Tuesday, November 1, 2016


Jarl Mohn, NPR President and CEO, is currently on a road trip across America visiting NPR stations large and small. At every stop, Mohn brings his passion and sense of purpose to folks working on the front lines of public radio. Mohn knows that healthy, motivated stations are the key to the future of public radio.

Previous NPR CEO’s sometimes didn’t share Mohn’s enthusiasm about member stations. Because of NPR’s governance system (the CEO reports to a Board made up of mainly station managers), sometimes conflicts arise between station priorities and national priorities. NPR competes with the biggest news providers. NPR also serves it’s member stations from coast-to-coast, a patchwork quilt of “family farmers.”

Mohn has been successful with station folks because his roots are at stations. In 1967 he began working the overnight shift at a station in Philadelphia while attending Temple University on a scholarship. Mohn took the air-name Lee Masters. By the 1980s he was an on-air personality at WNBC, New York, working with Howard Stern and Dan Imus. He also owned and operated hometown commercial stations.

Mohn moved into cable TV in 1986 when he was recruited by Robert Pittman to run MTV and VH1. He loved to LA manage the fledgling Movietime cable channel, which he turned into E! Entertainment Television. In the early 2000s he cashed in his business holdings with enough dough to retire. But he didn’t.

His philanthropic work eventually led him to become President and CEO of NPR in 2004. When he got the gig, he told a member of the NPR Board:

“I feel like I was born to do this.”

Mohn has never lost his intuitive feel for healthy stations and the role they play in American life. He is NPR’s number one champion of partnership between local stations and NPR. Now Mohn is on the road spreading the love.


We have been following the press coverage of Jarl Mohn’s visits to stations. Here are highlights in his own words.


Asked about the purpose of his current cross-country trip:

I'm taking three weeks to travel across the country. I've never driven across the country coast-to-coast and I'm using it as an opportunity to visit NPR member stations. I started in Washington, DC, I'm going to end up in Los Angeles. I'll visit 25 towns and cities and call on something like 34 of our NPR member stations.

“Like many people listening to KUAR right now, I was a supporter and a big fan and I got then I got involved. I think it's very important to communities all across the country, so my role, one of the things I wanted to do was do whatever I can to support journalism.

Asked about why millennials listen to NPR:

“I ask each of them [I meet] how they came to listen to NPR and each one of them has a very different story. [Some are] what we call backseat babies, they grew up...listening to NPR when they’re in the back of the car. Some discovered NPR through our Podcasts. Others started listening because friends recommended it.”

“So, whether it’s online,” our a broadcast, or on a smartphone, we want to reach the people that like our kind of news and storytelling every possible way.”


Asked about replacing heritage hosts like Diane Rehm and recruiting new talent:

“I think if you attempt to make everybody happy, you probably fail. We have to think about what sounds good, what sounds right, what fits with our brand and what sounds like the future. It will require giving shows longer than the six-month test runs most traditional media outlets allow.”

Asked about the importance of journalism to the future of NPR:

"I think and what I aspire to – is great journalism, great news gathering and very good story-telling. I think the more great storytelling we can do, stories that are from around the world that are really, really important but sometimes hard to make engaging and stories for people to connect with, the better job we do of storytelling."

Asked about his ultimate NPR fantasy:

"We want to have that magic and, you know, there’s the reputed driveway moments. I see thousands and thousands of cars sitting in their driveways with the engines running, people listening to NPR in their cars. They can’t stop listening. because that they can’t stop listening.  It’s a wonderful fantasy, because it is real.

Asked about NPR embracing podcasts and digital media

"Podcasting is a fast growing part of our business. So is NPR One. We need to make really compelling content, tell great stories across all platforms. I just looked at month of September. It was our highest month in audience levels for podcasts, biggest month for NPR One and it was our biggest month for NPR.org."

One of my favorite podcasts is Kelly McEvers’ Embedded. It's a remarkable podcast and it's great journalism and 75 percent of the audience, people that listen to that show, are under 35. So we think this is a really great gateway into listening to and understanding and appreciating public radio.

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