Stuart Martin, Founder of WCAX, Remembered

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(Host) Stuart Martin’s vision for television has had an impact on generations of Vermont viewers. The co-founder of WCAX died over the weekend. The station, which was originally called WMVT, has been in the Martin family since it signed on the air more than a half century ago.

VPR’s Steve Zind has this remembrance of the broadcast pioneer whose friends called him ‘Red.’

(Announcer) “WMVT, telecasting on Channel 3 from the top of Vermont, begins its first day of programming in the service of the people of Vermont, our neighbors in New York State and New Hampshire, and our friends in Canada.”

(Zind) In 1954, Vermont was the only state in the union without a local television station. Stuart Martin changed that. As a scientist and engineer, Martin believed the new medium had a future – even though few Vermonters owned TV sets.

Neal Houston remembers watching his first television while standing on a Burlington sidewalk.

(Houston) “A store had these boxes in the windows that were showing things from all over the world!”

(Zind) As a reporter for the Burlington Free Press, Houston was a guest panelist on early WCAX interview programs. Houston says it’s a tribute to Martin that WCAX remains independent and locally owned.

Martin is credited with creating the station’s hour-long evening news broadcast. News Director Marselis Parsons says Martin wanted a longer newscast so the station could cover important stories in detail.

(Parsons) “He was dismayed with the “dumbing down” of America, and wanted us to do stories in depth.”

(Zind) Parsons says Martin supported major news undertakings, like a 1984 twenty-five part series on health care in Vermont.

Martin made no secret of his conservative views. For a time he did editorials on the station. He was often accused of letting his opinions influence the station’s news operation. But Parsons says Martin never dictated story selection or editorial policy.

Martin supported the arts and endowed a chair in the Engineering and Mathematics Department at the University of Vermont.

(Parsons) “You know, he could recite the ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.’ He knew Gilbert and Sullivan by heart. He doodled in logarithmic equations.”

(Zind) Long after he relinquished the day to day operations of WCAX to his son Peter, Martin remained a presence at the station, coming into the office daily until just a few weeks before his death.

With his ever-present cigar and his penetrating mind, Martin could be an intimidating presence. But he had a sense of humor about himself. He was once asked to describe himself in three words.

(Martin) “I can do it in two” loveable and cuddlesome.”
(Reporter) “Do you think everyone else would describe you the same way?”
(Martin) “Oh, I’m sure of it!”

(Parsons) “He wasn’t either of those, that’s for sure. (Laughs). But every discussion with him, I learned something.”

(Zind) Parsons says Martin never lost his passion for science. Martin was especially interested in NASA’s efforts to explore the surface of Mars. And until shortly before his death, he was in touch with officials at the space agency.

Stuart Martin was 91.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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