Robert B. Cochrane, 90, Sun war correspondent

June 01, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Robert B. Cochrane, a former Sunpapers was correspondent who witnessed the Japanese surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri and later became a pioneering television executive, died Monday of bone cancer at Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida. The Sarasota resident, who was 90, once lived in St. Michaels and Towson.

Mr. Cochrane, a man of polite demeanor, had a ruddy complexion and wore gold rimless glasses. He was born and raised in Asheville, N.C., where he sold newspapers as a boy.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Duke University in 1931.

A letter to H. L. Mencken, one of his newspaper idols, led to a position on The Evening Sun in 1934.

He was a rewrite man, reporter and music, film and theater critic before he was sent to Washington in the early years of World War II to cover the War Department and the Navy Department.

He was later assigned to cover the war in the Pacific and was one of 200 reporters, photographers and cameramen to witness the Japanese surrender aboard the Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

Mr. Cochrane's detailed 67-paragraph account of the 22-minute ceremony that began at 8: 55 a.m. September 2, 1945, was later included in "Masterpieces of World War II Reporting," a 537-page book published by Julian Messner Inc. in 1962. The book also included reporting from such war correspondents as Ernie Pyle, Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, William L. Shirer and Ernest Hemingway.

"ABOARD THE U.S.S. MISSOURI IN TOKYO BAY, Sept. 2 (By Radio) -- World War II ended officially at 9: 18 o'clock, Tokyo time, this morning.

"It ended with the words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur: `These proceedings are closed,' " Mr. Cochrane's report began.

"Japan's dream of conquest died under the frowning guns of the mighty battleship Missouri when Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu, chief of staff of the Imperial Headquarters, affixed their names to the instrument of surrender which placed Japan unconditionally in the hands of the Allies," he wrote.

Mr. Cochrane observed that the surrender "followed a fixed military procedure, but was as stately regal as a religious procession." At its conclusion, he wrote, the sun broke through the heavy morning overcast "hot and brilliant like an omen of future peace for mankind."

After the surrender, Mr. Cochrane established a Tokyo bureau of The Sun, reporting from there until he was called back to Baltimore in June 1946.

In a 1983 interview in The Evening Sun, Mr. Cochrane, said, "The cable said, `Come on home. We're going to build a broadcast station.' I said, `I don't know anything about television.' They said, `Neither does anyone else.' "

Because he had broadcast experience from his days as an announcer on WWNC, an Asheville ficials of A.S. Abell Co., publishers of the Sunpapers, felt that Mr. Cochrane was the right person to lead them into the age of television.

The move came despite the objections of Mencken, a member of the company's board of directors who was against the new venture, decribing it as "madness. It's a boobs and tubes business."

Mr. Cochrane became the first employee of WMAR-TV, the 12th commercial television station in the nation and the sixth to join the CBS network.

The station went on the air in October 1947. It was in the old Sun Building downtown at Baltimore and Charles streets, then known as Sun Square.

Mr. Cochrane, who was program director and later assistant general manager until retiring in 1975, wasted no time in recruiting on-air talent for the new station.

There were 1,600 television sets, mainly in bars in the city, when he plucked Jim McManus, a young Evening Sun reporter and Loyola College graduate who had acted in several student productions, from the city room in 1947.

"I was at my desk one day when Bob said, `Come upstairs at 4 p.m. There is something we want to show you.' It was a room full of TV equipment, and I told him I didn't know anything about TV," said Mr. McManus, who later became Jim McKay and went on to a career as anchor of ABC's "Wide World of Sports."

"He said, `You were president of the dramatic society at Loyola, and that's good enough for me,' " Mr. McKay said yesterday from Bellefield Farm, his home in Monkton.

"I think he always thought of himself as a newspaperman first, and that is why he was so successful. He always had good ideas."

Mr. McKay said Mr. Cochrane had an "unflappable disposition," a requirement in the early, chaotic days of TV.

"He did a wonderful job over there at WMAR," Brent Gunts, a Baltimore broadcasting legend, said yesterday. "He was a very high-level programmer, and you have to remember at the time no one was particularly skilled in TV."

Robert C. "Jake" Embry, a Baltimore broadcasting executive who retired in 1980 from WMAR-FM, where he had been general manager, said Mr. Cochrane "was absolutely fabulous at WMAR. Under his leadership, the station was No. 1. He was a great guy, good writer and a good friend."

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