Larry Pintak, Edward R. Murrow And The Arab Spring

Across the country this past weekend, listeners to NPR’s “On the Media” heard Lawrence Pintak — a journalist and Mideast expert — talk about Al Jazeera politics.

Listeners who were Stapleites in the 1970s instantly recognized the voice.  It was “Larry” Pintak — the 1973 grad who was one of the 1st news directors at the school’s pioneering station WWPT-FM.

Larry Pintak

Covering local politics was just his start.  As a CBS News Middle East correspondent, Larry reported on such major stories as the birth of modern suicide bombing, the Iran-Iraq war and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

He covered the Indonesian revolution for ABC News and the San Francisco Chronicle, and contributed to many international news organizations.  He also served as a PR consultant in Indonesia.

Larry earned a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from the University of Wales, Lampeter, and wrote 4 books on the Mideast.  His latest — The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in a Time of Turmoil — was published this year.  That was the hook for “On the Media” to call on him for punditry.

But Larry is no longer chasing stories.  His new gig is founding dean of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University.

He’s not new to academia — he previously served as director of a journalism training and research center at the American University in Cairo — but this role is different.

And equally challenging.

He’s writing and lecturing on America’s relationship with the Muslim world; the role of the media in shaping global perceptions and government policy, and the future of journalism in a digital, globalized world.

Welcoming the incoming class, “Founding Dean Pintak” said:

This is a fascinating, frightening and exciting time in the media business.  The old models are collapsing; new electronic paths are being blazed.  But as Murrow reminded us so many years ago, it is the quality of the information being communicated – not the technology – that matters most.

It is the responsibility of the college that bears his name to help ensure that, even as we prepare our students for the digital future, we do not let the bells and whistles obscure the integrity of the message – whether in journalism, advertising, public relations or any other context.

Murrow invented broadcast journalism and, as a center of research, study and innovation, it is our job to help that industry – and its print counterpart – reinvent itself in this time of turmoil.

Then Larry Pintak challenged Murrow College to “cast a shadow worthy of its namesake.”

Here in the US, and all over the world.

(Click here to hear Larry Pintak’s “On the Media” interview.)

13 responses to “Larry Pintak, Edward R. Murrow And The Arab Spring

  1. Larry actually started at WSRB Staples which broadcasted to a noisey cafeteria at Staples where students actually were allowed to smoke on the blacktop outside the entrance, and broadcasted to the Compo Beach boardwalk area It wasn’t until years later that WWPT was created when a transmitter was donated by the Grahm family when WMMM closed down.

    • WWPT did start as the much smaller WSRB. (There are 2 stories as to the call letters: either “Staples Radio Broadcasting” or “Sherman R. Betts” — the initials of the Westport School District business manager who sent in the application to the FCC.)

      However, I think it changed to WWPT some time in the 1970s — long before WMMM closed down.

      WSRB and WWPT alums: Chime in!

  2. Dennis Jackson

    “WSRB” stood for “Staples Radio Broadcasting.” WMMM “Staples Radio News” anchor Keith Satter came up with the calls. WSRB began on the Staples PA system, but by Spring of 1969 employed a 2 Watt tube transmitter on 640 AM built by an alum of the original 1961 WWPT and hidden the in wall of Building 9. (Our dog Cindy ran inside the length of a long wall to pull the cables through to feed the audio to it.)

    The “board” was the original WMMM RCA mixing console – full of tubes – from when WMMM first came on the air in 1959. The studio in Building 9 was built by WMMM Chief Engineer Clif Mills (Staples ’61), Carmine Moffa, (Staples ’73), and others.

    John Babina of Monroe and I met in 1969 at Norden in Norwalk. John was working with WICC Chief Engineer Ralph Winquist to start a station at Masuk H.S. there. Ralph agreed to also prepare an FCC engineering study for an FM at Staples. 88.1/WMNR and 90.3/WWPT filed applications together, and both came on the air in 1973 as a result.

    WMNR beat WWPT on the air by a few months to become the first HS radio station in Connecticut. It’s interesting to follow the divergent courses followed by the two radio stations.

    WWPT used the WSRB studio equipment moved to the other side of Building 9, and Clif arranged the donation of an of the 1946 vintage American Electronics Labs (AEL) 1,000 Watt FM transmitter from WVOX-FM in New Rochelle, where he was a consultant. Clif, Carmine, and others constructed the FM transmitter site at the Bayberry Nike Site, which was one of the highest locations in town.

    Several of us “alumni advisors” held classes for the first interested group of Staples students including the first station managers, Carmine Moffa, Larry Pintak, then Lizzz Kreitzer, and Mike Barzelay, if I recall correctly. Spanish teacher Gil Fraunhar was the first club Faculty Advisor. The classes enabled the students to operate the equipment and take the test for the FCC Third Class Commercial Radiotelephone license that was required at the time. When we told the story of the original 1961 WWPT, which we had branded as “The Radio Voice Of Westport’s Youth,” the students voted to adopt those call letter for the new FM station to honor the efforts of their forebears.

