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Two major public television figures die

Two major figures in public television, Ralph Burton Rogers and Richard Estes Ottinger, died this week.

Mr. Rogers, who persuaded hundreds of independent television stations to form the Public Broadcasting System, died Tuesday in Dallas at age 87. Mr. Ottinger, who helped build the Georgia Public Television system one station at a time, died Tuesday in Atlanta of complications from heart bypass surgery in August. He was 65.

In 1972, Mr. Rogers united more than 200 independent public television stations to form PBS. From a newspaper job in Dallas, he recruited Jim Lehrer, the longtime anchor for the nightly PBS newscast Newshour.

As chairman of PBS from 1973 to 1979, Mr. Rogers was widely credited with resisting efforts by the Nixon administration to push public television out of public-affairs broadcasting and cut its financing.

"He basically saved our bacon," said Lehrer. "He carried the water for all of us."

Mr. Rogers, a lifelong Republican, said he was outraged by President Richard Nixon's actions. "People like me couldn't believe that any president of the United States could say to the people of the United States, who own the air, that they could not discuss public affairs on the air," he said in an interview published this year in the Dallas Morning News.

Mr. Ottinger retired in 1994 after 26 years as executive director of the agency that grew into a public broadcasting network serving millions of Georgians daily with nine television and 13 radio stations.

GPTV faced one of its biggest challenges in 1994 with Mr. Ottinger's decision to air Tales From the City, a Public Broadcasting System series that dealt with nudity, homosexuality and drug use in San Francisco in the 1970s.

The Georgia Legislature, responding to public criticism, temporarily held up $19.6-million in funding for a new GPTV headquarters, but Mr. Ottinger stood firm, and the lawmakers relented.