Shayon, Robert Lewis 1912-2008

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Shayon, Robert Lewis 1912-2008

OBITUARY NOTICE—

See index for CA sketch: Born August 15, 1912, in Brooklyn, NY; died of pneumonia, June 28, 2008, in Frankfort, KY. Radio producer and director, television and radio writer, educator, critic, and author. Shayon was a radio producer and director in the late 1930s and 1940s, before the medium was overtaken by television. In those days radio was the premier entertainment outlet, home to talk and variety shows, plays, situation comedies, and the like. Shayon viewed radio as a tool for education through entertainment. For the Mutual Broadcasting System and later, during nearly ten years with the Columbia Broadcasting System in New York City, he wrote and directed documentary specials, including programs on nuclear energy and juvenile delinquency, which engaged the listening audience as few informational programs had done. Shayon was credited with raising the broadcast medium to a new level of respectability. His crowning glory was the popular series You Are There, which he produced, directed, and occasionally scripted for three years in the late 1940s. The series presented entertaining episodes on historical events in the format of a combined travel guide and news broadcast, featuring the familiar voice of news correspondent Walter Cronkite as narrator. Thus, listeners could entertain the illusion that they were listening to news broadcasts about events such as the assassination of Abraham Lincoln or the discovery of North America by Christopher Columbus as if it were a live event, instead of reading about it from a distance in a history book. In 1950 Shayon fell victim to the McCarthy Era blacklists when his name was sullied by an anti-Communist propaganda attack on the broadcast industry. When he lost his job in radio, he made a successful transition to television, working as a producer and director for the National Broadcasting Company in the 1950s and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company in the 1960s. As he had done in radio, Shayon became a proponent of the educational value of television, through series like Star Trek as a promoter of cultural diversity, as well as a presenter of documentaries and other educational programs. As a self-taught high-school dropout, Shayon was well aware of the potential of the media to inform and instruct through the power of entertainment. He also developed a highly respected sideline as a television and radio critic: his reviews appeared in the Saturday Review for twenty years. Shayon was also a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, beginning in 1965, and a consultant to government agencies related to youth and education. Shayon produced and narrated several spoken-word record albums on historical topics and published several books about the media. His writings include Television and Our Children (1951), Television: The Dream and the Reality (1960), Open to Criticism (1971), The Crowd-Catchers: Introducing Television (1973), and Religion, Television, and the Information Superhighway: A Search for a Middle Way (1994).

OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:

BOOKS

Shayon, Robert Lewis, Odyssey in Prime Time: A Life in Twentieth Century Media, Waymark Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2001.

PERIODICALS

New York Times, July 18, 2008, p. C10.

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