Public broadcasting advocate remembered for perseverance

Lauren Giudice

Friends of Robert F. Schenkkan, founder of Austin public radio station, KUT, and TV station, KLRU, remember him as kind and determined. He died on Wednesday at 93 from dementia complications.

Clinical professor of journalism Wanda Cash said Schenkkan, who worked as a radio-television-film professor at UT for more than two decades, was an advocate of independent journalism and set the standards for public broadcasting today.

He advocated for the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, which led to congressional funding for broadcasting, said Cash, who was a friend of Schenkkan’s.

“The College of Communication owes so much to Bob Schenkkan,” she said. “He was a wonderful professor; he was a force to be reckoned with back then.”

KUT station director Stewart Vanderwilt said Schenkkan contributed to public broadcasting.
“There was a time shortly after the modern context of public broadcasting had been created that the Nixon administration set out to close it down,” Vanderwilt said. “Bob was able to lead public broadcasting though that period, and [it] came out the other side a much stronger service.”

Vanderwilt said he doesn’t know where KUT or public broadcasting would be without

“He got the license, helped find the first transmitter and he literally led the effort to put it on the air,” he said. “He helped it become as self-sustaining as possible.”

Schenkkan had a dream that KUT would offer a professional service with an educational purpose, Vanderwilt said.

“He wanted KUT to be a place to learn,” he said. “I’d say he put us on the path that KUT is continuing to grow from.”

Vanderwilt said he is disappointed he did not know Schenkkan longer.

“He was exceedingly gracious, and I think what could be overlooked in that is that he had a very strong resolve in anything that he was committed to and believed in,” Vanderwilt said.

The College of Communication is scheduled to hold memorial services for Schenkkan on March 6 at 2 p.m.