Doug Eichten, President of Greater Public, announced this week that he is retiring from the organization in July 2017. Though it is too early for final credits, it is not too early to put his leadership in public media in the spotlight.
[Disclosure: Doug and I worked together at Public Radio International in the 1990s – he was VP of Development and I was Director of News. In 1997 I had a very public whistleblowing flap with Doug and other senior officials at PRI over the use of CPB funds to promote The World. This incident does not diminish my respect for Doug but our friendship never recovered.]
FOCUS ON THE GREATER GOOD
When Doug became President of the Development Exchange (DEI) in 1997 the organization barely had a pulse. DEI had around 80 paying members and was being kept alive by CPB. Now, as Greater Public, there are over 260 member stations.
Back then DEI had an annual conference that was off the grid for most folks working in public radio. DEI was mainly an idea exchange for underwriting sales folks. Stations had just begun to think about their brand image and private revenue plans.
Now Greater Public is a $4,500,000 (2013 Tax Year) enterprise. Revenue comes from the services it provides to members. In 2013 membership dues brought in over $900,000 probably the highest for any public radio service organization. The Public Media Development & Marketing Conference (PMDMC) is now the most-attended noncom radio conference.
Doug has started many initiatives that have benefitted stations. In 1998, DEI launched a member resource website that offered fundraising tools and development plans that worked for all kinds of stations. DEI worked with PRADO – Public Radio Association of Development Officer – to create the PRADOlistserve. It is still going strong today.
I liked Doug’s focus on major donors. He was perhaps the first to promote the idea that public radio stations are important community institutions, like a library or a theater. This notion challenged the notion that public radio was not consequential – the age-old inferiority complex so common in radio. Doug knew that to be an institution worthy of major donor support, stations had to make real their value. This improved all of public radio.
A FOR PROFIT GUY IN THE NONPROFIT WORLD
Back in the PRI days Doug and I had quite few quiet conversations, often over red wine in a hotel somewhere, about differences between the nonprofit and for profit business worlds. Doug made a comment I have always remembered:
Many public radio folks say they are noncommercial but they are actually anti-commercial. They don’t realize they are competing in a marketplace. They don't have the mindset to compete.
He was right then and is still right today. Public radio is an amazing Public/Private partnership. Doug encourages responsible business literacy. He seeks out for-profit folks who appreciate the trust public radio listeners have for their stations. Fred Jacobs, the wisest guru on the radio planet, is head of Greater Public’s board of directors.
Doug had an early start in radio. Back when he was in college he had a show on the campus station: You, Me and FCC. You’ve got to love it!