Remembering Richard O. Moore, Part 2

By Garrett Caples

On Saturday, October 24, at 8 p.m. here in the Bay Area, KQED (Channel 9) will present a short, four-film retrospective of documentaries directed by poet & filmmaker Richard O. Moore as a member of the KQED Film Unit. I say “short” simply because Richard directed over 100 such films during his time in public television. The present retrospective begins at 8 p.m. with Take This Hammer (1964), a movie following James Baldwin as he speaks with disaffected black youth in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco. This is followed by From Protest to Resistance (1968), a look at the free-speech movement in Berkeley, at 9 p.m., and Report from Cuba (1967), documenting the immediate post-revolutionary moment under Castro, at 10 p.m. Rounding out the program at 11 p.m. is an episode from USA: Poetry (1966) devoted to Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Still from "Take This Hammer"
Still from “Take This Hammer”

In celebration of this event, I wanted to reproduce several passages from “A Tribute to Richard Moore,” written by Jim Scalem, Former KQED Producer and Program Manager, and former PBS VP of Fundraising Programming, as well as the prime mover behind the KQED retrospective. Scalem’s account offers a valuable look at Richard’s life and work in public broadcasting. Please enjoy!

Moore’s long and eclectic career in public broadcasting (he was a dancer, poet and lumber mill worker before that) began in 1949 when he co-founded KPFA-FM in Berkeley, Calif., with Eleanor McKinney and fellow pacifist Lewis Hill. KPFA was the first station in what became the non-commercial Pacifica Radio network—which also includes NYC’s WBAI.

In 1954 Moore was hired as one of the original employees of KQED in San Francisco, starting out as the Membership Director and backup announcer to Bill Triest, another former KPFA’er. Broadcasting on Channel 9, KQED was one of the very first non-commercial educational television stations to take to the air.

Moore joined KQED’s Founding Fathers—General Manager Jim Day and Program and Production Director Jonathan Rice—to present a varying array of mostly live, locally produced programs ranging from The Home Handyman to Japanese Brush Painting, from Profile Bay Area to The Scotch Gardener. This writer was a volunteer Floor Director on most of them—including a children’s series called Sing Hi Sing Lo directed by a bespectacled pipe-smoking Richard Moore!!

They even brought in from USC the renowned Shakespeare scholar Dr. Frank C. Baxter to teach Shakespeare on TV to a national ETV Audience, and later host a BBC-produced series of Shakespeare plays, An Age of Kings—one of the forerunners of today’s Sunday night staple, Masterpiece.

At KQED, Richard Moore went on to become an accomplished television producer, writer, and director. He eventually founded its documentary film unit, which was responsible for creating over 100 films funded and distributed by PBS’s predecessor, National Educational Television . . .

In the late 1960s Moore succeeded Jim Day to become KQED’s second president when Day went to NYC to put WNET-THIRTEEN on the air. That surprised colleagues like Catherine Allen, then a Secretary-Gopher in the KQED Film Unit and now a senior exec producer at Twin Cities Public TV. To her, Moore “had always seemed like the consummate artist and intellectual. But obviously he was also someone with organizational and leadership skills,” she noted. “And more important, he could move easily from one world to the other.”

It was during Dick Moore’s presidency that KQED gave birth to a nightly local news program that was to change the face forever of how local news was presented, even on commercial television. Spawned by a San Francisco newspaper strike, the KQED Newsroom (M-F, 7-8 p.m.) was anchored by former San Francisco Chronicle City Hall reporter Mel Wax.

It featured a group of reporters—hired mostly from the Bay Area local print media—who told their stories to Editor Wax and viewers as they sat around a horseshoe-shaped table. Those reporters included George Dusheck covering the science beat, Jim Benet on the local education scene, Bill Dorais on the transportation beat, Joe Russin on politics, and Ed Radenzel covering the Foreign News Desk. Newsroom was to become the single most viewed local series in KQED’s now 61-year history.

Former KQED NEWS Director Joe Russin recalls:

“KQED’s original Newsroom was funded by the Ford Foundation. But as the Ford money diminished, the program became increasingly expensive. Determined to keep KQED’s most successful program alive and vibrant, Moore made the daring and controversial decision to pour almost all KQED’s local program money into Newsroom. In exchange, Moore and Newsroom producer Joe Russin greatly expanded the program’s cultural coverage. At the same time, Moore oversaw the conversion of all of KQED’s local programs, including Newsroom, from black and white video to full-color productions . . .”

Former KQED Manager of Operations Lee Brand wrote this recently about Dick Moore:

“Even as he was aging, he somehow seemed ageless. I recall going to a screening of some of the films his KQED film unit produced in the ’60s, not too many years back, and being shocked when he told us he was 90. I remember thinking at the time that he looked about 65 or 70. And though I hadn’t seen him since he left KQED in the early ’70s, he remembered me.

“I think of that day in July of 1970 when I flew up from L.A. to interview with him for the Ops Manager position. We met in his 2nd floor office over the ‘loading dock’ at 525 4th Street—an office that I would find myself occupying less than 2 years later after he and others had moved a few blocks away to a building at 8th and Bryant.

“1970-71 was a time of turmoil financially for the station. It was a time when CFO Stan Rudney took it upon himself to issue several ‘pink slips’ without even informing Dick and other top-level managers. Rudney’s action provoked an all-staff meeting in the scene storage area of 520 4th Street. Dick stood in the middle of the area using a ladder for support as he was attacked verbally and profanely by many of the ‘pink slipped’ staff and their supporters. Coming as I had from commercial broadcasting in Hollywood, I had never seen such a gathering; nor heard such disrespectful language aimed at a station president—I was shocked.

“But Dick, ever the gentleman, stood there and with great patience allowed his staff to vent their ire. It was an occasion I remember vividly, and one at which I began to understand the nature of both the new place of employment for me and the nature of the man who had hired me.

“While the turmoil at the station only increased, and the unpleasant task of layoffs became a large part of my new responsibilities, I will always remember the picture of that patient gentleman surrounded by a frustrated and even hostile staff that day at 525 4th Street. He was unique in my KQED experience.”

Moore left KQED in 1972 and formed an independent production company, PTV Inc., with Lawrence Grossman, later a PBS president. Moore focused on literary themes with his 1975 series The Writer in America, profiling such authors as Toni Morrison and Eudora Welty.

Moore during his tenure as president of Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul.
Moore during his tenure as president of Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul.

In 1981 Moore became head of national programming at KTCA—Minneapolis, a.k.a. Twin Cities Public Television. In 1983, he became TPT’s third General Manager. The next year he began a campaign to fund new headquarters and studios in downtown St. Paul. Those facilities, which still house TPT, “were Dick’s lasting legacy,” said station president Jim Pagliarini. Moore retired from TPT in 1990 at the age of 70, soon after the building was completed.

Moore reflected on public TV and radio, program production, and his tenure at all three stations. “There’s a big difference between breadth of vision and running a public television station,” he said. “KPFA, and to a lesser extent KQED, were simply a means of exercising one’s interest in many things, the arts and public affairs particularly. That’s a very different attitude from most managers who don’t think in programming terms, or are not qualified, frankly, not having the educational or intellectual background, to say nothing of the openness of mind or curiosity. Translating broad visions into programming was very much a presence at KPFA and KQED in their early days.”

The retrospective of films by Richard O. Moore airs Saturday, October 24, beginning at 8 p.m. on KQED, Channel 9, San Francisco.

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