Monday, January 23, 2006

The Public Broadcasting Service board of directors yesterday named Paula A. Kerger its next president and chief executive officer.

Ms. Kerger, executive vice president and chief operating officer at New York’s Educational Broadcasting Corp., will become the sixth chief executive in PBS’s 37-year history March 13.

“Sometimes you just know when something seems to click and during the last interview [on Jan. 5] in particular, it just felt right,” Ms. Kerger said yesterday. “I feel like the right person for public broadcasting at this point in time.”

PBS comprises 348 member stations that reach more than 99 percent of U.S. television households, according to the Alexandria nonprofit. An 11-member search committee voted unanimously to recommend Ms. Kerger to the full PBS board, which agreed Sunday.

Ms. Kerger said her top three priorities as PBS president will be generating revenue; working with local stations to plan the next few years of programming against a growing number of competitors; and collaborating with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio and other groups to “tell the story of public television.”

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting is a private nonprofit that directs federal funding to PBS and NPR. Federal support makes up about 15 percent of PBS’s budget, and Ms. Kerger said she plans to raise money by getting support from lawmakers as well as companies and individuals.

Public broadcasting critics contend that cable stations offer similar educational offerings so taxpayers should not have to pay for PBS programs. But for consumers without cable or satellite subscriptions, public broadcasting remains their sole source for the educational offerings.

Ms. Kerger joined the Educational Broadcasting Corp. in 1993 and currently manages the overall operations of the company that licenses Thirteen/WNET and WLIW New York.

Robert Thompson, director of the Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, said Ms. Kerger’s experiences as the leader of a local station and as a fundraiser should serve her well as PBS president in an age of unprecedented competition for viewers and dollars.

Ms. Kerger will succeed Pat Mitchell, who announced earlier this month that she was leaving PBS in March to become the next president of the Museum of Television & Radio, a nonprofit organization based in New York and Los Angeles.

During Ms. Mitchell’s six-year tenure, she helped establish the PBS Foundation, which seeks major donations and grants on a national level, separate from PBS’s $340 million budget. The foundation has been awarded $13 million in grants, and Ms. Kerger said individual philanthropy can yield bigger donations in the future.

“There are people out there who are very interested in the work we’re doing. The foundation gives me the opportunity to have those conversations,” she said.

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