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New Name For VPT As Station Moves On With New Interim CEO

After some recent controversy at Vermont Public Television, changes to leadership have been made. Two weeks ago, the station announced that President and CEO John King was leaving the station after 27 years.

The Board of Directors announced that Charlie Smith will take over as interim President and CEO. Smith is a former president of KeyBank and served as Agency of Human Services and Agency of Administration secretary for Gov. Jim Douglas.

VPT has been dealing with some troubling headlines in the news this winter. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting launched an inquiry into whether the VPT Board of Directors violated open meeting laws, but Smith said he’s not worried about the difficult press, because the station is still a big part of life in Vermont for many people.

“It’s terribly, terribly important to the state of Vermont. It’s an asset that the majority of our citizens make use of. It’s important to me, and I have the flexibility in my schedule to take this interim president and CEO role, and I was very pleased to be asked. I don’t worry about the press controversy, I think some of it is blown out of proportion frankly. It’s a very strong board of directors with some people I’ve known for quite a while who I trust and think very highly of, and they’re seeing through the issues in the proper way", Smith said.

Smith said the incidents that lead to the investigation happened before his time, and he couldn’t speak to them.

There were staff members who spoke out in favor of King to the board, and Smith said the station has a dedicated and talented staff and will be able to move forward.

“A number of the folks have been there for many years and are deeply invested in the success of the station, irrespective of wrinkles that come up. So I have really not perceived any difficulty at this point so far, and I don’t expect any in terms of people re-galvanizing into a team and being able to work together on the strategic objectives of the station,” Smith said.

The station is also in the beginning stages of a planned name change to Vermont PBS. Smith said viewers may have seen the beginnings of a soft roll-out of the name.

Vermont PBS is also in good financial footing, according to Smith, though it’s still unclear if there will be a financial impact due to the CPB inquiry.

“At the time, VPT self-reported on the compliance issue in question. And that did lead to a holding up, shall we say, of the regular grant. But that grant has been reinstated in full. There is still the possibility, we won’t know for a month, but we’re optimistic that there won’t be a financial penalty,” Smith said. “This is a financially strong organization and it’s got a strong balance sheet. It’s got a good solid board designated investment account.  There’s a good core cash-flow to the organization. So, there are some expenses that go along with the things that have happened in the last three months, no escaping that, but the organization is financially strong and I do not have worry for that standpoint.”

Smith said the biggest strategic challenge for the station in the long-term is the public media business model.

“Our viewer support is very strong right now. I’ve been to some fundraising and development type events. They’re lots of fun and well-attended, and the donor base, in spite the wrinkles of the last recent period, the donor base by all indications is very supportive, so I’m not worried about that kind of erosion.”

Smith said the station does face a demographic challenge as the average age of their audience is in the 60-year-old range.

“We do need to develop our muscles, along the lines of how to be more effective on our digital challenge. We have some wonderful people active in our digital channel,” Smith said. “We recognize that the digital channel is a big part of the future, and a big part of reaching a younger demographic. How that transfers to a future donor base I couldn’t say, but it’s something we have to teach ourselves how to do and how to make it work,” Smith said.

Vermont PBS will search for a new CEO and president, and Smith said he will help with the search.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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