Frederick Breitenfeld, former WHYY president, dies at 87

Former WHYY President Rick Breitenfeld (Dufor Photographers/WHYY file)

Former WHYY President Rick Breitenfeld (Dufor Photographers/WHYY file)

Frederick “Rick” Breitenfeld Jr., public media pioneer and former president of WHYY, died Friday in Warminster, Pennsylvania, at the age of 87.

Breitenfeld was the founding CEO of Maryland Public Television for 17 years. He left Maryland to serve as president of WHYY in 1983 until his retirement in 1997. During his tenure, Breitenfeld helped grow the station’s budget, doubled television viewership, and oversaw the national distribution of “Fresh Air,” according to Current.

In the 1960s, Breitenfeld was influential in the development of public broadcasting, leading a research study and authoring a report that helped pass the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.

“It was a movement,” he told Current last year. “We were going to cure illiteracy in two weeks. We were going to change the world.”

“Rick Breitenfeld was an inspiring leader, not only for WHYY, but for all of public broadcasting,”  WHYY’s current president and CEO Bill Marrazzo said in a statement.

“His tenure at WHYY was marked by a period of growth in programming and facilities and, most importantly, dedication to the principle that public media has a critical role to play in communities that extends far beyond being a provider of high-quality radio and television programming,” Marrazzo said. “We will always have fond memories for Rick, and wish the best to his family and friends.”

Breitenfeld was also a member of the Federal Communications Commission’s Task Force on the Funding of Public Broadcasting, and chaired the first board of what is now American Public Television.

Outside of his work in public media, Breitenfeld was an actor who performed character roles in Bucks County theater productions, as well as government and industrial training films, the NBC series “Movin’ On,” HBO’s “The Wire,” and “Hack” on CBS.

Breitenfeld is survived by two daughters and two grandchildren. Services will be private, and a celebration of his life to be planned at a later date.

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