President and Chief Executive Officer of Public Broadcasting Service
Born December 20, 1957, in Woodstock, MD; married Joe. Education: University of Maryland, B.S., 1979.
Addresses: Office —Public Broadcasting Service, 2100 Crystal Drive, Arlington, VA 22202.
Program development officer, U.S. Committee for UNICEF, 1979–84; director of development, International House, 1984–89; director of principal gifts, Metropolitan Opera Association, 1989–93; WNET-TV, vice president/director of development, 1993–2000, vice president/station manager, 2000–04, executive vice president and chief operating officer, 2004–06; president and chief executive officer, Public Broadcasting Service, 2006–.
Paula A. Kerger became president and chief executive of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 2006, and took the helm of the beleaguered network of local member stations with a clear vision for its future possibilities. The home of Sesame Street and Live from Lincoln Center for several generations of viewers, PBS strives to deliver arts and public-affairs programming to local viewers in an atmosphere of continually reduced budgets and increased competition from cable television and the Internet. Kerger asserted at a National Press Club event two months into her new job that local PBS affiliates "in many communities … are the last locally owned-and-operated media operation in this country. They are the only media that live in their communities that exist not to profit from their neighbors but to serve them."
Kerger was born in 1957, and grew up in the Baltimore, Maryland, area. Her grandfather had been one of the founding figures behind Baltimore's public radio station, and as she told the 2006 National Press Club gathering, she recalled "sitting close to my grandfather at night, listening to radio programs transmitted from far away. To a little girl, it felt like magic." She went on to note in the same speech that she was an avid fan of 1970s–era public-television fare such as Upstairs, Downstairs and I, Claudius as a teenager and college student, "so I've always had a deep appreciation for public media and the valuable role it plays in our culture."
After high school, Kerger enrolled in the University of Maryland, with an idea to enter medical school once she finished, but she switched out of the premed program to the liberal arts curriculum, and earned a degree in business administration in 1979. Her first job was with the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, at its Washington, D.C. office, as a program development officer. Three years later, she moved on to UNICEF headquarters in New York City, where she continued her work as a fundraiser and liaison to government lobby organizations. In 1984, she was hired as the director of development for International House, a nonprofit foundation that sought to improve understanding between cultures around the globe. She managed a major capital campaign that netted the organization $30 million by the end of her five-year tenure with it. After that, Kerger was recruited by the Metropolitan Opera Association, the fund-raising arm of one of Manhattan's premier cultural institutions, and again left it with an impressive boost to its endowment coffers.
Kerger joined WNET-TV in 1993, which is one of the 354 non-commercial member stations that make up the Public Broadcasting Service. As the New York City area's main public-television outlet, WNET was a flagship station in the PBS family, and provided an array of programming carried by other member stations across the United States, including Nature and American Masters . Kerger spent her first seven years at WNET as vice president and director of development; in 2000 she was named station manager, and four years later became executive vice president and chief operating officer for WNET and its sister station, WLIW. Her combination of fund-raising and broadcast management skills made her a natural choice when the PBS board was seeking a new president and chief executive officer in early 2006.
Kerger started her new job at PBS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, in March of that year. The broadcaster dates back to 1969, and relies on Congressional funding and viewer support for its operating budget, and from corporate underwriting for its programming costs. One of Kerger's first key decisions was to hire a digital programming expert, John Boland, in the newly created position of chief content officer at PBS. His mission was to prepare flagship PBS stations for a new era in which increased digital bandwidth would allow stations to offer additional subchannels to viewers. One example of this was WGBH-TV's "Create," which focused on personal-interest hobbies for Boston-area PBS viewers and was set to go national later in 2006. Such added fare would boost public television's core mission, which Kerger often mentioned in interviews and speeches. "When you think about the way public broadcasting touches lives, it really is extraordinary," she told Mike McDaniel in the Houston Chronicle . "I've talked to cab drivers who say they've learned English by watching Sesame Street . And we all have stories about people who have watched PBS programs and had their hearts opened up to the arts or history or science."
Kerger also took a firm stance on recent issues with the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the airwaves and had started to issue harsher fines against stations that violated its restrictions on profanity during certain hours of the broadcasting day. She was adamant that more concisely defined rules over content from the FCC were needed. "This is not just about Janet Jackson … this is about filmmakers [who] have powerful stories that now are not being allowed to tell those stories on public television or on broadcast television," Star-Ledger writer Lisa De Moraes quoted her as saying. Kerger noted that one California public-television station had been fined for airing a documentary on blues musicians by filmmaker Martin Scorsese that contained an unacceptable term, and in the stricter climate the very future of some local stations was at risk. "When you have stations whose operating budgets in some cases are only a couple million dollars, even, frankly, the old fines … were daunting. The fines now would put stations out of business," she said, according to De Moraes.
Committed and enthusiastic about her new job, Kerger liked to remind interviewers that public-opinion polls revealed that most Americans believed public broadcasting was the second-worthiest investment of tax dollars, after defense spending. "Those of us who work in this business do so because it is good," she told her National Press Club audience in 2006. "It is necessary. And our country is better for it…. We may no longer be public television—at least not in the conventional sense. Now it may be better for us to think of ourselves as public media. But whatever we call ourselves, the public will continue to come first in our name, and in all that we do."
Akron Beacon-Journal , January 26, 2006.
Broadcasting & Cable , July 19, 2004, p. 36.
Daily Variety , January 24, 2006, p. 1; May 24, 2006, p. 3.
Detroit Free Press , August 9, 2006.
Houston Chronicle , January 31, 2006, p. 6.
New York Times , November 27, 1997; January 24, 2006.
San Jose Mercury News , July 31, 2006.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), July 28, 2006, p. 59.
"Remarks to National Press Club," PBS.org, http://www.pbs.org/aboutpbs/news/20060523.tif_ceopressclubspeech.html (September 8, 2006).