Bill Kling retires: Live blogging

Categories: Media

Bill Kling, the only CEO Minnesota Public Radio has ever known, announced this morning he was retiring after building the largest public broadcast organization in the country. We wrote about it here, earlier.

Kling was interviewed at noon by MPR's Gary Eichten. We live-blogged the interview.

12:08 p.m. -- "Quite a shock," Eichten says. "Why?"

Because his latest five-year contract is over in 2011, and it's time to make room for others in the company to move up, Kling says. Plus, MPR's budget is healthy, and the American Public Media is strong.

Is he being forced out? "Absolutely not," Kling says.

12:15 p.m. -- Kling wants to play a leadership role nationally in looking for new and more stable fund-raising methods for public radio journalism. "We want to demonstrate the full potential," he says. And he adds that he can't do that while leading MPR at the same time.

12:20 p.m. -- Eichten asks, "Any thought, in 1966, that all of this would come to be?"

"Of course!" Kling jokes, recalling that the station was a shoestring operation. He remembers the first $5,000 check. He remembers trying to broadcast without satellite uplinks. Now he's stunned at how news consumption has changed.

"It turned out OK," he says. But elsewhere, local public radio often struggles. It needs to be stronger financially and journalisticly. The stations need stronger boards of directors and leaders.

12:25 p.m. -- Kling wants to add $5 million plus to the budgets of each of these local public radio stations. Instead of a handful, they need 100 reporters. "That's a good launching point," he says. He wants the best reporters in the country to see public radio as a sustainable model, and a desirable place to build a career.

12:30 p.m. -- A listener asks: What models do you look to?

Europe and Asia offers good models for depth, balance and engagement, Kling says.

He wants public radio to offer an antidote to broadcasters bent on making profits by inflaming the anger of listeners. Britain is filled with screaming tabloids but the BBC is a "centering institution" whose integrity is worth emulating.

12:35 p.m. -- A listener asserts that MPR pays too much attention to social media, and it's too commercial.

There is more information in underwriting announcements than before, Kling agrees. But that's not nearly the same thing as "commercial." And its necessary to sustain the budget.

Regarding social media: You have to go where the audience is, he says, and the audience uses social media, so that's where you go.

"I'm sitting here in the studio with an iPad," Kling says. "We want to be there."

12:40 p.m. -- Eichten asks about whether all this means replacing MPR's aging radio equipment with Internet technology.

"You don't move online only," Kling says. Radio transmission is cheaper and has greater reach. At the same time you have to see where WiFi and other technologies can help with that reach, and embrace the technology where it makes sense.

12:45 p.m. -- Audience financial support, from individuals and corporations, has grown. But government funding remains key, as a foundation on which to build other sources of revenue. That won't change.

12:50 p.m. -- Listener: What about an education-only radio station?

That and other opportunities exist via HD radio, podcasts and other platforms, Kling says. "Stay with us on the technology," he says. "It will serve you so much better."

12:50 p.m. -- Listener: My Republican friends hate MPR and NPR for so-called liberal slant. What can be done?

"It's an old, old out-of-date characterization," Kling says. "It's the best-informed content we can produce." Some listeners have their minds made up before they listen in. That can't be helped, he says. They only want to hear information with which they already agree.

12:55 p.m. -- City Pages gets props for support of The Current, which was launched as a way to reach younger listeners. Kling believes younger listeners migrate from The Current to the news broadcasts.

A listener asks whether MPR can cover the state of our democracy in the same way that it covers the state of our economy.

Kling says he thinks about this issue every day, citing Thomas Jefferson's decree that, "Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government."

The public "just isn't well informed, frankly, these days, and we have a bigger role to play."

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