KCRW stalwart Will Lewis switches off his mic one last time
After Almost 33 years at KCRW, public radio legend Will Lewis has decided to call it quits.
This comes nearly forty years after he began his tireless effort to transform southern California public radio, and KCRW in particular, into not only a local but national hub for various news, music and cultural programming.
"We wanted to make public radio important", said Lewis, "Listeners wanted current news stories and NPR was not broadcasting updated headlines."
During his earlier days in broadcasting he not only worked in radio but taught radio and television news at the University of Florida between 1958 and1963. During this time, his students would actually produce and anchor a nightly news television broadcast.
After his stint at Florida he moved to Boston University where he taught broadcasting and served as the general manager at radio station WBUR Boston.
In 1967, he and his fellow board members of National Educational Radio successfully lobbied Congress to include radio in the pending Public Television Act. Lewis and other board members of the National Association of Educational Broadcasters were then invited by President Johnson to witness the signing of the Public Broadcasting Act in the White House.
Lewis had many high points during his career at KCRW one of which occurred in 1994 during the Los Angeles riots. At the time he was primarily living at the station, sleeping in a trailer out in back because they did not have enough people on staff.
Lewis recalled the event by saying, "We had permission from the local TV stations as well as CNN to use their coverage of the riots, so we would sit and broadcast in front of this giant monitor, it had about twelve different screens on it, each one with a local broadcast."
Lewis added, "we would describe the scene to the listeners and then play the broadcast audio from the local station. One evening, around midnight while on the air, I got a call from a doctor over at the Martin Luther King medical center, he told me that all the power had gone out. They had no TV and the only way he was able to get information and updates on the situations around the city were through KCRW."
Another moment that undoubtedly stood out to Lewis occurred during the first fundraiser that raised over a million dollars for KCRW.
"That was something special" Lewis said, "We couldn't believe it. I definitely had a tear in my eye after that one."
In January of this year he was elected president of the Los Angeles Press Club, which recently held its 52nd Annual Southern California Journalism Awards in the crystal ballroom at the historic Biltmore Hotel here in LA.
Actor Sean Penn presented the President's Award for overall media impact to CNN's Anderson Cooper, while NPR's very own senior foreign correspondent Anne Garrels received the Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism from the slain journalists father Judea Pearl.
When I asked him how he was taking to his new role as president he commented by saying, "It's very rewarding".
As president, he hopes to hold more events that recognize the online press community as well college newspapers.
He will continue to serve as media consultant to SMC.