Dick Pryor, who spent 23 years working with Thrash at OETA, said the executive served as his mentor until the day he died.
Pryor described Thrash as a “great director, producer, programmer and station executive. Bill’s contributions to television and public television were huge. He produced many of the great programs that define as a state.”
Atop that list was the epic, five-hour Oklahoma Passage. The 1989 miniseries remains the most-watched special event in OETA history.
His other credits include OETA Movie Club, Oklahoma News Report, Foreman Scotty, Lunch with HoHo and Dannysday. In the mid-1970s at the former Myriad Convention Center, he directed Bob Hope, Dionne Warwick, Ed McMahon and other performers in The Stars and Stripes Show. The patriotic special aired nationally on NBC.
Before joining OETA in 1988, Thrash worked at NBC affiliate WKY-TV (now KFOR Channel 4) and ABC affiliate KOCO Channel 5. He began his career in 1955 at KTEN in Ada.
Pryor, now OETA’s deputy director and managing editor, remembered Thrash as a man who inspired colleagues daily.
“Working with Bill was a gift,” he said. “He always inspired us to do the best work we could do. When he said your program was a winner or a home run, that meant the world to us. His passing leaves a large hole in Oklahoma broadcasting and in our hearts.”
NBC Today correspondent Bob Dotson recalled working with Thrash on a project many years ago.
“We worked together on a program that won Oklahoma’s first national Emmy, Through the Looking Glass Darkly,” Dotson said. “Television didn’t come with a blueprint back then. All of us, scratching our heads, turned to Bill to make what we needed. His creativity was legendary.”
In 1986, OETA acquired the broadcast rights to The Lawrence Welk Show.
Thrash played a major role in repackaging episodes of the variety program for national PBS broadcast.
Larry Welk, son of Lawrence Welk, described Thrash as a “real pro.”
“He had the ability to listen to everybody’s ideas and bring a diverse group of people and their thoughts together in what always seemed to be the right decisions,” he said.
Thrash was inducted into the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2002.
Robert Allen, longtime OETA executive director, said one of his best decisions was to recruit Thrash as an executive producer of Oklahoma Passage.
“I wisely asked Bill to oversee all OETA programming and productions,” Allen said. “He has continually improved these digital productions and has expertly taken them to the next level.”
A jazz pianist and die-hard New York Yankees fan, Thrash often engaged Pryor in sports conversations.
“Bill could never understand why the Yankees should ever lose a game,” Pryor said.