Hall of Fame: 2022 Inductee
During a 47-year long career at KPBS, Tom Karlo worked as cameraman, director, manager of business and finance, and most recently as general manager. Now retired, his contributions continue to shape KPBS content, culture and visibility of the station.
September of 1973. Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes; Helen Reddy’s “Delta Dawn” topped the billboard charts; Henry Kissinger became Secretary of State; and in San Diego, a young, bright-eyed SDSU student picked up a film camera and began a lifetime career in public media.
From these modest beginnings, Tom Karlo grew through the ranks at KPBS, first as a cameraman, then as director, producer, scheduler, finance manager and finally KPBS’ 5th general manager, He attributes his career path to the late Gloria Penner, who encouraged him to leave production and go into management.
“I went on the payroll as a student assistant at $1.89 an hour. Then I did anything I could,” says Karlo with a prideful grin. “I actually created my first management job. I convinced the general manager at the time that this was a job the organization needed and it was as a production coordinator.”
By 2008, Tom was already in senior leadership at KPBS and the media landscape was undergoing unprecedented change. Audiences were responding to technological advances, adopting and using video streaming platforms, listening to podcasts and engaging on social media. KPBS needed to adapt. A new vision for the station emerged where TV, radio and digital departments converged into one content producing division and the primary focus was on local news delivered across all the platforms.
“We were seeing audiences leave traditional radio and television. I knew we had to change. I knew we had to start doing things differently if we were going to be successful.”Tom Karlo, KPBS General Manager Emeritus
When he was appointed general manager in 2009, the station was well on its way to converging the content teams. Investments in the newsroom grew from less than 10 journalists to now a team of 45 reporters, videographers, editors, producers and hosts.
But Tom also saw his role as general manager as an active figure in the community -- a public personification of the station’s value. He became “Mr. KPBS,” articulating its mission and vision to community partners, campus leaders, local philanthropists and public media professionals across the U.S.
“Tom was - and is - a fantastic fundraiser and friend-raiser for the organization,” says KPBS General Manager Deanna Mackey. “To this day in the public media industry he is a legend for what he did as a general manager and for getting the community to rally behind him.”
“I’ve seen Tom lead KPBS into a new era,” says Darlene Marcos Shiley, longtime KPBS supporter and local philanthropist. “He has done a tremendous job, steering the ship and leading KPBS towards excellence. He articulates the value KPBS has and makes it easy for others to share in that success.”
During his 12 years as general manager, philanthropy grew to new heights, the news and production teams converged and KPBS became among the highest-rated public television and radio stations within public media. Now retired, his contributions continue to shape KPBS content, culture and visibility of the station.
“When I came to work everyday, I was committed to make KPBS better, and to make it more valued to the community,” reflects Karlo. “I believe all the things I have been doing have really positioned KPBS to be the best.”
Tom Karlo will be recognized as the 2022 KPBS Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement honoree at a special event on October 15, 2022. Previous KPBS Hall of Fame honorees include such local philanthropists as Joan and Irwin Jacobs, Conrad Prebys, Audrey Geisel, KPBS founder Ken Jones, journalist Gloria Penner and “About San Diego” host Ken Kramer.