After an eight-month search, Kansas City Public Television has hired Kliff Kuehl as its new president and CEO.
Kuehl, 47, runs KNPB, the public television broadcaster serving Reno, northern Nevada and northeastern California. Before that he was president of the public broadcaster in his home town of Waco, Texas.
“It’s a little bit bigger playing field, but it’s the same job,” said Kuehl, who moves from a station with an annual $3 million budget and service area of 800,000 people to one with a budget and service area two and a half times larger.
“All stations right now are facing flat or declining revenues, flat or declining viewership, like we’ve been having here,” said Kuehl. “I don’t see where it’s very different. The key, to me, is you’ve gotta be in the community, you’ve gotta be collaborating, you’ve gotta be a service that best serves the community.”
Kuehl commended interim CEO Susan Stanton and the KCPT board for making tough economic calls in the months following the abrupt departure of previous president/CEO Victor Hogstrom.
In recent months KCPT shed a number of full-time employees and ended its long-running auction which had, at best, eked out a small profit in recent years.
“You hate to do it, but I know they’ve been working hard to keep their budget balanced,” he said.
In announcing their choice of Kuehl, KCPT board chairperson Tracy McFerrin Foster noted that “his ability to combine creativity and solid business practices is very exciting to us.”
Kuehl pledged to continue Hogstrom’s pay-as-you-go policy of financing programs.
Generationally, Kuehl is a break from the station’s previous three presidents, all of whom started in public TV when Lyndon B. Johnson, whose administration created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in 1967, was still alive.
Kuehl joined KWBU-TV in 1994 as director of production and became its general manager in 1999. Under his tenure KWBU launched a public radio station — Waco was the largest market in the country without one — before KNPB named him president in 2004.
Under his direction, KNPB has expanded into new media, including low-cost audio news reports that give his station a chance to cover smaller stories in a vast listening area, allowing him to focus his fundraising efforts on bigger projects.
“You’ve got to fish where the fish are,” Kuehl said. “So we do these audio-only pieces which we run with a video ‘bed’ on TV. We put them on iTunes. We put them on our Web site. We give them to the (public) radio station.”
This is a prime example of COPE, the gospel of “create once, play everywhere” that has gained currency among broadcasters as a way to maximize dwindling public support.
Kuehl is also excited about a new beta media player PBS is testing on the Web. It will allow local stations to insert their content and offer viewers online, on-demand access to local and national public TV programs — something commercial stations have offered for years.
Like many of his peers, Kuehl has spent the majority of his career in public television.
After graduating from the University of Texas in 1984, though, he first pursued a career in film and video. He worked on productions with musicians Jerry Jeff Walker and Lyle Lovett, then wrote, directed, and raised $250,000 to complete a movie, “Murder Rap,” with John Hawkes, who’s currently starring in the HBO comedy “Eastbound and Down.”
Kuehl lived in L.A. for a short time before moving back to Texas with his wife, former CNN reporter Sherry Claypool Kuehl.
“When I was an independent filmamker, it was about one’s ego and what you could do for yourself,” Kuehl said. “At a certain point in my career I realized I wanted to try to do more good for my community and my world, and I felt I could do that working for a public television station. It was like that old R.E.M. song, ‘Stand in the place where you live.’”
One chore Kuehl gets to repeat at KCPT is guiding the station through the digital TV transition. KNPB opted out of the recently passed DTV Delay Act, which extended the transition date to June 12, and shut down its analog signal on Feb. 17.
In addition to his wife, Kuehl will bring two children to Kansas City, 12-year-old Austin and 8-year-old Isabella.
Kuehl’s first day at KCPT will be April 6. Terms of his contract were not disclosed, but Hogstrom, his predecessor, was paid $305,000 in 2006, according to public records.
Aaron Barnhart is online at TVBarn.com.