Ruth Seymour, Legendary KCRW General Manager, Dies at 88

As the NPR station’s boss from 1977 to 2010, Seymour broke broadcasting rules by creating an eclectic mix of news, music and cultural programming

Ruth Seymour
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Ruth Seymour, the visionary leader who transformed KCRW from a small college radio station into an influential public media powerhouse, has died. She was 88.

Seymour died Friday at her home in Santa Monica after a long illness, according to a family spokesperson.

As KCRW’s general manager from 1977 to 2010, Seymour broke broadcasting rules by creating an eclectic mix of news, music and cultural programming that appealed to a wide audience.

Under her leadership, KCRW became the West Coast flagship for NPR, embraced online streaming and podcasting, and launched iconic programs like “Which Way, L.A.?” and “Left, Right & Center.” She was known for her unwavering commitment to quality and her willingness to break the mold.

“Ruth was singular in every way,”  Jennifer Ferro, KCRW president, said in a statement. “She had a powerful vision that never wavered. There was a spirit in Ruth that no one else has. She didn’t just save NPR or create a new format—Ruth took chances and made decisions because she knew they were right. She trusted her gut. She broke rules and pursued excellence in ways that can’t easily be explained. She was a force of nature. Ruth’s legacy lives on at KCRW. She inspires us to be original, to host the smartest people, the most creative artists and to talk to our audience with the utmost respect for their intellect.”

Seymour’s legacy extends far beyond KCRW. She gave radio icons like Ira Glass and Harry Shearer a platform, and her annual Hanukkah program, “Philosophers, Fiddlers & Fools,” became a beloved tradition.

Shearer, the comedian, actor and host of the long-running show “Le Show” on KCRW, added: “Ruth was a towering figure in public radio, embracing a breadth of subject matter and styles that, frankly, does not seem possible any more. She imagined a listener who was endlessly curious, open to a wide range of opinions and music, and worked tirelessly to satisfy that listener. There will not be one like her again.”

Seymour had an acclaimed career spanning over 50 years. She got her start in 1961 as drama and literature director at Pacifica station KPFK in L.A., winning awards for programs on literary figures.

As KPFK’s program director in the early 1970s, she made news broadcasting live coverage of an FBI raid retrieving the Patty Hearst tapes.

In 1977 Seymour moved to KCRW in Santa Monica, transforming it over the next 30 years from a small college station into a public radio powerhouse. Under her leadership, KCRW won top industry honors including Peabody and Armstrong awards.

Born Ruth Epstein in the Bronx, Seymour studied Yiddish and attended City College of New York. She married poet Jack Hirschman, keeping his name professionally for years until she reclaimed her family name.

Seymour is survived by her daughter Celia, sister Ann Zimmer and cousins. Her son David died at 25.

A public memorial service is being planned.

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