Richard Jonah Meyer was born in Brooklyn, New York on February 15, 1933. As a child, Meyer was strongly influenced by his grandfather, an immigrant from Lithuania who worked his way up to become a successful businessman in the carpet/textiles industry. His grandfather instilled in him a "fascination with the idea of democracy," which led Meyer to study political science and American colonial history at Stanford University. While in college, Meyer became involved with the university radio station. After his graduation in 1954, Meyer entered Stanford's Master's program in Radio, TV, and Drama. During this time, he worked as a production assistant intern at KQED in San Francisco and for his grandfather's business. In 1956, Meyer was drafted into the U.S. Army. After two years of service, he returned to Stanford to complete his M.A.
In 1960, Meyer took a job producing educational television programs for a commercial station in Wichita, Kansas. In 1964, Meyer moved to New York City to pursue a Ph.D. in communications at New York University under Charles Siepmann, a founder of the British Broadcasting Company. Meyer completed his doctoral work in 1967, his doctoral dissertation entitled The Development of Educational Television Councils in New York State.
While working on his Ph.D., Meyer took on several temporary assignments. He worked on the media side of Robert F. Kennedy's 1964 Senate campaign and as a TV consultant to the Great Neck Public Schools System.
In 1965, a unique opportunity opened for Meyer. The New York City Board of Education (NYCBE) had recently announced that it was severing its ties to New York Channel 13 (WNDT) and starting its own educational channel. The NYCBE took all available funds with it, leaving WNDT practically bankrupt. Meyer received an offer from WNDT to organize the remaining suburban school subscribers into a viable school television service. Meyer took the job, organizing the suburban schools into a loose affiliation, and obtaining state aid from Albany. Meyer did a variety of jobs while at WNDT, working as manager of utilization, then as director of the school televisions service, and later as a producer. In 1970, following a merger with National Educational Television (NET), Meyer became vice president of the education division of the newly consolidated station WNET.
In 1972, Meyer was offered a job as manager of one of the oldest public television stations in the U.S., KCTS (channel 9) in Seattle. At KCTS, Meyer found a station whose facilities were designed for radio rather than television, whose outdated equipment and budget had not changed in seventeen years. Meyer quickly secured a grant from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare for equipment. He recruited Hope Green from WGBH in Boston as a fund raising consultant, and began raising money through membership drives. Within three years, KCTS had a budget of more than a million dollars.
Meyer's philosophy of public television insisted that it serve the broadest community and that "resources which belong to the people should be serving the people." In Seattle, Meyer sought to make KCTS's advisory board more representative of the community by adding new members. Meyer also reassigned instructional program staff to public affairs projects and started telephone hookups with the viewing audience.
Meyer accepted a position as general manager of KERA-TV/FM in Dallas in 1982, a position he held until 1996. Besides his work at KERA, Meyer was an adjunct professor at the University of North Texas and the University of Texas at Dallas where he taught courses in film and broadcasting.
Meyer has contributed chapters to many books and produced articles for several major journals. Between 1979 and 1984, he served on the Public Broadcasting Service Board of Directors. He has also served as a television and education consultant for many organizations and several foreign countries.