U prof, 92, remembered for public broadcasting

Lee Billings

Burton Paulu, a retired University media resources director and journalism professor, died Saturday of Parkinson’s disease complications. He was 92.

For 40 years under Paulu, the University’s noncommercial radio station – KUOM, formerly known as WLB – filled the airwaves with programming for adults and children.

Paulu, considered a public broadcasting pioneer, won the Fulbright Scholarship five times and was internationally recognized for his contributions to comparative broadcasting research, in particular for his work studying British public broadcasting and Eastern European broadcast policies during the Cold War.

He landed a job as a WLB student announcer in 1929, and by 1938 he was managing the station’s radio and television activities.

During his 50-year career at the University, Paulu influenced educational broadcasting policies in the Twin Cities and nationwide while the field was in its formative stages.

In his term as National Association of Educational Broadcasters president, he led lobbying efforts to convince the federal government to reserve portions of the broadcast spectrum for education and public service.

Renowned for his love of classical music, Paulu also played trombone in the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and collaborated with it to air classical programs for children.

“He was the one that arranged with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra to broadcast their children’s concerts, which still goes on,” said Arnold Walker, a former associate director of the University media services department.

Paulu hired Walker as KUOM’s chief announcer in 1955.

“In those days, it was his initiative that made it possible to broadcast these programs live into school classrooms so that kids who did not attend the concerts could hear them anyway,” Walker said.

Paulu’s support of classical music and art programs on the radio set the stage for today’s public broadcasters.

“When public broadcast was trying to find itself, he really played a big role in defining what it ought to be,” said Marian Watson, a former KUOM station manager who worked under Paulu.

“When Minnesota Public Radio came onto the scene, it copied KUOM and put it on FM,” she said. “They were really using Burton Paulu as a model in what he had developed.”

Colleagues remember him as a courtly, formal perfectionist unafraid to interrupt meetings to check on his station’s programming.

“He’d say, ‘Excuse me, I have to go turn up the music, I’m wanting to hear how the French horns are coming in,’ ” Watson said.

Lee Billings covers faculty and staff affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]