    For more obscure WWPT history, see, or ask First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who was News Director in 1961, operating from the basement of the Westport Town Crier, with thanks to Stacy Enyeart.

    1260/WMMM and 107.9/WMMM-FM later known as “WDJF” continued to thrive into the 70s and 80s, when owner Donald Flamm sold the FM. It became WEBE. Ironically, WEBE became the biggest competitor to WEZN, whose 1973 switch to “beautiful music” under GM Dick Ferguson signaled the beginning of the end for WMMM/WDJF’s less disciplined version of the format, programmed first by Donald’s brother Sidney, then GM Bob Roberts, then Terry Smith, who also hosted the evening jazz show, “Just A Little Lovin’.” In a reverse twist, WEZN had been started in 1960 by WICC as “WJZZ” playing jazz, with Dave Brubeck as Music Director, but that’s a story for another day….

  3. The incarnation of WWPT that I was involved in (that is, the one with studios in the YMCA and The Town Crier newspaper) was triggered by a newspaper article I’d read in a Cleveland, Ohio newspaper. It was about a teen-run station called WBKR, named for its founder, William (Bill) Baker. Later that year, I would occasionally correspond with him. I excitedly approached my friend, the late Stuart Soroka, about setting up a similar operation during the summer. In relatively short order, we were up and running, complete with equalized phone line connections to our news bureau in The Town Crier basement and to the one-tube Knight Kit Wireless Broadcast Amplifier that served as our transmitter in the lifeguard shack at Compo Beach. We ran the station along the lines of a real commercial operation. Among other duties, I acted as a disc jockey and commercial time salesman, and came up with the branding line, “The Radio Voice of Westport’s Youth”.

    The publicity we received was astounding! As I recall, it began with an article in The Town Crier, which led to a story on the front page of the business section of The New York Times (Dennis Jackson has already posted the article here). We also were featured on the cover of Scholastic magazine, interviewed by Radio Free Europe and listed as “Teenagers of The Year” in the World Book Encyclopedia (Gordon Joseloff may have a copy). As a result of the Times article, we were approached by Roger Constant, a representative of the Duvalier regime in Haiti, about setting up similar stations there for educational purposes. The idea was vetoed by various government agencies.

    Ultimately, the FCC shut us down. Field engineer Everett Sunderland knocked on the studio door while I was doing my midday show. He explained that he’d been taking readings on both our Compo Beach and downtown Westport transmitters, and had found them to be far in excess of the 100-milliwatt limit. (Later, I learned that the violation was due to the fact that a certain person on our engineering team had cleverly wrapped the transmitter antenna wires around the phones lines, resulting in an exponential increase in radiation!) After shutting officially shutting us down, Sunderland told us, off the record, that among the many such operations that the FCC had taken off the air, ours was the most professional and best-run he’d ever seen. In addition, he said that FCC Commissioner Nathan Hallenstein wanted to be kept informed about developments in our future careers in broadcasting!

    Here’s the bookend to our founding story involving Bill Baker.
    35 years after the founding of WWPT, I received funds solicitation letter from PBS station Thirteen-WNET, signed by the station’s president, Dr. Bill Baker. I called his office. Yep…same guy. We had lunch the following week.

    I’m sure other core members of the original WWPT team have many other anecdotes and viewpoints. I’d love to hear them!

  4. Ooops! That last post was from Jeff Berman.

  5. Last comment was from Jeff Berman!

  6. The Dude Abides

    Loved the story and am familiar with Larry’s voice. I did not know he was a fellow Wrecker. In today’s garbled and biased reporting, it is nice to see Murrow’s name mentioned as well. He was at the forefront of what news is suppose to be and not just a division of the entertainment-money-hungry networks.

  7. Dennis Jackson

    Jeff notes how the FCC measured the original WWPT running excessive power in the Summer of ’61, but it wasn’t by much. We ran 0.4 Watts, and the FCC legal limit was 0.1 Watts. Compare that to today’s commercial FM “pirates” in Bridgeport (106.5 FM), Hartford, NYC, etc, running hundreds of Watts illegally, and the FCC does nothing unless someone complains. In our case, it was the NYT article (see earlier link) that brought the FCC inspector to our door.

    WWPT never drew any complaints, although it was noted (and apparently enjoyed) across the Sound at the Eaton’s Neck Coast Guard station.

    Unfortunately, however, the phone line coupling was the key the AM signal to covering the entire beach, and I still contend that the ploy was arguably almost legal. When we undid that connection and went down to 1/10 of a Watt, we never longer covered much of Compo, so operations were suspended.

    Not that WWPT at 1160 AM was a “pirate,” but Westport, and southern CT in general; have a venerable history of harmless and entertaining “bootleg stations,” as they were known in those days, by students who went on to forge successful careers in radio and television.

  8. Thanks Dennis and Jeff–I did not know a lot of this history.

  9. And I remember when Larry used to scoop ice cream at Friendly’s…

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