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Tom Karlo Looks Ahead To Future of KPBS, Other Local Media

 December 17, 2020 at 10:37 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Our general manager, Tom Carlo is in his last week here at KPBS. After 47 years, he is retiring Carlo who started working at KPBS after graduating from San Diego state university in the seventies, began his career working in production and eventually moved into the role of general manager. Since then he has grown this station into a multimedia platform where news and programming serve the community on television online and on the radio. And Tom Carlo is joining us now to talk about the future of KPBS as he transitions to the next chapter in his life. Tom, welcome and congratulations to you. Speaker 2: 00:39 Well, thank you very much, Jade. It's great to be here. Speaker 1: 00:42 You've done so much and seen so much changes and you're nearly 50 years at KPBS. What's the main difference you see when you compare KPBS today with the KPBS of say 25 years ago? Speaker 2: 00:56 Well, um, you had to say 50 years, it makes me seem so old, but you know, when I started many, many years ago, we were a very small organization. We had about 20 full-time staff and another 20 students who were attending San Diego state university. And we were a simple little educational television station or radio station, um, was an eclectic mix of different formats. We had, uh, we had, um, classical music, Spanish language programming, jazz programming, folk, music, community producers. We weren't really reaching very many people at that time. And we've grown into, as you said, in the intro, a multimedia organization that focuses on multi-platform distribution, finding our niche in terms of local serious journalism on all platforms. Speaker 1: 01:46 No. What was your main goal? When you became general manager of KPBS? Speaker 2: 01:51 I needed a vision for the future because we were struggling and not only did we have tough times with the economy in the early two thousands, we were also seeing traditional media of television radio and print media, um, beginning to lose significant audience to something called the internet and digital, uh, digital was taking audiences away and we went through a situation nationwide where journalism and media jobs and TV, radio, and print media were going away and KPBS was suffering. So I think the vision for me was to capitalize on our strength as a local organization and our strength at that time was our local radio news that complimented NPR news. And I felt there was a decline in serious local journalism throughout the San Diego media market. And I took our, our strength of our radio local news and said, you know what, I'm gonna put it on all platforms. We needed to converge our TV and our radio and our digital divisions internally at KPBS into one content producing division. Then at that time we had 15 people in our newsroom. Now there are 50 people just in KPBS is newsroom. Speaker 1: 03:15 No, I'm sure you didn't expect your last year here to be impacted by a pandemic. Uh, what's been the impact or the effect of the pandemic on KPBS, his audience and revenue. Speaker 2: 03:26 We saw our audience grow. We saw our TV audience shoot up. We saw our digital audience shoot up. Um, our radio audience in the beginning fell a little bit. It fell about 25%, but that's expected because radio tends to be a medium. You consume when you're in your car. And, but our streaming went up and radio has come back from a revenue standpoint, even though the audience surge to all time record highs for KPBS, because businesses had to shut down. We saw a significant drop in our revenue on our corporate society side, almost 8% of our operating budget. So in may and June, we had to go through some very challenging times of reducing our budget, reducing our expenses, and really cutting back on some staff. At the same time, we couldn't cut back on our content because there was so much in the news cycle that was happening. Uh, the new cycle did not stop and people expected KPBS to be there. Um, but I think the future is bright for KPBS. Speaker 1: 04:35 You know, the, the outlook for media seems to be constantly changing. What about local commercial, television and radio? Do you think they'll remain a viable option in the future? Speaker 2: 04:45 I think local television and local radio will never go away. Young peoples and I, I have grandkids, you know, my grandkids, they're not going to listen to a live radio or watch, you know, television. Uh, they're not going to tune into the PBS NewsHour at seven o'clock, but they're going to consume it on their digital platforms. And I think this is hurting local television and local radio. We have to be in the digital arena. And I think local television is, is in, especially on the commercial side is, is going to go through a huge shift and change over these next decade. But I think the major networks of NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox may consider not having a relationship with a local television affiliate anymore. You don't need them to get to the consumer. Speaker 1: 05:42 Yeah. Tell us about Nancy Worley, the new KPBS, interim general manager. What's her background? Speaker 2: 05:48 Well, you know, Nancy has been with KPBS almost 18 years now. Um, she is a graduate of San Diego state in communication, but she went off and was producing television news in Las Vegas and in Reno. And then she spent three years working for United States, Senator Harry Reid from Nevada in Washington, DC in the press room there. And she did that for three years. And then we brought her in, uh, I believe in 2003 and, uh, working in communications and, and, and she just started rising up in the organization and five and a half years ago. Um, I promoted her up to the associate general manager position and she oversees TV and radio programming. Uh, the news division. I'm very excited that Nancy's going to be starting as the first woman, general manager in January of 2021. Speaker 1: 06:46 And so tell him finally, uh, how do you plan on spending your retirement? Speaker 2: 06:50 You know, I'm going to spend a little more time at home and spend a little more time with my kids and my grandkids and just enjoy being a KPBS supporter and member my wife and I will continue to be producers club members. Um, I'm really planning on becoming more of a listener and a viewer and a digital consumer of KPBS content. I really can't wait to see KPBS really flourish over these next few years. Speaker 1: 07:20 I've been speaking with KPBS general manager, Tom Carlo, Tom. Thank you. And congratulations again. Speaker 3: 07:33 [inaudible].

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Even before the pandemic, the traditional media universe was undergoing major upheaval caused mainly by the arrival of a raft of upstart diverse digital platforms. Retiring KPBS General Manager Tom Karlo surveys this scene and offers some predictions.
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