Starting at 12:05 p.m. or so, I’ll liveblog departing MPR CEO Bill Kling’s appearance on “Midday.” Hit your browser’s refresh button or F5 to get updates during the hour.
I’m talking to Kling this afternoon; that’ll be a separate post.
12:07 p.m. After touting MPR’s heft — it is clearly the biggest in the country, a fact not every local listener knows — Eichten tells Kling his announcement is a shock. The 68-year-old Kling says a five-year-agreement he signed in 2006 expires in June, thus the departure. He reiterates the company’s financial strength: balanced budget, 111K members, streaming audio. While I haven’t seen the latest Form 990, I should note the last couple showed revenues have fallen in the recession.
12:10 p.m. Eichten asks the “jumped-or-pushed” question. Kling laughs and says no. Succession planning began over a year ago. Says they are looking inside the organization as well as out. Here’s the top of the org chart.
12:12 p.m. Kling says he has to leave to pursue his goal of pumping up public radio operations nationally. He says he needs to develop new leaders in other places.
12:15 p.m. Rachel from Sartell congratulates Kling, says her grandpa influenced his career. He’s telling a war story. By the way, MPR’s Bob Collins — a truly experienced liveblogger — is cranking it out here.
12:17 p.m. A softball: Did you envision in ’66 what MPR would become? Kling: Of course. (Laughs.) He recalls first $5,000 check. Too little dough to think much about empire, but always thought “How bring best content to audience.” That included best classical music, “which was about as far as it went.” Quality built trust, to 111,000 members.
12:19 p.m. Kling talks about technological change. This is a huge challenge for MPR. Their web folks are solid and we all know the content is among the best in town, but MPR’s traffic is nothing special. Big challenge for the next person.
12:20 p.m. Kling making distinction between strong local stations (his mission) and things like NPR. As he’s been saying since last November’s “Future of News Conference,” (and well before), the college-operated station model just doesn’t have the heft. Remember MPR took over a college-managed L.A. area station, KPCC, and turned it into a much bigger player. The small fry chafe at this, but Kling wants more sharks. “Funders have not raised the bar high enough,” he says, arguing for different — more business-like — structures.
12:23 p.m. Eichten says Kling wants MPR newsroom to grow from 30 to 100. Kling says that will require multi-millions of dollars at every station, noting Cincinnati has four. Then specifies $5 million, per station presumably. By the way, what happened to that $5 million MPR challenge grant for investigative reporting announced last November? Things have been quiet since then.
12:25 p.m. Again echoing a “Future of News” theme, Kling says (in effect) newspapers are going down, something needs to replace them, that’s public media. (Somewhere, Strib board chair Mike Sweeney is muttering something about not taking government cash for your transmission towers and news operations.)
12:26 p.m. Kling likens one part of his vision to the BBC’s domestic service (not the world service we hear). Inveighs against Argues for “No rant, no slant” media. (I suppose critics would criticize MPR for “many dimes, no spine.”) But there’s no doubt that roping in more money for the sort of coverage MPR provides would be a good thing.
12:28 p.m. Kling is an Anglophile; he says rightie and leftie Brits see BBC as “absolutely fair.” Kling says that “tempers the anger” and provides a “centering institution.” I think MPR is perceived by most as an honest broker and that is a tribute to the operation — though the left feels corporate perspectives are given too much deference, and the right sees topics and questions as tilting liberal.
12:32 p.m. Caller says MPR’s spread to social media sucks; he doesn’t want hoi polloi or interacting with the “Question of the Day.” He also says sponsor announcements make the whole thing too commercial. Kling says he sometimes “think as you do” but then hears commercial competitors and it isn’t so bad.
Kling says, “We have to be where audience is,” and touts listening to MPR in Colorado via “Internet-fed radio.” Mentions he has an iPad in the studio.
My take: Stuff like “Question of the Day” represents MPR is trying hard to push you to the website, but I’m not sure it’s really working. As I said earlier, digital is a huge challenge for the next leader. By the way, have you ever used Gather.com, the social-network site on whose board Kling sits, and that public radio pumps?
12:37 p.m. Eichten’s parochial question: our equipment is old. How will you replace or will it only be the new web stuff. Kling: We spend $3K in Los Angeles to power the radio station, $300K if we tried to do it wi-fi. Praises government for funding transmission network. (MPR has long contended it only seeks state dough for capital support, but the recent move into the “Minnesota Today” news-aggregation site looks more like operating.)
12:39 p.m. Good Eichten question: If you’re successful nationally, can government support end? Kling has a quick response: We’ll pump it up for five years, but after that, locals will have to step up. Kling offers MPR as an example of pump-priming, something that was sustained. Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides 6 percent of funding currently, which he calls critical.
12:41 p.m. Does “public media” include TV? Kling says it reflects digital transmission, including video. Doesn’t sound like he’s talking about supporting stations like TPT.
12:42 p.m. Grace, who started listening in the ’50s, had her sanity saved by Wisconsin public radio. Asks if there will be an educational station with lectures like that Wisco station from way back. Kling touts HD radio, acknowledging low public awareness. He says all three MPR channels were on the frequencies, and the spectrum provides opportunity for more content, and we can “already do it on the web. These things are possible.” But in the end, he doesn’t really promise Grace the sort of programming she wants.
HD radio may be another one of those Gather-type things that MPR is more enamored with than MPR listeners are.
12:46 p.m. So much for honest broker; caller says his GOP buddies hate NPR. (He may have said MPR, but I don’t think so.) Kling says this is an outdated stereotype. Reiterates “No rant, no slant,” but not everyone will agree with stories that mention something like climate change. People are welcome to their opinion, but kill the messenger for providing the info. Kling says they may be only org trying to do this; I don’t think newspapers would agree.
Not sure the GOP pals will buy all this.
12:48 p.m. Caller brings up aging demographic. What are plans here for home-grown productions like “In the Loop” with younger slant. Kling says “you’re right on track” and it’s one reason he wants next-gen leaders. He cites The Current, which has received “every accolade it could” from places like City Pages and 20-something-oriented outlet. Reiterates the Current as a feeder for other public radio services.
However, as I noted recently, ratings have been a concern.
12:52 p.m. One reason I love Gary Eichten — immediately brings up ratings drop. Kling says more recent numbers are up (perhaps he’s seen newer data than I have), and the decline is too short-term for now, and the audience size is still huge.
12:53 p.m. Caller asks about business programming. Will we have more programming about state of our democracy. Kling says it’s behind everything they do. References “Policy and a Pint” events, and San Francisco’s crappy newspapers. “What happens to democracy in that community?” (The diffuse Internet, Bay Area techies might reply. Is San Fran suffering a civic erosion, by the way?)
12:56 p.m. Final question: What should next leader have? Generalist, curious, creative, good manager, good leader, someone convince public a wonderful thing they’ve built. The board’s search firm has it down, and “we’ll see,” Kling says.
Eichten asks if members have input? Kling’s odd answer: “They can apply for the job.” Not the prettiest welcome mat, but after Eichten’s urging, Kling allows members can communicate with search committee, of which he’s a member.