Robert Ferrante, 87, News Executive
Excerpts from the Washington Post
Robert Ferrante, a broadcast executive who oversaw the overhaul and growth of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” during the 1990s, bolstering its news operation and enlisting producer Ira Glass and humorist David Sedaris for commentary and features, died Sept. 15 at a hospital in Cambridge, Mass. He was 87…
Robert Edward Ferrante was born in Boston on Oct. 6, 1934, and he grew up in Arlington, Mass. His father was a bank clerk, and his mother owned and operated a beauty salon. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University in 1957 before joining WNAC-TV, then the CBS affiliate in Boston.
He was the station’s news director in November 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He flew to Dallas to cover the aftermath and was among a throng of reporters in the nearby press room when, two days after the assassination, Ruby lunged forward and fatally shot Oswald in front of a stunned nation watching on live television. Mr. Ferrante immediately went on the air to report on the chaotic scene.
After later stops — at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh and WBBM-TV in Chicago — Mr. Ferrante oversaw the creation of public affairs programs at WGBH, including the Emmy Award-winning “Ten O’Clock News.”…
He achieved even greater prominence in the media in the 1980s — revamping the “CBS Morning News,” a ratings success, and creating the network’s overnight news program “Nightwatch.” When he jumped to NPR in 1989, he was tasked with performing the same magic…
“Morning Edition” had labored in the shadow of the network’s signature afternoon news program, “All Things Considered.” Mr. Ferrante is credited with transforming it over the next nine years into the most popular morning news magazine in public and commercial broadcasting…
Under Mr. Ferrante, the “Morning Edition” audience jumped by 25 percent, and financial support from corporate underwriting soared. He increased airtime for emerging star reporters such as Totenberg, Cokie Roberts, and Linda Wertheimer….
“He was an all-around smart news executive,” legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg said. “I hold him responsible for making ‘Morning Edition’ succeed and for becoming the program it ultimately remains today.”…
Mr. Ferrante left NPR [in 1998] to become executive producer in Boston of the nascent global news show “The World,” produced by Public Radio International, Britain’s BBC and Boston public radio affiliate WGBH.
When he arrived, “The World” was carried by 70 stations nationwide. By the time he retired in 2010, the program aired on 300 stations with a daily audience of 3.2 million listeners.
“He brought the highest journalistic standards,” said Lisa Mullins, who anchored “The World” during Mr. Ferrante’s tenure, “but he also had a common touch that attracted American listeners who didn’t have the international news exposure that a BBC audience had. He let us loosen up and take more chances. He urged us to bring a conversational touch to a kind of news that could be remote and obscure and difficult.”
In the cutthroat media business, Mr. Ferrante earned a reputation for leading a collegial news operation without pretension, where his booming laugh was a sign of ultimate approval. According to Mullins, after a successful show, the news team welcomed his signature Boston-inflected declaration, “That’s a KEEPAH!”
- Read the story in the Washington Post
From Carol Hills at The World:
A remembrance of Bob Ferrante. The former executive producer of The World died this week after a storied career that lasted more than 50 years.
I remember him well. He will be missed
Bob was passionate about the commitment to excellence. He was clearly bitten by the GBH virus, and he infected many over the years. Rest easy Bob.
Like so many people, I imagine, I owe my entire TV career to Bob. He offered me a job at The Ten O’Clock News in 1977, right after my Nieman Fellowship year. I said I’d like to be “the business editor.”
“What is that?” Bob asked.
“A regular reporter who covers stories from a business angle,” I said, “which is pretty much every non-political story there is.”
“But why business editor?”
“Because businesspeople are scared of reporters and if they hear I’m an ‘editor,’ they may think I’m management and we have something in common.”
Bob was cool with it, as he was with almost everything, everyone. Enthusiastic. Supportive. Endlessly cheery. Except once, when I finished a “standupper” for a story on sugar in kids’ cereal by delivering my last lines, and then having the camera close in tight on my mouth, chewing Lucky Charms with milk. It ran without Bob having prescreened it. He came up to me the next morning, put his face quite close to mine, and said: “Don’t ever do that again!”
I worked with Bob, directing his shows at WGBH, for many years, on productions ranging from nightly news programs, like The Ten O‘Clock News, to election coverage, Boston’s busing crisis and even Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard commencement address.
Bob worked with the premise that the first thing you hear about a news story will not be the last. He knew we form opinions only with good information from good sources and that what we hear and see needs the ring of truth and objectivity. He aimed high and rarely missed his mark and he chose talent brilliantly.
Not only did he speak with authority and real enthusiasm for the news, but also with the finest example of a non-rhotic accent you will ever hear.
My second boss at WGBH was Bob Ferrante. I wasn’t very good at my job, but Bob was generous in giving me room to improve. I admired his fight for a commitment to local news and engagement with Boston’s communities. As I recall, “The Ten O’Clock News” and earlier incarnations had two black reporters and three women reporters – a diversity that taught me a lot. Bob’s news instincts were right on target. Examples: he pushed for an instant special after the Saturday Night Massacre, and he moved production of the news program into the heart of Boston to cover the conflict over busing.
