WMCA Pioneering Executive and ‘True Gentleman,’ R. Peter Straus Dies

A key player in the growth of New York radio has died. R. Peter Straus was responsible for WMCA becoming one of the top radio stations in the country.

“I was saddened to hear of the death of R. Peter Straus,” former WMCA air personality, Harry Harrison, tells FishbowlNY.

Straus, whose first name was Ronald, had two stints at WMCA. He joined the family business in the 1940s. His father, Nathan Straus bought WMCA in 1943. The elder Straus had been director of United States Housing Authority under President Franklin Roosevelt, and a New York state senator.

After becoming an executive at the International Labor Organization, part of the United Nations, Straus returned to WMCA, alongside his dad, in 1958. A year later, he succeeded his father as president. Another memorable moment occurred in 1959, as WMCA improved its lineup by hiring Harrison. It would be the start of 44 years in New York for the “Morning Mayor.”

“GM Steve Labunski and PD Ruth Meyer transformed WMCA into the ‘Good Guys’ radio station, and it became a huge success in the 60s,” Harrison tells FishbowlNY. “All the staff appreciated the support and encouragement Peter always gave us. He was a true gentleman.”

R. Peter was named chief executive in 1961 when his father died.

By that time, WMCA was a major force in the Top 40 wars, occasionally the top-rated station. Primarily, though, it was the “Hatfields” to WABC’s “McCoys.” The rival stations fought for listeners and ads throughout the decade.

All the while, WMCA was progressive in the public service department. Under Straus’ leadership, WMCA was the first station in the nation to air editorials and civic issues.

Straus not only had a famous father, but his grandfather was co-owner of the Macy’s and Abraham and Straus department store chain. The remarkable lineage continued in marriage, when R. Peter Straus married Ellen Louise Sulzberger in 1950, a niece of The New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger. She died in 1995.

He remarried in 1998, Marcia Lewis, mother of infamous former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

Straus, who wrote a handful of books in the 1970s, died at his midtown Manhattan home. He was 89.

Photo credit: nysbroadcasters.org