was willing to be forthcoming in his positions," recalled Bennett.

McCain decided not to block Horton's confirmation, noting his extensive experience. Horton served until 2002, and joined KCET, as a board member, in 2006.

"He just never lost the passion for it," Jerome said.

Horton, who lived in Pasadena and spent summers at Lake George, N.Y., is survived by his wife of 52 years, Carol; daughters Sarah Anderson of Honoka'a, Hawaii, and Katherine Safford of Pasadena; son Winter W. Horton of Pasadena; and five grandchildren.

Plans for a private service were pending. The family suggests that any donations go to the Midland School or to KCET.

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