Former local broadcast television executive Robert Bennett, founding general manager of of WCVB-TV in Boston who later became president of Metromedia Broadcasting, has died following a long illness. He was 89.
Bennett was the primary force behind the establishment of WCVB. The station came about after the Federal Communications Commission in 1972 awarded a television license to a new group of Boston-area operators in Boston, with Bennett chosen to head up the group. Under his stewardship WCVB became a model of the possibilities of local television, bucking convention at the time by airing dozens of hours of locally produced content per week. WCVB also began running programming 24 hours a day, becoming the first southern New England station to do so.
The effort paid off early on for the channel, when WCVB received the Peabody Institutional Award for overall programming excellence in 1975. Later, in 1981, the New York Times called the station “probably America’s best television station.” That same year, Bennett oversaw the sale of WCVB to Metromedia in a $220 million deal.
WCVB became the flagship station of Metromedia, then the largest broadcast station group in the United States, and Bennett became President of Metromedia Broadcasting, and a partner and member of the office of the President of Metromedia Inc. under founder and chairman John W. Kluge. Bennett oversaw the 1985 sale of WCVB to Hearst in 1985, and was a part of the 1986 sale of Metromedia’s television stations to News Corp, which used them as the basis for Fox television later that year.
Born in Altoona, Pennsylvania in 1927, Bennett’s career began in 1948 as a page at CBS radio. In 1952, he became a salesman at Los Angeles’ KTTV-TV, and served from 1958 to 1966 as the station’s vice president and sales director. Rising through Metromedia, Bennett became Vice President and General Manager of WTTG-TV in Washington, D.C., and soon after served in the same role at WNEW-TV, New York from 1969 to 1971.
Bennett received the 1985 President’s Award from the National Association of Television Program Executives and was later inducted into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame. A resident of Newport Beach since the 1980s, Bennett is survived by his wife, Marjie, his son and daughter, and his grandson.