- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

The committee charged with finding candidates to manage WAMU-FM (88.5), one of the Washington area’s two National Public Radio stations, contacted Caryn G. Mathes last year and asked the veteran Detroit broadcasting executive to apply for the job.

She thought about it, but didn’t respond.

The committee contacted her a second time.

She debated it some more.

“I thought to myself, ‘Everything they need done [at WAMU], I’ve done at least twice. Maybe this would be a good fit,’” Ms. Mathes said.

Finally, she submitted her application. Five or six interviews later, she got the job.

And what a job it is.

WAMU — one of the NPR’s most prolific stations — produces “The Diane Rehm Show,” a talk show NPR distributes nationally; Kojo Nnamdi’s local talk show; and “Metro Connection,” an acclaimed weekly news magazine.

But the nonprofit station is also recovering from major financial troubles.

WAMU had $4.5 million in cash reserves at the end of the fiscal year that ended April 30, 2000. It ran big deficits for the next three years, including a $2.3 million shortfall in fiscal 2003, a station audit found.

Revenue projections that were too lofty, particularly in the area of membership contributions, were cited for the deficits.

American University, which owns WAMU, fired the station’s general manager, Susan Clampitt, three weeks before the audit was released. She is suing for wrongful termination.

Morale at WAMU slumped during the turmoil.

Ms. Mathes knew about the station’s problems, but she said that isn’t why she hesitated to respond to the search committee’s original overture.

“I wasn’t intimidated. It was more like, gosh, do I really want to make a change?” she said.

Since 1984, the Indiana State University journalism graduate had been general manager at WDET-FM (101.9), an NPR station in Detroit that she helped rescue from financial problems similar to WAMU’s.

She had settled into a comfortable groove by the time WAMU came calling.

But the more Ms. Mathes thought about it, the more she liked the idea of moving to the Washington area, the nation’s eighth-largest radio market. Detroit is ranked 10th.

She arrived at WAMU’s Tenleytown studios March 1. Since then, her calendar has been filled with meetings with university officials and station employees.

David Taylor, an American University official who ran WAMU during the search for Ms. Clampitt’s successor, is credited with balancing its budget and improving morale.

Staffers said they like Ms. Mathes and hope she will keep WAMU on track. “Professional” and “knowledgeable” were routinely used to describe her.

Mr. Taylor called her “data driven,” saying she likes to base her decisions on facts.

Mr. Nnamdi said he was impressed when Ms. Mathes spent a day with his staff to learn how his show is produced. “No general manager has ever done that,” he said.

Ms. Mathes is cool and articulate in an interview, laying out her to-do list methodically.

She wants to introduce a database that will let her to know which WAMU programs — newscasts, talk shows, music shows — generate the most donations during pledge drives.

She wants to figure out how WAMU can take advantage of high-definition radio technology that will allow it to transmit a digital signal.

Ms. Mathes, who described herself as a lover of all music, said the possibilities for this “secondary channel” are endless. It could carry bluegrass music, once a WAMU staple, or “adult album alternative,” a rock format geared more toward adults than teenagers.

A bit further down Ms. Mathes’ list: Moving WAMU or seeking more office space to relieve crowding at its home near American University’s main campus.

All the goals fit into a strategic plan, something the station needs, she said.

“You need a plan so that at any moment you can take a snapshot and there will be no ugly surprises,” she said.

CARYN G. MATHES

Age: 50

Born: Terre Haute, Ind.

Education: B.S., professional journalism, Indiana State University

Career: General manager, WAMU-FM (88.5), since March 1. Also: General manager, WDET-FM (101.9), 1984 to 2005; news director, WDET, 1982 to 1984; reporter and anchor, WJR-AM (760) in Detroit, 1980 to 1982; reporter and anchor, WCKY-AM (1530) in Cincinnati, 1978 to 1980; anchor, WTHI-TV (Channel 10) in Terre Haute, Ind., 1974 to 1978

Awards: Outstanding Women in Top Radio Management, American Women in Radio and Television, Detroit chapter, 1989

Personal: Married to Greg Lane, a satellite official at CNN in Atlanta, since December 2004.

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