Bob Schenkkan Endowed Presidential Scholarship

Jan 8, 2009 | EPS/EPF

The Bob Schenkkan Endowed Presidential Scholarship was created in 2009 by Mrs. Phyllis R. Schenkkan along with her sons Dirk, Gerard, Pieter, and Robert, Jr. to honor their father, Robert F. Schenkkan. This scholarship was established to benefit students in the College of Communication at The University of Texas at Austin who plan to pursue a career in public television or public radio. Robert “Bob” Schenkkan helped create and defend the public broadcasting system in the United States and is thus celebrated as one of the founders of public radio and television.

Schenkkan was born on March 4, 1917, in New York and excelled through school, skipping several grades. He eventually arrived at the University of Virginia on scholarship and graduated with degrees in both English and drama. In 1941, he started graduate school at The University of North Carolina. His studies were interrupted in 1942 when Schenkkan volunteered for military service. He served in the U.S. Navy in the bomb disposal unit from 1942 until 1946, primarily in the Pacific. While on leave, Schenkkan married Jean McKenzie, an undergraduate and aspiring actress from UNC, under the condition that he wouldn’t become an actor. Back in the States, he rewrote the Navy’s bomb disposal manual and continued to serve in the Naval Reserve until 1964, when he retired as a commander.

In 1946, Schenkkan finished his master’s at The University of North Carolina with a degree in playwriting. He joined the faculty at UNC following his graduation, where he put on air the 10th public broadcasting station in the nation, WUNC-TV. In the fall of 1955, he was recruited by The University of Texas and moved his family to Austin. Within seven years, Schenkkan was able to launch both KUT as an educational radio outlet and KLRN (now KLRU) as the first educational television station in Austin and San Antonio. Both stations thrived under Schenkkan’s leadership, providing innovative educational programs to the area. He was also one of three men to co-found the College of Communication at UT, and his leadership helped to build the Department of Radio-Television-Film.

Black and white solo image of Robert F. Schenkkan wearing a suit and smiling
Bob Schenkkan
Bob working with students from the Radio-Television-Filn department
Schenkkan’s passion helped secure legislation under President Lyndon B. Johnson to create the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and in the early 1970s he led the fight to protect the system from the Nixon administration, which tried to cut the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). Jim Lehrer, a friend of Schenkkan’s and former executive editor and news anchor for the PBS NewsHour, once said, “He gave us life, and then he saved us.”

In 1977 Schenkkan retired, intending to spend the rest of his days fishing, but after just six weeks of relaxation he was recruited into the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he continued to act as a consultant to agencies, networks and stations.

On December 9, 2011, Robert “Bob” Schenkkan passed away at the age of 94. He is remembered as a voice of reason and reconciliation, always insisting on fair, objective broadcasting. But for those who knew and loved him more closely, he will be remembered for his delightful wit and for always being a perfect gentleman.


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