Robert D.B. Carlisle attended Deerfield Academy and Princeton University, where he earned a B.A. degree in English literature in 1943, under an accelerated wartime program.
In 1946, after three years in the military, Carlisle began his career as a newspaper reporter for a daily newspaper in Passaic, New Jersey, covering news ranging from police court to urban planning and aviation. This built a firm platform for his move in 1949 to Newsweek. After six months with the magazine, he took the post of Detroit Bureau Chief. Nine months later, he was recalled to active duty as an Army reservist, serving as Assistant Operations Officer of the nation's first strategic propaganda unit in Japan.
From 1954 to 1957, Carlisle worked for all three major TV networks as a writer of TV news and continuity. At ABC, he organized a network series for commentator Quincy Howe. At NBC, he was Associate Producer on the trend-setting series Wide Wide World. After this, he served as Production Supervisor at the country's first videotape studio.
Carlisle moved to WNDT, Channel 13, New York in 1962, its first year as a public TV station. He began as a Producer and then became an Executive Producer. He organized and produced some 400 shows to help fill the demand for broadcast materials, among them: a two-hour show on the Civil War, an in-depth discussion with Branch Rickey, various shows on consumer economics, a complete college-level American history course, and 33 half-hour programs with prominent mythologist Joseph Campbell.
In 1965, he began work for SUNY's (State University of New York) new, central Educational Communications office as first Network Operations Director, then Assistant Vice Chancellor.
In the spring of 1968, while still Assistant Vice Chancellor for Educational Communications for SUNY, Carlisle was asked by Ward B. Chamberlin and Frank Pace to work part-time for the brand new Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), created by an act of Congress in November of 1967. At this point, there were very few people working for CPB, so Carlisle's job was to be the basic staff for Chamberlin--to come up with critiques, analyses, interviews, and project ideas. In the fall of 1968, Carlisle resigned from SUNY to become CPB's full-time Director of Special Projects.
One of his first tasks was to prepare a breakdown of a proposed $2,000,000 budget calling for program production at a number of public broadcasting centers. He also established precedents, such as a "Career Fellow" project for CPB, procedures for making $10,000 "Community Service Grants" to all public licensees, and a coordination of $50,000 production grants to competing public TV stations.
In early 1970, Carlisle was moved to Director of Educational Projects, as part of staff readjustment that began in 1969 with the hiring of a president for CPB, John W. Macy. Congress had wanted CPB to do something about education, but that goal had been swallowed up by the larger projects of forming and starting Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR).
In June 1971, Carlisle and his education staff began to develop a project to help adults prepare for the high school equivalency test. Initially called GED (General Educational Development), the project came to be called the Adult Learning Project Service (ALPS). It consisted of three phases: Phase I, staff survey; Phase II, market audience survey; and Phase III, curriculum design. ALPS included working with educators, commissioning more than 100 papers, making extensive analyses of audience demographics, producing five TV pilots, ten audiotape capsules, and one motivational film.
However, by November of 1972, the new administration of CPB decided that ALPS was not as high a priority as before. Henry Loomis, the new president, decided to end the project, asking Carlisle to write a final report. On March 16, 1973, Carlisle turned in "The ALPS Story: A Final Report. January 1971 to November 1972".
After leaving CPB in 1973, Carlisle continued his interest in educational television, publishing five books on the uses of media in education. He wrote and researched Media and the Adult Student: One Man's Journal, published in 1976, about media applications in adult-level education. CPB commissioned Carlisle to expand its educational activities by writing a panoramic appraisal of public broadcasting's uses in education, resulting in Patterns of Performance: Public Broadcasting and Education, published in 1978.
Carlisle also returned to school to get his M.A. in Public Media Arts from Montclair State College in 1977, writing his master's thesis on "The University of Mid-America: A Brave New Experiment in Open Learning." Other publications include: Video: At Work in American Schools, published in 1987, nine institutional histories, and seven narrative poems. His most recent work, a 20th century history of the seaside village of Chatham, Massachusetts was published in July 2000.