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Broadcasting Pioneer Gloria Penner Dies At 81


Broadcasting Pioneer Gloria Penner Dies At 81

Gloria Penner, a San Diego broadcasting pioneer whose distinctive voice and reassuring presence graced the KPBS airwaves for nearly half a century, died Saturday.

Ms. Penner, who battled cancer for more than a year, was 81.

Aired 10/8/12 on KPBS News.

Gloria Penner, a San Diego broadcasting pioneer whose distinctive voice and reassuring presence graced the KPBS airwaves for nearly half a century, died Saturday.

She started at KPBS when the station was in its infancy and helped build it into one of San Diego’s most respected institutions. In her decades on the air, Ms. Penner shared with us the insights and visions, the concerns and struggles –- and always the humanity -- of thousands of San Diegans.

Gloria Penner began working at KPBS as a journalist in 1969.

Above: Gloria Penner began working at KPBS as a journalist in 1969.

Her strength was an insatiable curiosity about all things -– especially San Diegans and San Diego -- and her consuming interest was politics. She interviewed everyone from governors, mayors and members of Congress, to judges, City Councilmembers, school and water board members, reporters and editors.

She believed the struggles of women and minorities, single parents, seniors on fixed incomes and striving members of the working class to be worth our time and attention. And she believed we would be better off knowing about the ideas and work of scientists, artists, writers and musicians of all kinds. Ms. Penner introduced them all to us.

Her influence on the direction of KPBS was profound. KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo said, “In Gloria Penner, KPBS has lost one of its greatest assets. Gloria was the heart and soul of our organization for years. She knew local politics better than the politicians themselves and was a wonderful resource, both for the public and for the news staff. It is a sad day at KPBS.”

Karlo began working at KPBS as a San Diego State student in 1973 when Ms. Penner was director of public affairs. He has often told the story of how she encouraged him over the span of his career, as he moved from camera operator, to producer, to management.

“Gloria was such a powerful presence at KPBS,” Karlo said. “She was a role model for and champion of women in broadcasting at a time when not many women were visible, especially in decision-making positions."

Tom Karlo (left) and Gloria Penner (right) on an assignment.  Karlo and Penne...
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Above: Tom Karlo (left) and Gloria Penner (right) on an assignment. Karlo and Penner have worked at KPBS for more than 36 years.

Gloria Penner with U.S. Senator Alan Cranston (D-CA) in the KPBS studios.
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Above: Gloria Penner with U.S. Senator Alan Cranston (D-CA) in the KPBS studios.

“She was really a trailblazer when it came to covering elections and political issues with the depth and analysis that KPBS is still known for," he added. "She spearheaded those early efforts with her election specials. In fact, being interviewed by Gloria was sort of a ‘rite of passage’ for young, up-and-coming politicians.

“I am so honored to have had the opportunity to work with her for several decades –- she taught me so much. KPBS wouldn’t be the same without her and neither would I.”

KPBS was a fledgling public broadcasting outlet when Penner was hired in 1969 as director of community relations, which was not the career she originally chose.

She began her professional life as a high school English teacher in Brooklyn. (She was a proud member of the San Diego Brooklyn Club until her death.) She was the first in her family to attend college, urged on by her strong and independent mother, Ethel Stern, and a large, extended family of Russian Jewish immigrants.

But when she was asked to teach a class in radio production, all bets were suddenly off. “I was hooked," Ms. Penner said to Laura Walcher in a San Diego Magazine article. “I moved to San Francisco, got a job in radio and began my love affair with broadcasting.”

When she began working at KPBS, the station was squeezed into a rehabbed music library and a converted apartment building on the San Diego State campus. It was a time when opportunities to contribute to the nascent TV and radio stations were only limited by space and hours in the day.

Very quickly, Ms. Penner got hold of a microphone, sat down in front of a camera and began talking with San Diego’s movers and shakers.

Gloria Penner takes the Editors' Roundtable on the road with Bob Kittle of Th...
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Above: Gloria Penner takes the Editors' Roundtable on the road with Bob Kittle of The San Diego Union-Tribune, John Warren with San Diego Voice & Viewpoint and Tim McLain with San Diego Metropolitan Magazine. They speak at a downtown Rotary Club meeting in 2008.

She hosted several KPBS public affairs programs over the years, with slightly different formats under a variety of names: “That’s 30,” "San Diego Week,” “KPBS Weekend Edition,” “San Diego Business Week,” “Gloria Penner in Conversation,” “These Days,” “Full Focus” and innumerable “Ballot” programs around elections.

