Volume 7, Number 2, 1998

Making technology work-for the community

With a chemical engineering degree as his launching pad, William Marrazzo, EG '71, has made some interesting career choices: He ran the Philadelphia Water Department for nearly a decade, headed a national environmental consulting firm for eight years and recently became president and chief executive officer of WHYY Inc.-the major public television and radio stations serving the Delaware Valley region.

While his newest job may seem like an unusual step, Marrazzo says the move reflects his commitment to making technology work for the community.

"I've really made my career around the business of figuring out how to apply technology to creating community value," Marrazzo says.

"I told a colleague, Marty Moss-Coane [host of WHYY-FM's Radio Times] recently: You can look at sewage treatment in one way. You can look at it as moving water from point A to point B, or you can look at it as a system that protects our public health. I've always chosen the latter approach for my career."

At WHYY, technology will play an increasingly important role in the station's life in the 21st century. Like all public broadcasting facilities, it is under a federal mandate to convert to a digital format by 2003, but is shooting to reach that benchmark by the end of 1999. Its new digital signal promises sharper, higher-definition images and improved sound, as well as the possibility of separate channels for business, educational and cultural arts programming.

"It's going to be an impossible line to draw in our lifetime between traditional, conventional telecommunications technology and the information age," Marrazzo says. "Everything goes along with that, obviously, including the World Wide Web. We do see our new programming taking full advantage of the convergence of the computer world with the telecommunications world. Our listeners and viewers can get a lot more leverage out of the station by integrating all of that."

An example of this convergence is the college courses that WHYY already broadcasts to several thousand students around the region. Marrazzo says he hopes to grow this program, and to have WHYY serve as a communications clearinghouse for other existing educational programs in the city and suburbs.

"We can use the best of the web and our radio and television business in ways that allow us to dramatically extend the effectiveness of all traditional education, arts and commerce programming," Marrazzo says. "We can become like marriage brokers for this community. We can take all these disparately managed educational initiatives and find communication pathways to link them together."

When asked if these cultural programs might include more opera, Marrazzo laughs. Opera, you see, is a big part of his personal life: His wife, Randi, AS '71, is a professional opera singer who regularly performs as a soloist with orchestras and choirs, and she also teaches voice. It was through singing that Marrazzo met his future wife, with whom he has two children, Jeffrey, a sophomore engineering and economics major at the University of Pennsylvania, and Claire, a freshman biology major at Delaware, where she is a member of University Honors Program and the varsity lacrosse team.

Bill and Randi Marrazzo began dating after traveling with the University Concert Choir to Europe for a series of competitions in the summer of 1970. "I was literally the last guy on the last riser of the Concert Choir. She was always in the first row," he recalls. "I spent several years improving my skills so I could get to know her a bit. The choir went to Wales and The Netherlands for five and a half weeks. We got to know one another on that trip, and most of our lifelong friends are out of that group."

Besides an interest in singing and music, the Brooklyn native and his wife also share a commitment to remaining in the city of Philadelphia: They live in the Mount Airy section-one of the city's most culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

"Along the way, my wife and I have made some very clear personal decisions to try and make our lives in the same community," Marrazzo says. "I've been a pretty lucky person most of my life. I've had a lot of opportunities to go elsewhere. We've chosen to make our lives in the Delaware Valley so that we could learn to appreciate it more fully and discharge our responsibility to it more aggressively and make a home for ourselves and our children."

These community ties should also prove helpful to his tenure at WHYY, where maintaining sources of funding is sure to be one of the challenges. Marrazzo brings valuable fundraising experience to his role: As vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia and chairman of the board of directors of its foundation, Marrazzo spearheaded a drive that brought in $35 million to renovate the system's 52 branches.

He also played a key role in the Fairmount Park Commission's privately funded $8 million restoration of the Fairmount Waterworks, a national historic landmark on the Schuylkill River near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His other board memberships include the Philadelphia Gas Works, the American Water Works Association, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

"I like to live by building quality relationships in business and in my personal life," Marrazzo says. "I feel my success in both comes from long-term investments, and I don't think you can make long-term investments if you're uprooting yourself every two or three or four years. So, to keep me happy and to keep me successful, I've chosen, with my family, to stay put, which has not been a terribly difficult thing to do."

-Robert DiGiacomo, AS '88