By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
With a career spanning over 50 years, Oklahoma broadcasting legend and OETA station manager and program director William C. “Bill” Thrash recently passed away following a battle with cancer. He was 73-years-old.
Bill Perry, OETA Deputy Director of Network News and Public Affairs said, “For those of us privileged to work with Bill in broadcasting, we recognized him as a pioneer in the TV industry. His creative vision and firm commitment to a high level of quality sent thousands of hours of entertaining and educational programming into homes across Oklahoma and sometimes, across the country in national telecasts.”
At 15, Thrash began his career at KTEN in his hometown of Ada, Oklahoma. He worked his way through high school and East Central University as a camera operator, later becoming the station’s program manager. Today, “The William C. Thrash Television Studio” on the ECU campus serves as a springboard for future broadcasters.
Oklahoma News Report host and OETA Deputy Director Dick Pryor said, “Bill was wonderful to work for and to work with. He had an uncanny sense of what makes good television. Bill was national programmer of the year, which is a testament to his ability to pick the right shows and schedule them at the right time for the maximum impact and the most number of eyeballs.”
Thrash moved to Oklahoma City in 1962 where he joined KOCO (Channel 5) advancing to program director.
“While at KOCO, Bill was the director of what was at that time his favorite show, Lunch with Ho Ho,” said Pryor.
During the 1970s and 80s, Thrash worked at KFOR (Channel 4) developing programming and producing local programs including Christmas specials, Oklahoma football, “The Diamond Jubilee Special,” and the daytime series “Dannysday.”
Pryor said, “One of the accomplishments that Bill was most proud of at what was then WKY-TV, was working with Lee Allen Smith on The Stars and Stripes Shows that NBC aired nationally around July 4. They were collaborators and longtime friends and Lee Allen was Bill’s mentor.”
Mark Bauske, producer/director at Producers Playhouse video production company in Oklahoma City, worked with Thrash for almost 12 years at Channel 4, WKY-TV, and then KTVY.
“Bill hired me out of college in 1973, starting my career in television and video production,” said Bauske. “A lot has been written about his accomplishments and talents, but for me he was a guide, a mentor and a friend.
“He astounded me with his insights, his familiarity with the television industry in Oklahoma, and his knowledge of every Hollywood film ever made. I am truly lucky to have known Bill Thrash. He had a profound impact on my life and my career.”
In 1988, Thrash joined OETA-The Oklahoma Network to produce a five-hour miniseries, Oklahoma Passage. It remains the most-watched special event in OETA’s history.
As station manager, Thrash developed local programs including the OETA Movie Club, Oklahoma News Report, documentary series “Stateline” and Gallery, “Oklahoma Forum and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.”
Thrash produced six Emmy Award-winning broadcasts, including the Oklahoma State Capitol Dome Dedication Ceremony and the Oklahoma Centennial Spectacular.
Among his many accolades, Thrash was inducted into the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS), Heartland Chapter Silver Circle and Gold Circle; a recipient of the Oklahoma City American Women in Radio and Television Lifetime Achievement Award; a member of the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame; and winner of the Governor’s Arts Award and the Oklahoma Heritage Association’s Lee Allan Smith Legacy Award.
Known for his dry wit, Thrash was an exceptional jazz pianist and a huge New York Yankees fan. He was married for over 40 years to his wife Billie, an accomplished musical theatre producer and director.
Former OETA reporter/producer Lori Rasmussen Miller said, “I had the pleasure of working with Bill Thrash during OETA’s digital conversion. It was an exciting time. His production standards were incredibly high and everyone at the station worked hard to achieve the excellence he expected. He was a great mentor and was dedicated to raising the next generation of broadcasting professionals.”
In 2013, OETA honored Thrash by naming the Oklahoma City production facility the “William C. ‘Bill’ Thrash” studio.
Pryor said, “Bill’s passing leaves a great void in Oklahoma broadcasting.”
Bill Thrash served on many boards and committees including the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Lyric Theatre, United Way, Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, Oklahoma City Arts Council, and The Oklahoma Arts Institute.
Perry said, “We will miss his guiding hand, great humor, and his amazing encyclopedic knowledge of movies, television, live theatre, music and biographical information about those who worked in those fields.
“We will do our best to continue to uphold the standards Bill established at OETA. We are confident that somewhere … he’s watching, and so we better do it right. We will miss him.”
Pryor added, “Bill was a renaissance man. He was quiet, caring, and very thoughtful. He trusted his people and expected them to produce quality content and inspired all of us to do our best work. Everyday was a gift being with Bill Thrash. He was our heart and soul.”
Oklahomans mourn loss of broadcasting legend, Bill Thrash
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