Donald R. Quayle, a public broadcasting executive who helped establish National Public Radio in 1970 and served as its first president, died April 16 at a hospital in Silver Spring, Md. He was 84 and a Bethesda resident.
The cause was complications from brain surgery, said a daughter, Sharla Hellie.
In the 1960s, Mr. Quayle was director of an NPR forerunner called the Educational Radio Network and executive director of the Eastern Educational Network, a Boston-based educational television network.
He joined the Corporation for Public Broadcasting soon after it was formed by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967. Three years later, he was named president of Washington-based National Public Radio at a time when it had a few dozen employees and 90 member stations (there are now more than 900).
Michael P. McCauley, author of the 2005 history “NPR: The Trials and Triumphs of National Public Radio,” said Mr. Quayle was an “immensely talented manager whose goal was to take an organization with scant resources and begin to have a vision and launch it with legitimacy.”
NPR’s flagship drive-time newscast “All Things Considered” began airing in 1971 with Robert Conley as host and won a prestigious Peabody Award the next year. But the network remained obscure, McCauley said, and its early broadcasts were rough.
Mr. Quayle helped forge the network’s structural bones, but he was limited by forces beyond his control. At the time, NPR was regarded as the starving stepchild to the more-glamourous Public Broadcasting Service, which received the bulk of funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In 1973, when Mr. Quayle left the presidency, the radio network received $3.2 million of the $35 million public broadcasting budget.
As much as Mr. Quayle was an educational broadcasting insider, he lacked both the political connections and publicity skill to raise the organization’s profile and the savvy to win a greater share of the public broadcasting funding, McCauley said.
A turnaround began for the radio network in the late 1970s under the presidency of Frank Mankiewicz, who had been a top aide to presidential candidates Robert F. Kennedy and George S. McGovern. Although Mankiewicz was able to wrestle greater funding, his ambitious programming efforts couldn’t keep pace financially with the aggressive growth in hiring, and his tenure ended in 1983 with a $5.8 million deficit that required a massive bailout from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
After leaving NPR, Mr. Quayle was a senior vice president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and then vice president for administration at WETA, the Washington-area public radio and television station. He retired in 1989.
Donald Ramsey Quayle was born on July 26, 1930, in Logan, Utah. He was a 1952 speech graduate of Utah State University, where he also received a master’s degree in theater. Around that time, he was involved in efforts to start the state’s first educational radio station, which would later become Utah Public Radio.
“I started listening to radio when I was working at a commercial station in Logan,” he later told Utah Public Radio. “I felt that the quality of the program service wasn’t sufficient and that if we could have radio with high-quality programming without commercials, that would help a great deal. That’s why we needed the educational background and the backing of Utah State University.”
He served in the Air Force in South Korea and did postgraduate study in broadcasting at Ohio State University, where he was a booth announcer for the university’s television station and later its manager. He was general manager at WGBH radio in Boston in the early 1960s.
His honors included the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s Edward R. Murrow Award for contributions to public radio.
Mr. Quayle was a past Washington chapter president of the North American Manx Association, an ancestral organization.
In 1950, he married Yvonne Rich. She died in 2011. Survivors include five children: Sharla Hellie of Gaithersburg, Md.; Debra Quayle of Durango, Colo.; Karen Hall of Rockville; Kathleen Specht of Derwood, Md., and Bryce Quayle of Bryn Mawr, Pa.; a sister; 13 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.