One particular personal memory of Bob comes to the fore – lunches with Bob. Yes, in the 70s at the original Casa B – a burger and brew (maybe!), but I was lucky to meet with Bob these past years for biannual lunches at Toscano. We would give each other books for our birthdays, and sometimes share a list. He turned me on to novels, and his insights and recommendations were terrific.
Last October, I was going to drop off a book (no lunch due to Covid), but my emails went unanswered, and I learned later that he was in trouble. I did see him once this past summer. We parked ourselves on a bench overlooking the Charles, and I gave him a book and photograph. The photograph was of the news team back in the day – our younger selves. He seemed pleased. I will miss him.
Will always be grateful for Bob bringing me into the Ten O’Clock Newsroom in the mid 70’s. His enthusiasm for news was infectious and my love of news has lasted a lifetime. RIP, Bob.
Bob Ferrante, as executive producer, wrote a daily critique of our “Ten O’Clock News” – the lighting, the writing, the order of events, the live guest, the music — and posted it the next morning for the show staff and station management. No one was spared, no one was insulted, and the show kept getting better.
He was as fine a people-person as I can remember in the often catty, fractious news biz: consistently a happy, expressive guy as I got to know him, straightforward and enthusiastic. Maybe he meant it when he would bound up the wooden stairs from the GBH parking lot to the scene dock, and make a game of sniffing the air (in any and all weathers) and beaming: “ah, a great day for sex!”
Bob Ferrante had a solid old-school news sense and full respect for the giants who graced the TOCN with regular appearances, like Anthony Lewis of the Times, Geoffrey Godsell of the Monitor, Caroline Shaw Bell of Wellesley College, Michael Wheeler then of the New England School of Law.
But Ferrante’s genius was for seeing young, unrecognized talent – as in Michelle Clark, whom he’d hired, just out of college, for WCCO, the CBS affiliate in Chicago, in 1970. Walter Cronkite’s CBS News picked Michelle up almost immediately to cover the 1972 presidential campaign. Late in the year, flying home for a weekend in Chicago, Michelle died in an infamous plane crash. But for that cruel turn, Bob Ferrante and I agreed that Michelle Clark would have been a favorite to succeed Cronkite in the CBS anchor chair. She was that good, and Ferrante was that good to spot her in her twenties.
It’s just right that so many old colleagues remember Bob with love.
I am heartbroken. Bob gave me my first job at WGBH, at “The Ten O’Clock News.” As production secretary, I was privy to much of his thinking. What struck me the most was how he genuinely cared about each and every staffer who was involved with the TOCN.
In fact, “genuine” is how I would describe Bob. Authentic. He had a huge heart. I loved how his face would light up with love and pride when his daughter, Donna, came to visit the newsroom. Their joyful bantering was infectious and made me laugh so!
My first memory of Bob was my job interview. I was so young (!). I told him that I aspired to be the executive producer of a television news show. He had barely looked at me up to that point but now gave me a sharp look. After a couple of minutes he said he had seen enough. Afraid that I hadn’t made a good impression, I blurted out: “Are you sure?!” Again, the sharp look – and I was quickly ushered out the door. Somehow I managed to hold back the tears, thinking my impulsiveness had lost me the job. Turns out he was rushing to tell Terry Steer “I’ve found the one. Hire her!”
My last memory of Bob was at a WGBH reunion. At the point in our conversation where we talked about careers, I wondered what he would think of my having left the news biz and not following my original dream. “I work in Development at McLean Hospital, raising funding to support patient care, research, training, and to end stigma against mental illness,” I said. This man – whom I revere – looked at me with such deep respect and pride, and I swear, his eyes misted up as he thanked me for pursuing a career to help people who so desperately need it. That’s Bob. Always looking at the big picture, always keeping things in perspective, always showing genuine interest in other people.
I can’t think about the “Casa B” or The Harvest (Casablanca for lunch, Harvest for dinner, NEVER the other way around) without thinking about Bob. I can’t walk along the Charles in Cambridge without feeling his presence. He was a giant of a man and a lovely human being. RIP.
Bob brought valuable insight to the news organization.
I appreciated his candor and kindness
Sad to learn this. He was so accomplished and so unpretentious. RIP indeed.
Bob was my first boss at GBH. He had real zest and a sense of humor.
I worked with him on the Ten O’Clock News in the 1970’s and learned so much from the experience……including, but not limited to, the joys of skipping out and going canoeing on the Charles when the Auction pre-empted a whole week of evening news programs.
I learned a great deal from Bob while working the Ten O’clock News and other projects. He was truly a giant of the industry, and a great teacher. Rest easy, Bob!orthicon@
Sad to lose two public media giants this week, Bob and NPR legend Jim Russell. Both made huge strides for public radio. It was a joy to have worked under both of them early in my career.
What a legacy! Was a great guy, full of energy and quick to laugh. RIP Bob.
Oh, how sad. What a wonderful guy. His archive interview was one of the best. Maybe it could be transcribed and posted on the website. One of the people that made WGBH great. Fred
Hi, Fred. That would be great! Can you send an audio file of that interview so we can get a transcript?