In the process of doing what she was so good at, Ms. Penner picked up a boatload of awards, including seven Emmys, five Golden Mikes, two Gracies from the American Federation of Women in Radio and Television and the San Diego Press Club’s Harold Keen Award for excellence in journalism.

She was thrilled when the League of Women Voters of San Diego County established the annual Gloria Penner Award for Civic Service in 2003. She was the first recipient.

The award-winning show that held a special place in her heart was “The Editor’s Roundtable,” a program she created in 1998. It featured three editors, most often Bob Kittle of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Tim McLain of San Diego Metropolitan Magazine and John Warren of San Diego Voice and Viewpoint. North County Times editor Kent Davy often joined the panel.

Once she went on camera in 1970, she did not stop broadcasting news and public affairs on KPBS until illness forced her hand. Her last broadcast was as the host of “The Midday Edition Roundtable,” on July 20, 2012.

She is survived by Bill Snyder, her husband of 26 years, her sons Steve Penner of Tucson, Ariz., and Brad Penner of San Diego, and a granddaughter and grandson.

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Avatar for user 'elliebonner'

elliebonner | October 6, 2012 at 1:56 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Gloria, you will be missed! We have missed you since you became ill. We always loved listening to you on Editor's Roundtable, which was our favorite show. Thanks for all of you work and expertise. You were one terrific lady!

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Avatar for user 'ZakTopor'

ZakTopor | October 6, 2012 at 4:07 p.m. ― 4 years ago

To all the KPBS Family, my heart felt condolences go out to you I was so honored to work with Gloria. Her excellence as a journalist was matched with her charm and warmth. I am so sorry to hear she has passed.

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Avatar for user 'KJClark1'

KJClark1 | October 6, 2012 at 4:39 p.m. ― 4 years ago

As a fellow member of the San Diego Rotary Club, I was honored to have been able to meet Gloria and to observe her professionalism and wit. I am so sorry to hear of her passing, and I wish to extend my condolences to Gloria's family, and her KPBS family. Rest in peace, Gloria. The world has lost a treasure, but your impact upon many will go on forever.

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Avatar for user 'pbslvr'

pbslvr | October 6, 2012 at 6:05 p.m. ― 4 years ago

For those of us who love PBS and especially KPBS this is the loss of a friend. How many of us remember the iconic Susan Stamberg's cranberry relish or Carl Kasell's iconic voice. I can hear Gloria's voice now. I loved it when she would hold an interviewee's feet to the fire when her show was on during my morning time commute. I had many stuck in the car moments (or are they called KPBS moments) listening to Gloria.

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Avatar for user 'RebeccaTolin'

RebeccaTolin | October 6, 2012 at 7:36 p.m. ― 4 years ago

What a tremendous woman, and a profound loss for San Diego. I am so saddened to hear of this news. Gloria was intrepid and passionate like I'd never seen in her pursuit of truth, balance and the good story. She was timeless in her love of news and public affairs, holding countless politicians accountable, informing generations of San Diegans and inspiring those of us blessed enough to know her. I am profoundly grateful for the five years I worked with Gloria on Full Focus. She taught me so much professionally, and always showed a genuine caring in me and my life. My heartfelt sympathies go out to Gloria's family, including her extended KPBS family.

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Avatar for user 'writerink'

writerink | October 6, 2012 at 9:45 p.m. ― 4 years ago

I am deeply saddened to hear of Gloria's passing. I was a guest several times on her Editor's Roundtable Program and had the utmost respect for her as a journalism and a person whom I greatly admired. She was one of the last truly independent voices in journalism left in our region, and she will be greatly missed.

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Avatar for user 'LizBrown619'

LizBrown619 | October 7, 2012 at 7:24 a.m. ― 4 years ago

A great loss for San Diego. Condolences to her friends and family.

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Avatar for user 'Galileo424'

Galileo424 | October 7, 2012 at 9:31 a.m. ― 4 years ago

We have been so blessed to have Gloria Penner for so many years. She represents the best of KPBS. Thank you, Gloria. We miss you.

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Avatar for user 'Laguna57'

Laguna57 | October 7, 2012 at 10:09 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I was saddened to hear of Goria's passing. I agree with so much of what the other commenters said. May you rest in peace, Gloria. There is a huge hole in our local media now, but a bright star shining down from the sky.

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Avatar for user 'bkzakoski'

bkzakoski | October 7, 2012 at 7:39 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Through PBS, Gloria visited our living room hundreds of times during the last few decades. She inspired us, educated us, and challenged us to think about tough issues affecting our beautiful San Diego. We will miss her greatly! Our hearts go out to her KPBS family, as well as her husband, children, and grandchildren. Her legacy will live on forever!

