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Bill Kelly, Known For 40-year Career In Public Broadcasting, Dies

November 22, 2018
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Bill Kelly, Known For 40-year Career In Public Broadcasting, Dies

DRUMS — William “Bill” Kelly, who served for decades as president and chief executive of WVIA, died at home Sunday, according to his obituary. He was 71.

Tom Currá, WVIA’s current president and CEO, described Kelly as extremely hard-working, focused and service-driven.

“He was the first one in and the last one to leave,” Currá recalled. “He wanted to use the media to serve the public in unique ways that commercial stations can’t, and that’s through public service. He was a steward of that.”

Currá said he met Kelly when Currá had a documentary production company and WVIA served as a presenting station for the company’s documentaries to PBS. He recalled worked directly with Kelly on airing an award-winning documentary about the late New York Times columnist James “Scotty” Reston.

“I’ve known Bill for over 20 years. He was a mentor, so it’s hard,” Currá said of Kelly’s loss.

The staff at WVIA remembered Kelly during a luncheon Wednesday.

“We told Bill stories. We had a lot of fun; there were a lot of good stories. We cried, we laughed. It was a very touching day today,” Currá said.

“Sometimes people would take shots at WVIA or they would mistreat us in a partnership of some sort,” Currá said when asked to share a story. “Bill always advocated taking the high road. I would get upset, but Bill would always say, ‘Take the high road; let it go.’”

A 1971 graduate of Bloomsburg University, Kelly began in radio before landing a job as WVIA’s first community relations director in 1974, launching a 40-year career in public broadcasting.

His first fundraising event, Festival 75, raised more than $135,000 — 10 times the amount raised in previous efforts, according to his obituary. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting recognized WVIA with a national award for fundraising as a result of his efforts.

Kelly assumed the top job for the broadcaster in 1991, working over the ensuing decades to produce and host the station’s “State of Pennsylvania” program and the “Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal” series.

He received the Pennsylvania Medical Society Walter F. Donaldson award for outstanding Medical Journalism, the Northeastern Chapter March of Dimes Outstanding Volunteer Leadership award and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin Executive Management Institute.

Kelly’s son, Sean, said his father was “extraordinarily lucky to know exactly what it was he wanted to do his whole life from the time he was 12. He would tell me that he could not imagine what his life would have been without radio, broadcasting, and public service.”

“He never got sick or missed a day of work because it was not work for him, it was his passion. He loved to talk to people, it didn’t matter who they were, he would treat everyone the same. It could be the governor or the janitor and my dad had the same level of interest in the conversation,” Sean Kelly said. “He was very gracious and always a gentlemen whenever approached by someone who knew him. Even if it were an inconvenient moment, he would make time for everyone.”

While Kelly had a long and storied career, his tenure at WVIA was marred at the end by controversy about his compensation. In June 2013, the station’s board announced Kelly, as emeritus executive director, would take a development post to raise money for a new endowment fund.

Kelly was to be paid a salary of $199,000. The amount was slightly less than his regular salary, but followed his final year total compensation of $600,955, according to tax documents for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2013.

Between that announcement and January 2015, WVIA-TV lost almost half its members, with many citing executive compensation as the reason for declining to renew.

The situation was so bad that in January 2015 the station severed ties with Kelly, with 22 board members personally covering the $291,878 to buy Kelly out of the balance of his contract.

A celebration of Kelly’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday in Christ United Methodist Church, 175 S. Main Road, Mountain Top. Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m. Monday and 10-11 a.m. Tuesday.

Contact the writer:

jhalpin@citizensvoice.com

smocarsky@citizensvoice.com

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