Stephen J. McCormick, longtime radio and TV broadcaster, dies at 97

January 1, 2012

Stephen J. McCormick, 97, a White House radio correspondent in the 1930s, who later was the host of Washington-based news programs for NBC-TV, died Nov. 30 at a rehabilitation facility in Bar Harbor, Maine.

He had congestive heart failure, his daughter said.

Mr. McCormick came to Washington in the mid-1930s and worked for a local radio station before joining the Mutual Broadcasting System. He broadcast the “fireside chats” of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, went on to cover three other presidents and became a top executive for the Mutual network.

Beginning in 1954, Mr. McCormick was the host of two public affairs programs broadcast nationally by NBC-TV, “The American Forum” and “Youth Wants to Know.”

With “American Forum,” he served as moderator between two people arguing opposite points of a public issue. “Youth Wants to Know” was an interview show in which children and teens asked questions of politicians and other public figures in the news.

“The moderator must be neutral,” Mr. McCormick told The Washington Post in 1956, describing the role of a news-show moderator. “No public affairs discussion program can last for very long if word gets around that the moderator favors one point of view. Guests will just refuse to take part in the show.”

In March 1956, Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) appeared on “Youth Wants to Know” and was asked if he would consider accepting an offer to be a vice presidential candidate.

“I think it’s a bad idea in politics and every other kind of job to accept or refuse things which have not and probably will not be offered to you,” Kennedy replied.

“I suppose it’s like saying to a girl, ‘If I asked you to marry me, and I’m not asking you to marry me, would you marry me?’ I suppose, when the time comes, we can make a better judgment on it.”

Amid gentle laughter, Mr. McCormick added, “I wouldn’t be surprised, after reading about you for many years, Senator, if we had a lot of girls who were thinking of marrying you.”

Stephen Joseph McCormick was born May 4, 1914, in Taunton, Mass., and attended Boston University before coming to Washington.

During World War II, he served in the Army in the Pacific and received the Bronze Star Medal for service during the Battle of Saipan. He stayed in the Army reserve for many years, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Mr. McCormick’s television career was at its height in the 1950s. He played himself in the 1959 Doris Day-Jack Lemmon film “It Happened to Jane.”

By 1960, he had returned to radio as a vice president in charge of the Mutual Broadcasting System’s Washington operation. He continued to appear on the air, with news and interview shows, well into the 1970s.

Mr. McCormick was Mutual’s anchor at national political conventions for 20 years and also produced and directed the network’s coverage of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo manned spaceflights. He sometimes contributed feature stories to the BBC.

He lived in Alexandria and Potomac for many years before moving to Swan’s Island, Maine, about five years ago. He was a founding member of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association and was a member of the White House Correspondents Association, National Press Club and Army and Navy Club.

A daughter, Patricia Delano, died in 2010.

Survivors include his wife of 66 years, Theo Henelt McCormick of Swan’s Island; daughter Teddi Harrison of Carlsbad, N.M.; and five grandchildren.

In describing his broadcasting style in 1956, Mr. McCormick called himself “the greatest neutral in Washington.”

“I have absolutely no opinions when I’m on the air,” he told The Post, “and I have very few opinions when I’m off the air.”

Matt Schudel has been an obituary writer at The Washington Post since 2004.
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