J. Fred MacDonald, one of Chicago’s preeminent broadcast historians, is being remembered as an influential teacher, mentor and film archivist.
A professor of history for 27 years at Northeastern Illinois University, MacDonald wrote six books on media history, including One Nation Under Television: The Rise and Decline of Network TV; Blacks and White TV: African Americans in Television Since 1948; Television and the Red Menace: The Video Road to Vietnam; and Don’t Touch That Dial! Radio Programming in American Life from 1920 to 1960.
MacDonald, who was 74, died April 9 at his home in Los Angeles.
As founder and president of MacDonald & Associates, he oversaw a vast archive of rare and historical film footage encompassing the 20th century, and a vintage audio collection including 40,000 hours of radio programs, speeches, interviews and musical performances. He sold the Chicago-based archive to the Library of Congress in 2010 before he retired.
At Northeastern Illinois University, where he taught from 1969 to 1996, MacDonald was credited for his pioneering research into the history of American popular culture, especially focused on the role of radio, TV and film in influencing society.
MacDonald also served as a consultant in the formative years of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, according to Bruce DuMont, founder and president of the museum.
Laura Levitt-Gamis, adjunct faculty member in the television department of Columbia College Chicago, called MacDonald a lifelong mentor. “I’ve been teaching television history and studies at Columbia College for over 25 years and it is all because of the guidance of Fred,” Levitt-Gamis said. “Other than my parents, Fred had the most impact on my life.”
MacDonald is survived by his wife of 42 years, Leslie Waldrop MacDonald. No services were held.