R. Peter Straus, chairman of Straus News, dies at 89 Straus also owned radio stations, including WMCA, the home of the Good Guys

| 08 Aug 2012 | 07:12

R. Peter Straus, a pioneer in radio and a life-long public servant active in Democratic politics, died Sunday, Aug. 6, 2012, at his home in Manhattan. He was 89 years old.
He died of natural causes, said his eldest daughter, Diane Straus Tucker of Washington, D.C.
At his death, Peter Straus was chairman of Straus News, a media company which publishes nine community weekly newspapers and Web sites in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania as well as a green magazine, Dirt.
His daughter, Jeanne Straus, is president of the company, which includes The Warwick Advertiser, The Photo News, The Chronicle, The Advertiser-News North, The Advertiser-News South, The Sparta Independent, The Township Journal, The West Milford Messenger and The Pike County Courier.
His granddaughter, Becca Tucker, is editor of Dirt magazine.


Straus owned and operated radio stations and weekly newspapers in the Northeast for more than 65 years. During the years he owned WMCA Radio in New York City, it became the #1 rated station, known as the home of the Good Guys with renowned personalities Dan Daniels, Joe O’Brien, Harry Harrison and Jack Spector.
WMCA also was one of the first stations in the nation to editorialize after challenging Federal Communications Commission rules prohibiting it.
“We thought the mission of a broadcaster was to say something important,” Straus said speaking about those days. “We weren’t going to change the world but we damn well had to try.”
WMCA was the lead plaintiff in the reapportionment case, WMCA vs. Lomenzo, that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the one-man, one-vote concept.
Straus was first in the nation to call for President Richard Nixon’s resignation.
After several years overseeing WMCA as station that played rock and roll, Straus changed its format to all-talk, becoming one of the first stations in the country to do so, and helping to launch the careers of Larry King, Joan Hamburg, Barry Gray, Bob Grant, Sally Jesse Raphael and Barry Farber, among others.

Public service

Straus graduated cum laude from Yale University in 1943. From 1943-1945, he was First Pilot and Flight Leader with the U.S. Army Air Corps, commanding a B-17 Flying Fortress on 35 missions over Germany for which he received an Air Medal and five Oak Leaf Clusters. From 1945-1947 he served in the Office of Military Government for Germany (U.S.) in Berlin.
Straus was drawn to in public service and Democratic politics throughout much of his life. He served as executive assistant to the Director General of the International Labor Organization (ILO), Nobel Peace Prize winner David Morse, in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1950-1955.
At age 32, he moved to Washington, D.C., as director of the U.S. Office of the International Labor Organization.
In 1964, he ran Robert Kennedy’s campaign for U.S. Senate from New York.
President Lyndon Johnson appointed him assistant administrator of the Agency for International Development (AID) in charge of African Affairs from 1967 to 1970.
Straus also served in the Carter Administration as director of the Voice of America. In reporting his appointment in 1977, The New York Times wrote: “Ebullient is the adjective most commonly applied to R. Peter Straus.”


In 1950, he married Ellen Sulzberger Straus, whose father David Hays Sulzberger was the brother of New York Times Publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger. Together the Strauses founded WMCA Call for Action, the country’s first ombudsman, using the power of WMCA’s airwaves to force action from slumlords.
She died in 1995.
In 1998, Straus married Marcia Lewis, who survives him, along with his four children: Diane Straus Tucker, Kate and Blair Caple, Jeanne Straus and Eric Straus; and nine grandchildren. He also is survived by his stepchildren Michael and Monica Lewinsky of California, and his brothers Nathan Straus of South Salem and Irving Straus of New York City.
His brother Barney Straus predeceased him.
Peter Straus was the fourth and youngest son of Nathan Straus Jr. and Helen Sachs Straus. Nathan Straus was Secretary of Housing under Franklin Roosevelt. Helen Straus’ father, Dr. Bernard Sachs, discovered Tay-Sachs disease.

By air, by sea, by horseback

Peter Straus was past president of the New York State Broadcasters Association and inducted into the Hall of Fame. He served on the faculties of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and the Boston University’s School of Public Communications. He also was a guest lecturer at the National War College in Washington, D.C.
His writings include “The Father of Anne Frank” (1975); “The Buddy System in Foreign Affairs” ( 1973); “Is the State Department Color Blind?” (1971) and “How To Keep Albany from Milking the City Dry” (1968).
Other past memberships include the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Press Club.
He flew his own plane for years, rode a motorcycle to work and was an avid windsurfer, skier and horseback rider, winning the National Junior Jumping division in Madison Square Garden. He spoke several languages including French, Spanish, German, Russian and Portuguese.
A memorial will be held in New York City in the fall.