Region public TV, radio station seek fresh start after CEO exit

2013-01-01T12:00:00Z 2013-01-03T11:03:20Z Region public TV, radio station seek fresh start after CEO exitBowdeya Tweh bowdeya.tweh@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com
January 01, 2013 12:00 pm  • 

The new chief of Lakeshore Public Television and Radio will have to manage in an evolving technological landscape for broadcast media and continue to grow the stations' reach and revenue, according to members of the stations' board of directors. 

Board chair Bonita Neff said in late December she and other board members were developing the criteria to select a new leader after Thomas Carroll resigned from the president and CEO positions Dec. 12. Once that process is complete, Neff said the board would work with a firm to help identify candidates in a nationwide search.

Neff said the station has had significant growth since Carroll began working at the television station in 2002. During Carroll's time with the organization, the television station was rebranded "the Lakeshore," a National Public Radio member station was launched and it now operates two television channels broadcasting programs in an all-digital format. Neff is an associate professor in Valparaiso University's department of communications.

"I'm just totally amazed at the different point where we're at now," said Neff, who has been on the board since 1999 and is interim co-CEO of the stations.

The Merrillville-based nonprofit organization, Northwest Indiana Public Broadcasting Inc., operates WYIN-TV 56 and WLPR-FM 89.1.

Upgrading current equipment while staying within "tight" budget confines will be important for the new leader of the stations, Neff said. She said the Lakeshore plans to boost its website capabilities to archive content aired on the television and radio stations.

Cal Bellamy, who is a board member and sharing CEO duties with Neff, said the stations need someone who can serve as an "energetic public face" and be a terrific manager of talent and resources. The TV station reaches residents in Indiana and Illinois, and Bellamy said the value proposition of the station could be communicated better to Illinois residents to help convince them to support the station financially.

"Lakeshore Public Television and Radio have great potential," said Bellamy, who is a partner at Krieg DeVault LLP in Schererville. "We've gotten to a certain level and we need to go to the next level."

The organization had a profit of nearly $1.73 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2011, after posting losses in the previous two years totaling $1.08 million. In May 2011, the organization received $2.47 million in proceeds following the sale of a transmission tower in Cedar Lake. Bellamy said he hopes that the organization keep the tower sale money as a cash reserve.

Membership contributions have also risen in four out of the last five years, with the 2011 fiscal year bringing in nearly $3.43 million for the stations.

This past year, the radio station was certified as meeting federal standards to qualify for state funding. Neff said the designation is important because it could provide a funding stream for the station outside of member contributions.

Board member John Meyer, head of Crown Point-based Meyer Broadcasting Corp., said the stations need a "visionary" who can identify creative ways to generate revenue within the public media space. Meyer said it's also important to find a person for the job who relates well with employees and has a healthy working relationship with them.

Early in Carroll's tenure at the Lakeshore, he fired popular television anchor Tom Higgins in 2002 and other staff members exited the station at that time. Also, a few current and former employees have voiced concerns to the board about how the station was managed in recent years. Carroll earned nearly $109,000 a year, according to the organization's most recent filing to the Internal Revenue Service.

In 2011, the board voted to find an outside firm to evaluate the organization's business strategy and management structure. Consultants Kate Sandweiss and Walter Parsons have worked with the organizations since the decision seeking external management advice.

"We're getting by but it's a lot tougher for everyone," Meyer said. "To provide services costs money. Obviously, you want to have the revenue to be able to do that."

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