Coonrod, new president at CPB, a diplomat by career and style
Originally published in Current, Oct. 6, 1997
By Steve Behrens
There is little or no learning curve at CPB, where Robert T. Coonrod last week exchanged his No. 2 position for No. 1.
He had served five years as executive v.p. and chief operating officer under Richard Carlson, and a half year as acting president, since Carlson left in April.
A foreign service officer for 25 years, Coonrod had served as deputy director of the Voice of America under Carlson, and came to CPB soon after Carlson did.
Diane Blair, herself newly elected as chair of the CPB Board [story], expressed colleagues' common view that Coonrod has proven himself a superb listener, who uses the trait to build agreement and cooperation.
"You know Bob--he's the best," she said after announcing the news at a press conference last week.
In its search and interviews of 10 to 12 finalists, including "some very impressive individuals," the CPB Board found no one with "a greater dedication to the mission and goals of public broadcasting" or a better understanding of its challenges and opportunities, Blair said.
Coonrod said he became interested in seeking the top job as he saw "increasing cohesion" on the CPB Board, worked on the interagency digital steering committee and assessed the response of his staff.
The staff cheered and applauded Coonrod's promotion when it was announced Oct. 1, Blair said. Also endorsing Coonrod were NPR President Del Lewis and Executive Vice President Peter Jablow and APTS President David Brugger, who came to the press conference in a show of support. PBS President Ervin Duggan said through a spokesman: "Bob Coonrod is a consummate problem-solver, a consummate diplomat and most of all a consummate nice guy."
Coonrod's former boss, Carlson, also has a new job--president of King World Public Television, a new Washington-based arm of the extraordinarily successful syndication firm that sells Wheel of Fortune, Roseanne and Inside Edition.
Coonrod said an early task will be to fill vacant executive positions at CPB, including programming and public affairs vice presidents and probably some kind of No. 2 official to succeed himself.
Asked how public broadcasting is doing, Coonrod cited strong support from both the public and the Congress. "What needs to be done now is to be sure that we're in tune with what people need in the millenium," he said. As an example of what public TV can do well, he cited a recent positive review of Carlos Avilas' short series of dramas Foto-Novelas in the New York Times.
The PBS series was backed by the Independent Television Service--a small, separate grantmaking office led largely by independent producers and imposed on CPB by Congress during the days of Democratic majorities. Former President Carlson had pictured ITVS as an example of wasteful duplication, and APTS, which lobbies for public TV, officially favored the dismantling of ITVS, at least in legislative goals drawn up last year.
Coonrod said ITVS's output in recent years has been "terrific," and said he has "an open mind" about endorsing its separate status for the future, and is not planning to propose changes for ITVS. "We have to look at the best way to spend federal dollars," he said.
In the case of ITVS and other decisions, Coonrod said, he wants to learn from CPB's history but not be bound by the past in deciding what's best for the future.
Coonrod began his career in 1967, joining the U.S. Information Agency after graduating from Fordham University, and held Foreign Service posts in Italy and Yugoslavia as well as such senior positions as director of American studies in USIA's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
He managed the agency's Office of Academic Programs, which operates educational exchanges and student counseling programs in more than 100 countries, according to his CPB biography. For Central America, Coonrod led the development of the CAMPUS program that offered scholarships to U.S. colleges.
Later, as deputy director of USIA's VOA, he oversaw the worldwide radio service that broadcasts in 44 languages, as well as the Radio Marti and TV Marti broadcasts to Cuba and the Worldnet film and TV service.
CPB Board elects Blair as chairman
Originally published in Current, Oct. 6, 1997
The CPB Board of Directors elected Arkansas political scientist Diane Blair as its new chairman in September .
Blair, a professor at the University of Arkansas and a close friend of President and Mrs. Clinton, was elected on Sept. 26 after former Chairman Alan Sagner decided not to seek another one-year term. Blair had served as Sagner's vice chairman, making her the logical choice as the board's next leader. Frank Cruz, an insurance executive and former broadcaster from California, is the new vice chairman. [board profiles]
"Thank you all very much for this honor," said Blair after the election. "I promise to use it with integrity and dedication and hard work."
Blair has served as a commissioner of Arkansas ETV for more than 12 years, and in the late 1980s chaired a task force appointed by then-Gov. Clinton that examined how to use distance learning to improve the quality of education in the state. She also chaired Gov. Clinton's Education Task Force in 1973-77.
She is married to James Blair, general counsel of Tyson Foods and a close adviser to the Clintons. According to press accounts, James Blair advised Hillary Clinton on a $1,000 investment in cattle futures that grew into $100,000 in less than a year.
To Current's home page
Earlier news: Richard Carlson announces resignation from CPB presidency, January 1997.
Related article: Longtime CPB executive David Stewart says in a commentary that CPB would be a more effective institution if its board were not selected through political patronage.
Web page created Oct. 6, 1997