WILLIAM J. McCARTER, 81. Former President and CEO of Chicago’s Window To the World Communications, Inc. (WTTW11 and WFMT-FM) from 1971 to 1998. Throughout the course of his lifelong career in broadcasting, he earned the love and respect of his colleagues and a reputation as a visionary and innovator. During his tenure, WTTW11 became the most watched public television station in the United States, and 98.7WFMT won the prestigious Marconi Award for the best classical music station in the nation. McCarter was best known for his tireless commitment to localism, creating programming that continues to reflect Chicago’s diverse communities.
Under his watch, WTTW and WFMT received 12 George Foster Peabody Awards, 5 DuPont Columbia Journalism Awards, 150 regional Emmy Awards and 5 CINE Golden Eagle Awards. McCarter also received the Board of Governors Award from The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, an honorary doctorate from DePaul University and the Meritorious Services award from Northeastern Illinois University. In addition, he was a Trustee of Elmhurst College and a member of the Board of Visitors of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
McCarter's creativity and innovation was exemplified by the diverse range of programs he developed, which included Chicago Tonight, Chicago Tonight: The Week in Review, Sneak Previews, The McLaughlin Group, Image Union, The Golden Apple Awards for Excellence in Teaching, Wild Chicago, Soundstage, Illinois Lawmakers and many more.
One of the programming initiatives of which he was most proud was the Candidate Free Time series, which provides free unedited airtime to candidates running for local offices. In three minutes, candidates present their platforms to viewers in a straightforward format. In June 1996, in a nationally televised hearing, McCarter presented the Candidate Free Time model to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). He encouraged other public television stations to follow WTTW’s lead enabling viewers to make an informed decision.
Former FCC Chairman and WTTW Chairman and Trustee Newton Minow, who recruited McCarter from Washington, DC to run WTTW in 1971, once said, “I have a very high opinion and respect for Bill. He is everything you could want in a person, a broadcaster and leader. One of the keys to his success is his exquisite balance and judgment.”
His successor Dan Schmidt, current President & CEO of WTTW11 and 98.7WFMT, was brought to Chicago by McCarter in 1991. “Bill was a mentor and a friend. He played a critical role in making WTTW and WFMT the trusted cultural institutions they are today. Millions of viewers, their children, their parents and grandchildren continue to benefit from the foundation that he built,” said Schmidt.
Prior to being recruited to Chicago by Minow in 1971, McCarter served as President and CEO of WETA-TV/FM and was chairman of the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS) in Washington, DC. He also served as President of the Washington Academy of Television, Arts & Sciences.
McCarter began his career at WFIL in Philadelphia, where he worked with Dick Clark on American Bandstand. He went on to work for WHYY in Philadelphia before moving on to WNET13 New York. After 10 years at WETA in Washington, DC, he arrived in Chicago to serve as President & CEO of WTTW11. In 1954, he was proud to be part of the team that televised the Army-McCarthy hearings.
He graduated from Lafayette College and did his graduate work at Temple University. He also served as a decorated officer with the 45th Infantry Division during the Korean War.
McCarter died of cancer, and is preceded in death by his late wife Linda Warner McCarter. He is survived by his daughter Amy and her husband Jim Costello; daughter Juli McCarter and son Max McCarter; and his beloved grandchildren Emma, Ben and Charlie.
Memorial Services: Friday, May 6, 2011 at 12:00 noon at the Kenilworth Union Church, 211 Kenilworth Avenue, Kenilworth, Illinois. After the service, there will be a reception at Westmoreland Country Club, 2601 Old Glenview Road in Wilmette.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to:
The William J. McCarter Fund
c/o WTTW11/Attention Renee Weingard
5400 N. St. Louis Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60625