What will the departure of NPR's president mean?

Aug 20, 2013

NPR has announced that President and CEO Gary Knell, who has been in that office for less than two years, will be leaving this fall to become CEO of the National Geographic Society. WHQR covered this story yesterday. But what will it mean for stations, and for listeners?

I'm afraid my crystal ball needs to go to the shop for repairs. I have been impressed with Gary's leadership. I have heard him speak and we've exchanged emails, but I've never met him. My station manager colleagues and I have expressed surprise at the development. It seems that the real reason for the change is just as his message said, that the offer from National Geographic was simply too good to turn down.

NPR has certainly had its share of upheavals in the last couple of years -- the dismissal of Juan Williams, the departure of another new president and its chief fundraiser in short order, for example, and of course some listener and station reaction against the demise of Talk of the Nation. Stations, networks, producers and audiences are all uncertain about the future role of multimedia delivery, though radio listening overall remains strong.

But NPR is bigger than just a few people at the top. It's been through far worse than an orderly transition of leaders. It's full of people who are intelligent, creative, and passionate about their public service mission. As Gary put it, "The power of this organization rests in the collective brilliance, courage, and dedication of our staff and our station community – and in our shared commitment to making this institution better each day."

There's no question that Gary's resignation will lead to a period of some uncertainty, but there will be continuity as well. I do know a number of members of the NPR Board, who will appoint the next CEO. They are well aware that listeners, stations and ultimately the American public have much at stake in NPR -- and will see to it that its unparalleled service continues.

If you have questions or comments about this -- or any other topic -- please contact me. Thank you for your support.

--Cleve Callison, station manager