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | October 7, 2012 at 7:40 p.m. ― 4 years ago


Although I am not clear, was she retired or still working?

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Avatar for user 'markprice'

markprice | October 8, 2012 at 7:54 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I had the pleasure of being a guest on Gloria's show(s) many times. Quite often it seemed as though I was the token Republican asked to defend the Governor, the President and/or Republican principles. In every case I was treated with respect and professionalism. Gloria was always direct, open, fair and honest. It was always a pleasure for me. She will be missed.

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Avatar for user 'dpriver'

dpriver | October 8, 2012 at 9:17 a.m. ― 4 years ago

I had the great privilege of being acquainted with Gloria at several levels. First and certainly the most enjoyable was as part of a "gourmet" club for several years. She and I would always arrange to sit next to one another so as to talk news and politics. But I also had the honor of being a guest on her show a couple of times as the San Diego Medical Society president. That, while exhilarating, could not be described as "fun". Before the shows she would tell me that this was the point at which friendship would have to take a back seat to journalistic integrity. By that she meant she had done a great deal of research into my issues and would be asking tough questions and would not abide any evasiveness. As I think back on those shows, not just with me but with many others, I am saddened to realize that this form of journalism no longer exists now that we have so many biased interviewers with an axe to grind. Gloria's integrity will not soon be forgotten.

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Avatar for user 'Tammy Carpowich'

Tammy Carpowich, KPBS Staff | October 8, 2012 at 10:23 a.m. ― 4 years ago

@Mission, Gloria was passionate about her career and worked as long as her health allowed. Her last show on July 20 was the last only because her health didn't allow for her to do more. It wasn't a big final show or anything like that. In fact, when I saw her that day she looked fantastic and I expected to see her again.

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Avatar for user 'piamsud'

piamsud | October 8, 2012 at 2:23 p.m. ― 4 years ago

I will miss hearing you on air, Ms. Gloria!

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Avatar for user 'sandraschrift'

sandraschrift | October 8, 2012 at 2:54 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Yes, to not have Gloria Penner with us is a great loss to our community and beyond. I first met Ms. Penner when she arrived in San Diego back in 1969. We met at Rotary meetings in later years. About 8 years ago, Gloria visited with me at my home and we had a very different conversation than what occurred in her public life.

Gloria you will be missed by many - rest in peace.

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Avatar for user 'GreenTechGeek'

GreenTechGeek | October 8, 2012 at 4:44 p.m. ― 4 years ago

To so many people -- those of us in Public Relations, those in government, those in journalism, and people everywhere -- she will be missed ... dearly. An inquisitive, intelligent, reassuring voice that was (and will always be) one with San Diego has fallen silent.

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Avatar for user 'aponderer'

aponderer | October 8, 2012 at 7:33 p.m. ― 4 years ago

I enjoyed listening to her every friday on the round table..She was always so sharp and on top of things. What a great loss for those of us who admired her. My heartfelt condolences for her family and loved ones

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Avatar for user 'JulieWellington'

JulieWellington | October 8, 2012 at 10:41 p.m. ― 4 years ago

I'm saddened to hear the news. I had worked with Gloria on Full Focus for a year and a half and it was a great pleasure to work with her. She was very passionate about her work and it showed from her dedication to achieving excellence to the smile on her face when bringing her the script. Even though I didn't work with her for very long, she seemed to genuinely care about me and how I was doing. My thoughts go out to her loved ones and all who knew her at KPBS.

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Avatar for user 'CherylMarnye'

CherylMarnye | October 12, 2012 at 1:32 p.m. ― 4 years ago

Tuning into the broadcast today I heard people praising Gloria and was saddened to hear of her death. I've been listening to her host radio for many years and feel as though an old friend has gone. Gloria will be missed because her integrity as a human being was what made her so charismatic. Thank you for taking the time, KPBS to honor someone who so deserves the such accolades.

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Avatar for user 'politiquillo'

politiquillo | November 8, 2012 at 9:46 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

Wow! I just learned of this today! A friend and I went to Golden Hall for the election results and as we walked past the KPBS booth we wondered where Gloria was! I was an intern at KPBS back in the early 2000's and I got to work with such great journalist as Scott Horsley, Tom Fudge, Erik Anderson, Michael Marcotte and of course Gloria Penner. Now my day will be a sad one. RIP Gloria, we will miss you!

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