San Francisco can be proud of many things: our diversity, our eccentricities, our row houses, our parties. Indeed, The City’s residents have rarely been shy about celebrating our quality of life. But over the years, we’ve taken one thing for granted, something that established The City as one of the finest places to live in America: our public broadcasting.
When KQED (which stands for “quod erat demonstrandum,” that which was to be demonstrated) debuted in the 1950s, the notion of public, member-supported radio and television was in its infancy. The station aired numerous groundbreaking reports and debates, and in many ways it defined how public broadcasting would be operated in America. But it always struggled to stay afloat financially and couldn’t manage to broadcast a 24-hour schedule for its first two decades.
Finally, in the late 1970s, the station was financially secure enough to become a constant presence in the lives of San Franciscans. And it was Anthony Tiano, who served as KQED’s president from 1978 to 1993, and who died Aug. 12, who gave the station the steady leadership it needed to become the institution it is today.
Tiano was born and raised in New Mexico, and he threw himself into public radio almost the minute he showed up at college. When he arrived in San Francisco to helm KQED, one of his first errands was a spot of lunch with Mayor George Moscone, which surely must have seemed like just a typical get-to-know-ya affair. A few days later, Moscone was assassinated.
But Tiano’s tenure at KQED was rarely that dramatic. Indeed, Tiano is remembered for qualities that so often go unappreciated: a steady hand at the helm, an ability to slowly grow the station’s news and public-affairs capacity, and a talent for raising money.
Under Tiano’s leadership, KQED finally put together a full week of programming, and 1 million homes tuned in per week for the first time. KQED’s radio station slowly began expanding its public-affairs broadcasting. In 1989, it dropped classical music shows altogether and became a 24-hour news outlet.
In addition, many of the shows we are so familiar with today were born under Tiano. “West Coast Weekend” began in 1985, and “Forum” and “This Week in Northern California” debuted in 1990.
Tiano’s greatest accomplishment may well be his most mundane. He oversaw the fundraising campaign that built the station’s current home on Mariposa Street. For the first time in the station’s history, all of its operations would be consolidated in one state-of-the-art facility.
This may sound like something of a pedestrian legacy. But without it, KQED would not have the organizational wherewithal to bring us the professionalism we have come to expect. Every minute of original broadcasting — every traffic report or debate or news segment or documentary — is made easier by the facility Tiano midwifed.
All too often, we overlook the stage manager in our zeal to praise the prima donna. For 15 years, Tiano built something quietly, and we should — quietly, thoughtfully — respect him for it.
Anthony Tiano died of complications from leukemia in New Mexico. He was married to the same woman, Kat Tiano, for 39 years.