Wednesday, July 13, 2016


This is a story about a true broadcasting pioneer.

I met him when we lived in Mexico during the 1980's and 1990's.

He became my best friend in those south of the border days.

His name was Walter E. Nixon.

This picture was taken after we had left Mexico and he had come to visit us in his beloved home state of Texas.

He was born in 1922 and raised in Harlingen, Texas.

But his career in radio began in New York City.

After working for newspapers, in political campaigns (he was a Yellow Dog Democrat), and in public relations he moved to the Big Apple right around his 33rd birthday.

A friend of his from Austin, Jack Summerfield, was hired to run a new non-commercial radio station owned by the Riverside Church.

Mrs. John D. Rockefeller had put up enough money for great studios, the best equipment and the first 5 years of operating costs.

At a party, Summerfield asked Walter what he thought his new station could do that no one else in New York was doing.

Walter said what was needed was good coverage of the United Nations.

Summerfield thought that was a great idea and asked Walter to do it.

Walter said he had no experience in radio.

Summerfield responded "Good! No bad habits to unlearn!"

Walter began producing a weekly 15-minute program called U.N. Journal.

When the COMSAT satellite went up, WRVR hooked up with WGBH in Boston and a station in Washington as a mini-network providing public affairs programs.

Walter's U.N. Journal, by now a daily program, went on the network.

I figured you might be getting a bit weary of this by now so . . to break things up . . here's a picture of Walter with my beautiful wife at a party in Guadalajara.

That should hold you for awhile.

Meanwhile, back in New York, other stations began hearing about the network, wanted in and it became National Educational Radio, the forerunner of National Public Radio.

Walter became news and public affairs director of WRVR as well as a senior producer.

In 1962, Walter got about a 4-hour beat on everyone else with news at the U.N. of the settlement of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

During the so-called Civil Rights era, a crew went down to Birmingham the day Martin Luther King announced an agreement with city leaders over integration.

They worked all night in a motel room to produce a program called "A Happy Day in Birmingham".

Walter voiced it.

They also went to a Ku Klux Klan rally where Walter interviewed then Imperial Grand Dragon Robert Shelton.

On the way back to the motel they heard about A.D. King's house being bombed and produced several more programs.

Their coverage from Birmingham won them a Peabody Award.

By the middle 60's the money was running out and Walter went back to free-lancing.

Later he decided to put his Masters Degree in Economics to use and went to work for Standard and Poor's.

He retired in 1986 and moved to Guadalajara.

Walter Nixon had been a heavy smoker much of his life and suffered from emphysema when I knew him.

I've mentioned him before on this blog as the father of the stage and screen actress Cynthia Nixon.

One year in Mexico a festive party was held at Christmas and I wrote a limerick for each of the guests and then recited them before dinner.

For Walter I wrote:

About Walter, a puzzle most vexin'
keeps my poor brain a-flexin' and flexin'.
After several careers
in New York -- 30 years!
He still sounds the same: like a Texan.

A great guy and many years later I still miss him.


Anonymous said...

Super post, enjoyed it.


L Lewis said...

Oh, the political conversations/debates that you must have had! Also interesting how easy it could be to place one's self in the right place at the right time and get or create a job/career. Such different times!

joeh said...

Quite a career.

Tom Cochrun said...

Great post. What a nice tribute.

Val said...

Nice limerick.

Kate said...

Interesting how one thing leads to another without a lot of initial pre-planning.

Stephen Hayes said...

It's fun reading about your experiences and the fascinating people you met.

Frank Phillippi said...

Nice tribute. Glad you could us help us remember the pioneers of public broadcasting