VPR founder Ray Phillips dies at 90

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(Host) Ray Phillips, a prime force behind public broadcasting in Vermont, died Sunday night at his home in Essex. He was the founding chairman of Vermont Public Radio and a founder of Vermont Public Television.

VPR’s John Van Hoesen looks back.

(Van Hoesen) During his lifetime, Ray Phillips led many uphill battles for public broadcasting. In a recent interview, he remembered that there were many doubters when it came to developing a statewide public radio service.

(Phillips) “All the authorities, all the pundits in Washington said you cannot build a public radio station that’s viable in the state of Vermont – for two reasons: The first reason is you don’t have enough people, and cows do not contribute very much to public radio. And the second reason is you have so many mountains you can never get a signal to cover the state, which you must.”

(Van Hoesen) Ray Dilley was the first manager of Vermont Public Radio. He remembers the early days when the two men, along with founder Howard Stearns, decided to get a public radio station on the air.

(Dilley) “Ray and I decided to split load – he would take the political side and I would take the management side.”

(Van Hoesen) Dilley says that Ray Phillips always had a fondness for radio and that it was just a part of his life. He remembers an incident that showed just how important it was.

(Dilley) “Ray and I were out on a mission for VPR and it was just after a major snowstorm and it was before we were able to get Mount Mansfield on the air. And we went off the road into a snowbank. Ray and I looked at each other – is this project really worth what we’ve been through? We decided it was.”

(Van Hoesen) At the University of Vermont, Ray Phillips was the first dean of the division of continuing education. He was given responsibility for developing what was then known as education television. In 1966, enabling legislation was passed and Vermont ETV’s Burlington channel went on the air in 1967. He stayed with it until 1975, when there was a disagreement with UVM.

For Ray Dilley, Phillips left an indelible mark.

(Dilley) “Without Ray Phillips, without his handprint in public radio, in public television, I think Vermont is a much richer place. Without Ray, public television would probably have been greatly delayed, public radio maybe never would have come.”

(Van Hoesen) Ray Phillips was also instrumental in developing the much-respected Champlain Shakeskpeare Festival at UVM.

On the personal side, he was born in West Virginia in 1913. He graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and held graduate degrees from Temple University. During World War Two, he served in the Navy.

Two years ago, during VPR’s 25th anniversary, he talked about his pride in the state spirit.

(Phillips) “Go back to the very beginning, when everybody knew that this would not work. I get a great deal of pleasure out of knowing that now VPR here in this little isolated state of Vermont, it has become a real leader, and it has been primarily because there is a spirit in Vermont.”

(Van Hoesen) He was a devoted listener to “Saturday Afternoon at the Opera,” a program that has been broadcast on Vermont Public Radio from the very first day. Ray Phillips was 90 years old.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m John Van Hoesen.

(Host) Ray Phillips is survived by his wife, Barbara, four children and 10 grandchildren.

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