Tampa PBS station WEDU-Ch. 3 names Ohio transplant Susan Howarth as new president/CEO
But Susan Howarth remains confident and optimistic when discussing her future as the new president and CEO of Tampa PBS station WEDU-Ch. 3. She became the fifth president in its 52-year history on Monday, appointed after a six-month search process.
Howarth, 57, succeeds outgoing CEO Richard Lobo, who is awaiting confirmation for the U.S. Senate for an appointment to lead the International Broadcasting Bureau -- the government department which runs Voice of America and the broadcast outlets aimed at Cuba, Radio and TV Marti.
And though WEDU has faced rounds of layoffs, an expensive transition to digital television and a dip in contributions as the recession ravaged Florida, Howarth stressed that the station remained in a better position than many public broadcasting outlets across the country.
"My biggest challenge is going to be getting the know the organization and getting to know all of the communities WEDU serves," said Howarth, a 35-year public broadcasting veteran who once served as president and CEO of WCET-TV, the PBS station in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has also served on the PBS board of directors and worked at public TV stations in Gainesville, Fla., Connecticut and New York.
"There's a sense at WEDU that the tide has turned and things are looking up," said Howarth, who left WCET in 2008 when Cincinnati's public television station merged with stations in Dayton, Ohio. "I want to listen to people, find out what they want from WEDU...and somehow craft a plan that can expand and enhance those services."
Even before his appointment by the Obama administration, Lobo had announced his plans to leave WEDU after nearly eight years as CEO. Now age 73, the Ybor City native had come out of retirement to take the reins at WEDU, having spent the first 40 years of his work life at commercial network TV affiliates; when he took over as president in June 2002, the station had implemented $2 million in budget cuts and laid off one-third its staff.
Since then, Lobo notched some important achievements -- helping WEDU find new funding sources, create new local shows and completing a $15 million conversion to digital broadcasting. But the station also faced more substantial cuts, shaving $500,000 from its budget in 2008, freezing salaries, instituting some pay cuts and laying off staff.
"I think the station is in pretty good shape...we see our donor coming back and our revenue streams growing again," Lobo said. "We're projecting this fiscal year, we'll hit all our budget goals."
WEDU's search committee received about 100 applications when they first advertised the opening, convincing them to hire an executive search firm to complete the process, Lobo said. Eventually, about 150 applications came in before the committee winnowed down the choices, he said.
There is not firm date set for Howarth's start; she expects to be fully in place sometime after Memorial Day, Lobo expects to spend the next two weeks helping her transition into the job. Howarth also said there has not been a finalized agreement on her salary.