Hartford N. Gunn Jr., 59, the first president of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) who also had been vice president for program development of the Satellite Television Corp., died of cancer Jan. 2 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He lived in Annapolis.

Mr. Gunn was vice president and general manager of WGBH, the Boston public television station, when he moved to Washington in 1970 to become the first president of the new Public Broadcasting Service. As PBS president, he was responsible for allocation of time on the network's interconnected facilities and with conceiving and developing programs.

In 1967 the legislation setting up what became PBS was passed. After the network began operation under Mr. Gunn's direction, PBS introduced such innovations as the Children's Television Workshop, and its programs such as "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company," and cultural series such as "Civilisation" and "Live from the Met." The network, which now includes about 240 stations, began operations with about 130.

Mr. Gunn said "Public broadcasting holds the best hope for the use of key electronic media for a wide range of quality programming in the fields of information, education, and culture. Public broadcasting continues to be the cheapest, fastest and probably the best means to provide a critical daily supplement of substance and meaning to Americans everywhere -- regardless of age, background, or social or economic status."

Public television was not without controversy. During the Nixon Administration, PBS was attacked for its alleged reliance on British programming and shows originating from public television stations in California, Chicago, New York, and Boston. Critics said it could be both elitest and dull, and that such shows as a Woody Allen satire of Henry Kissinger and an English nude ballet did not play well in Peoria.

Yet, while an estimated 6.8 million persons watched programs on educational television stations in 1966, at least 40 million saw the BBC-produced "Elizabeth R" in the early 1970s. In markets such as New York, PBS was out-drawing commercial networks some evenings. Partly due to controversy surrounding programming operations, however, Mr. Gunn stepped down as president.

From 1977 to 1979, he served as vice chairman of the PBS board of governors and conducted its long-range planning effort. He was a senior vice president of KCET-TV in Los Angeles from 1980 to 1982. He then returned to this area and was a senior consulant with the Satellite Television Corp., a COMSAT subsidiary, before serving as its vice president for program development from 1983 to May 1985. Since that time, he had operated his own telecommunications and management consulting firm in Annapolis.

Mr. Gunn was born in Port Washington, N.Y. He was a 1948 graduate of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at King's Point, N.Y., and earned a second bachelor's degree at Harvard University in 1949. He also earned a Harvard master's degree in business administration. He was a retired lieutenant commander in the Navy reserves. He worked for WGBH in Boston from 1951 to 1970.

He was a founder and past president of the Eastern Educational Network, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Cosmos Club. He was a director of the Boston Globe.

Survivors include his mother, Edith Arnold Gunn of Glen Cove, N.Y.