WTTW's McCarter remembered for legacy of broadcasting excellence
William J. McCarter was remembered Friday as Chicago’s public broadcasting visionary and as a father and grandfather who personified “integrity, love, generosity and wisdom.”
Friends and colleagues filled Kenilworth Union Church to hear tributes to the man credited with transforming WTTW-Channel 11 into one of the nation’s premier public television stations during his 27 years as president and general manager. McCarter died of complications from cancer at his home in Wilmette on April 21. He was 81.
“Everyone who worked with Bill – without exception — trusted him and admired him,” said former Federal Communications Commission chairman Newton N. Minow. “He was always fair, always honest, always balanced.”
As chairman of WTTW’s board of trustees, Minow recruited McCarter to the station in 1971 from WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., because he regarded McCarter as an exceptionally thoughtful, creative and talented executive. “I told him we wanted to make WTTW the best public television station in the United States — and he did it. . . . Under Bill’s leadership, WTTW won every single broadcasting honor that there is.”
Recalling a visit with McCarter to the station’s transmitter atop what was then the world’s tallest building — Sears (now Willis) Tower — Minow said: “That signal is pure, it is powerful, it is innovative, it is fair, it is trusted, and above all, it stands for public service. That signal is the legacy Bill leaves to all of us.”
McCarter’s daughter Juli read a letter from one of her father’s many proteges, Ken Ehrlich, the powerful West Coast producer who got his start producing Soundstage and its predecessor, Made in Chicago, for WTTW in 1972. “At heart, Bill loved making programs,” Ehrlich wrote.
In addition to Soundstage, McCarter had a direct hand in the creation of Washington Week in Review, The McLaughlin Group, and Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert’s Sneak Previews nationally, as well as Chicago Tonight, Chicago Week in Review, Image Union, Wild Chicago, and The Golden Apple Awards locally.
Another daughter, Amy, cited her father’s “integrity, love, generosity and wisdom,” adding: “He lived a depth of character that was rare.”
As CEO of Window to the World Communications, McCarter also headed WFMT-FM (98.7), the classical music radio station.
After McCarter’s passing, more than a dozen current and former employees of WTTW offered their tributes to him in this space. Click here to read them.