Robert Ferrante, producer of innovative news at WGBH, NPR and “The World”, dies at 87

In a decades-long career fostering innovative approaches to delivering news programming, Mr. Ferrante also oversaw the redesign and growth of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” during the 1990s, strengthening its news operation and engaging producer Ira Glass and comedian David Sedaris for comment. and features.

Mr Ferrante was 87 when he died on September 15 at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, according to information provided by his family. His daughter, Donna Ferrante-Nuttall of Taunton, told the Washington Post the cause was complications from a stroke.

Beginning with an internship in the late 1950s at what was then WNAC-TV (Channel 7), he went on to report live from Dallas in 1963, when nightclub owner Jack Ruby killed Lee Harvey Oswald. , the shooter whom the Warren Commission found acted. alone to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.

During his career, Mr. Ferrante also led television coverage of the riots outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, helped create innovative public affairs programs at the WGBH, and ended his career at Boston as executive producer of “The World” radio show. ”

After joining CBS as executive producer of “Nightwatch,” Mr. Ferrante moved on to revamp “CBS Morning News.”

In 1989, he joined NPR at a time when “Morning Edition” was working largely in the shadow of the afternoon news program, “All Things Considered.” Mr. Ferrante has been credited with transforming it over the next nine years into the most popular morning newsmagazine in public and commercial broadcasting.

He made the aggressive pursuit of news part of a program that, by many accounts, had spent a decade searching for an identity. Public Radio had a reputation for being “late and long”, according to Ellen McDonnell, a senior producer who served as Mr Ferrante’s deputy and took over as executive producer when he left.

It was assumed that listeners got their tough news elsewhere and turned to NPR later for a lengthy analysis. With his background in business news, Mr. Ferrante brought a fresh sensibility, cultivating a mix of hard news and creative features.

“He was a smart, versatile news director,” NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg told The Post. “I hold him responsible for the success of ‘Morning Edition’ and for becoming the program that ultimately remains today.”

The show, hosted by Bob Edwards, had producers coming and going as it struggled to establish itself.

“It’s hard for listeners to understand where we were then,” Adam Clayton Powell III, a former vice president of news at NPR who hired Mr. Ferrante, told The Post. “When Bob came along, it was considered an auxiliary information service – something you would go to if you already knew what happened. We did features, but obviously we didn’t have the resources that the large networks had.

Under Mr. Ferrante, viewership for the “morning edition” jumped 25% and financial support from corporate underwriting soared. It increased airtime for emerging star reporters such as Totenberg, Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer.

It was also open to new feature segments. In 1992, Mr. Ferrante was approached by Ira Glass, then a relatively unknown independent producer, who had seen David Sedaris, a struggling professional cleaner and writer, perform at a Chicago club. Glass suggested airing offbeat commentary from Sedaris, which Mr. Ferrante enthusiastically endorsed.

Sedaris’ quirky take on his experiences as Crumpet, the department store Christmas elf, in a place called “The Santaland Diaries” was an instant hit. Sedaris became a monthly contributor to “Morning Edition”, which launched his career as a popular speaker and best-selling author.

Mr. Ferrante’s encouragement abruptly changed Glass’s career.

“He let me put my little radio experiments on their feet and in front of millions of people,” Glass told The Post. “He actually pushed me to do more. He called them ‘ornaments’, which he pronounced ‘ahnaments’, and he said to me more than once, ‘Ira, I have great coverage media. But I need more than that. I need ahnaments! Give me more of these ahnaments!”

The ornaments formed the basis of “This American Life,” a weekly story-based show that Glass created in 1995. The show has since been honored with a Pulitzer Prize and several Peabody Awards.

In 1999, “Morning Edition” had nearly 9 million daily listeners, while two mainstays of commercial television – NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America” ​​- each had less than 5 million. viewers, the Christian Science Monitor reported, citing Arbitron and Nielsen Media data.

Mr. Ferrante had left NPR a year earlier to become executive producer in Boston of the fledgling global news program “The World,” produced by Public Radio International, the BBC and Boston public radio affiliate WGBH.

Upon its arrival, “The World” was being carried by 70 stations nationwide. By the time he retired in 2010, the program was airing on 300 stations with a daily audience of 3.2 million listeners.

“He brought the highest journalistic standards, but he also had a common touch that appealed to American listeners who didn’t have the exposure to international news that a BBC audience had,” Lisa Mullins, who anchored “The World” during Mr. Ferrante’s tenure, the Post said. “He let us relax and take more risks. He urged us to bring a conversational twist to a genre of news that might be distant, obscure and difficult.

Robert Edward Ferrante was born in Boston on October 6, 1934 and grew up in Arlington. Her father was a bank clerk and her mother owned and operated a beauty salon. He graduated in 1957 from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, then joined WNAC-TV.

After TV news executive gigs in Pittsburgh and Chicago, Mr. Ferrante returned to Boston and WGBH-TV, where he helped create the station’s “Ten O’Clock News,” a live-action program. information who received New England’s top Emmy during his tenure.

Mr. Ferrante’s first marriage, to Anne Basti, ended in divorce.

In 1998, he married Pamela Post.

In addition to his wife, of Cambridge, and his daughter from his first marriage, Donna Ferrante-Nuttall, Mr. Ferrante leaves behind two stepchildren, Tyler Post of Hingham and Whitney Otto of Cambridge; and eight grandchildren.

Along with his many accomplishments in broadcast media, Mr. Ferrante had an idea of ​​what lay ahead for the industry in a time of rapid change.

“I think we’re on the threshold of Television Two, the second big phase of the communications revolution. Everything changes, and in the blink of an eye,” he told the Globe in 1982.

“Television will bring so much more than entertainment and news that it is beyond comprehension,” he said. “There is no stopping television.”

Material from The Washington Post was used in this report.