Roy Steinfort, former AP radio executive who transformed radio operations, dead at 88

By Richard Pyle, AP
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Roy Steinfort, former AP radio executive, dies

NEW YORK — Roy Steinfort, a veteran newsman and former vice president of The Associated Press who turned the agency’s radio operations into a service providing news to millions of listeners worldwide, died Sunday at age 88.

Steinfort died after a short battle with cancer, said his widow, Patricia Milton. In 2005, he had been seriously injured in an auto accident near his Leesburg, Va., home.

In a journalism career spanning some 40 years, Steinfort went from covering sports in his native Kentucky to running a weekly paper to chief of all broadcast operations for the AP. He retired from the world’s largest and oldest news agency in 1986.

During World War II, he was a Navy corpsman who served with the U.S. Marines in several Pacific island battles, including the bloody assault on Iwo Jima in early 1945.

In 1951, Steinfort joined the AP in New Orleans, where he became state editor, covering legislative affairs, hearings into Louisiana organized crime and college sports.

Mixing an affable manner with a hard-charging approach to the job, Steinfort was successful in print and broadcast journalism.

He left the AP in 1953 to fulfill a personal ambition — running his own newspaper. Buying the Aberdeen Examiner, a weekly in northeastern Mississippi, he spent eight years in what he called “a real lesson in every phase of newspapering,” including operating the printing press.

During his tenure the paper’s staff expanded fourfold, its profits doubled and it was named the state’s best weekly three years in a row.

Steinfort sold the weekly in 1961 to rejoin AP as a radio membership executive, adding some 20 stations to AP’s lineup in the first 13 months.

In 1964 he was named a general broadcast executive and later vice president for broadcast, expanding the AP radio news network to more than 1,000 stations and relocating its headquarters in a modern broadcast center in Washington.

He was a “transformative” leader under whose guidance the AP broadcast division became “the primary source of news for the broadcast industry,” said Jim Williams, who worked under Steinfort and later became senior vice president of AP Global Broadcast before retiring in 2008.

Williams said Steinfort “laid out the strategic vision” for AP’s eventual expansion in the 1990s into video news, a major element of the agency’s global operations today.

Thomas Frawley, a former Cox Broadcasting executive and president of AP’s Broadcast Board of Directors, said Steinfort was instrumental in bringing AP broadcast media clients into equal partnership with its traditional newspaper membership.

“He had charisma,” said Frawley, of West Melbourne, Fla. “A few minutes after you met him, you’d say, ‘I really like that guy.’”

Born Charles Roy Steinfort Jr. on Oct. 1, 1921 in Covington, Ky., and known by his middle name all his life, Steinfort attended the University of Kentucky before and after the war, earning a history degree in 1946.

His journalism career began at The Courier-Journal newspaper, of Louisville, Ky., where by his own account he covered “practically every beat on the paper” from courts to sports. He also was a newspaper reporter in Lexington and a sports writer for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

For three years, he was the press relations director for famed Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp and football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and he was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 1985.

Steinfort later became director of the First Amendment Center for the Society of Professional Journalists.

Steinfort also was an aviation enthusiast who while living in Connecticut liked to fly his Mooney aircraft up to Maine for a lobster dinner, said Milton, who was an AP correspondent when they were married in 1980 and is now an investigative producer for CBS News.

(This version CORRECTS style on newspaper names.)

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