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Radio Pioneer Ted Dorf Leaves a Legacy of Beautiful Music


Theodore Ted Dorf
Theodore Ted Dorf

Radio pioneer Theodore "Ted" Dorf has passed away at the age of 94 after a brave 20-year battle with a rare form of cancer. One of the last bastions of the classic "beautiful music" format, he leaves behind an incredible legacy and story that paved the way for FM radio in its early days.

Ted spent 45 years in the radio broadcasting industry - 38 with WGAY/WQMR. In the early 80s, under Ted's leadership, WGAY went from a small suburban Maryland outlet to the number one station in Washington, DC where it remained a powerhouse throughout the remainder of his tenure. At the time it was not only considered one of the top rated "beautiful music" stations in the country, but also a top biller in the market. Ted additionally assumed management of WWRC after Greater Media bought it from NBC in the mid-80's, and managed both properties until his retirement from Greater Media as VP/General Manager on December 31, 2001.

It was a very short retirement - just New Year's Day. On January 2, 2002 Ted joined Metro Networks as VP, Industry Relations, where he spent seven years. Metro Networks eventually merged into Westwood One.

Always one with forward vision and a passion to improve the industry, Ted became one of the original officers of the National Association of FM Broadcasters when FM radio was still in its infancy. The move came largely out of frustration from Ted and others that the National Association of Broadcasters was dominated at that time by AM and TV broadcasters and paid little attention to FM operators. Together they made the bold move to break away and form what became the National Radio Broadcasters Association.

Ted remained a very active member of the NRBA serving on their Executive Committee as well as Treasurer of the organization. The first all radio only convention was put on by the NRBA, leading the NAB to follow suit with their own event.

Eventually the NRBA merged with the NAB and Ted was one of the instrumental transitional members who served with distinction for two terms on the NAB board. He remained active in the Maryland, District of Columbia/Delaware Broadcasters Association for many years serving in many capacities including as President.

Realizing the value of research to prove the power of radio, Ted became a staunch advocate of quantitative and qualitative research and served two terms on the Arbitron Advisory Council, one as Chairman. While on the NAB Board, he represented the NAB on the Electronic Rating Council, becoming its Radio Chairman. A strong champion of older demographics, Ted also founded the first organization to sell a specific demographic, the "35 Plus Committee" and was its driving force and chairman. One of its major accomplishments was to get Arbitron to include the 35-64 demographic as a separate cell in its published reports.

A proponent of the "beautiful music" format, Ted became one of the first radio station operators to go abroad and record his own music specifically for WGAY-FM after record companies stopped producing enough music to sustain the format. Ted hired conductors, arrangers, musicians, and studios, commissioning covers of current music in an easy listening style to be aired on his beautiful music station. This led to the formation of the International Beautiful Music Association - a group of small syndicators and stations, which for many years produced instrumental music.

In 1992 Ted received the prestigious "Honored Prophet Award" from the Washington Area Broadcasters Association and in 1993 was awarded the Distinguished Broadcasters Citation for his many years of service to the broadcasting industry by the Washington chapter of the Broadcast Pioneers.

Dedicated to helping young people enter the radio field, he helped establish the Abe Voron Radio Scholarship Award which to this day is administered by the Broadcast Education Association. This financial award is made annually to a deserving young person pursuing a career in radio.

Very active in community activities, both civic and charitable, Ted was also President of the Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, President of the Men's Guild of Holy Cross Hospital of Silver Spring, and Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County chapter of the American Red Cross. He was an active member of the Advertising Club of Metropolitan Washington where he wrote a column entitled Around Town & Inside Suburbia for the Ad Club and also chaired the only "Radio Day" luncheon that served hot dogs (they needed to make as much money as possible to keep the Ad Club out of debt back in those days).

A native of Philadelphia, Ted was a graduate of Temple University and a veteran of World War II. He married Joan Haug, the original radio broadcaster, who encouraged him to get into radio when they got married. Together, they have two children, a daughter Caren and a son Mark and proud grandparents of two grandsons, Howie and Jesse.

A broadcasting family through and through, Ted's wife Joan worked at WOL-AM back in the 1950's and did public affairs shows on WINX-AM and Montgomery Cable. While working for the County Executive in Prince Georges County, his daughter Caren did a public affairs show on WPGC-FM in the 70's. It was also there that Ted's son Mark competed with his dad as General Sales Manager at XTRA 104 in the 90's.

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