They say you can’t go back home, but Paul Grove has managed to do just that.
In 2006, he left WEDU-PBS in Tampa to ascend to the CEO position at WTCI-PBS in Chattanooga. Now, he’s returned to an organization people really appreciate, including a certain Tampa Bay Times staffer who appears on the station.
Grove recently spoke to the Times’ Ernest Hooper about his return, what he plans for the station and why there’s not another PBS station in the nation that could have lured him away from Chattanooga.
What's your outlook on returning to WEDU after 13 years and how excited are you about being back here in Tampa Bay?
I’m extremely excited to be back, because WEDU is an organization that people really appreciate. I used to work in commercial television for 10 years before coming to public service media, and I love the programming that we produce, and I love being part of the community itself. Working at WEDU allows both of those. I also love being back home because I’m a University of Florida graduate, a diehard Gator. But my second son is on his way to FSU. So, we now have a house divided.
What did you do in your previous role?
I was vice president of national programming and production. At one point, WEDU was really focused on national programming. We brought Yanni to the world and whether you love Yanni or not ...
Oh, my wife loves Yanni. She will thank you for that.
Great. We also presented John Tesh Live from Red Rocks. We brought the country Andre Rieu, which was one of the biggest pledge successes in PBS history. So we had a focus that was more national. I believe the best way to move forward is local programming because becoming a national producer for PBS does not connect you to your community. Whereas local programming does. One of my favorite series of all time was A Gulf Coast Journal with Jack Perkins who just recently passed away. He was a very good friend of mine. It won 17 local Emmys and 58 nominations in nine seasons. We want to continue to produce that kind of quality storytelling.
So, you left here 13 years ago to go to WTCI in Chattanooga as the CEO. What did you learn in that role?
The most important thing was building an organization with — and I don’t really usually say family when it comes to business — but we did become a family there after reorganization, after putting together the strategic plan, after moving forward with some really innovative ideas in regards to next generation media. We were able to accomplish a lot with limited resources. We produced a number of local documentaries that went national. Our focus was local storytelling, but many programs were national in scope and interest..
You mentioned next-generation media. Is that part of your focus now that you’re back at WEDU?
Absolutely. Innovation is extremely important for us. It’s clear, we are part of the ever-changing media landscape. We need to keep an eye on where the convergence of media is going to attract new viewers. Technology will deliver the storytelling, but the storytelling is not going to change. Storytelling is great writing. It’s great pictures. It’s great sound. It’s getting into a subject that is fascinating for the audience.
What are your plans for the station?
First, I’m listening to the staff because they’re a talented group of professionals. The board of directors is extraordinary. They’re dedicated. They’ve been serving for years. They care about the station. They don’t have an agenda but for public service media and being part of the community. … It’s threefold why I came back. No. 1, WEDU as an organization is extraordinary. No. 2, the staff. They are really hardworking. They care about the station. There’s a camaraderie. There’s a feeling there of, “We’re here to take care of a mission that we care about very much.” No. 3, is the board of directors. Those three things were the reasons why I returned. I told the board, “There is not one other PBS station or television station that would compel me to leave Chattanooga.” WTCI and Chattanooga was my home for 13 years. I raised my kids there and the board members and staff, they’re like brothers and sisters. So, to leave WTCI and the community with everything that it had going for it — it’s Gig City now, it’s on the cusp — it took WEDU and Tampa to do that.
As a PBS station, you’re not obligated to advertisers, but that’s a big challenge.
Even though pledge drives are on WEDU and most PBS stations across the country, we do have to find new revenue streams. WEDU has the studios and has produced shows in the past. That’s not really our future. There are other revenue streams we have to work toward.
Any other plans?
We’re going to be undergoing strategic planning to really ask those questions of not just the board and the staff internally at WEDU, but we’re going to ask some provocateurs, some real movers and shakers to come in and talk to us about what they see their PBS station doing in the future. But we’re going to be talking about local programming. We’re going to talk about identity, we’re going to be talking about everything a PBS station should be in the future for the community because this is the 11th largest market in the country, and we need to really be of that level and service to this region.
Now the WEDU offices are in Tampa, but you serve a 16-county region. Talk about how important that is to the station's mission, to make sure you're connecting with West Central Florida, not just Tampa Bay.
That’s right. A lot of our supporters and viewers are spread throughout the 16 counties. They’re in Polk, in Lakeland. They’re in Sarasota, Venice, Bradenton. They’re right here in Tampa and a great number are in Pinellas. So what we’re doing is — and this is a concept we started at WTCI as well called Greater Chattanooga ― would be something that’s “Greater Tampa,” “Greater St Petersburg,” “Greater Bradenton.” The concept is fairly simple: produce vignettes — because it’s much easier to shoot something of three to seven minutes in length versus a 30 minute or a one-hour production – and we know the attention span of our world right now is shortening. So, we want to produce these pieces on all different subjects in the community. These “short films” will be similar to Ted Talks. Whatever the piece compels it to be, that’ll be the length. We did this in Chattanooga where we actually got the city of Chattanooga to support it because they loved the idea of great stories being told and shared globally on the Internet.
Last question: What’s your favorite PBS show? I’m thinking Call the Midwife or Downton Abbey?
I’m a big sports guy, I watch a lot of sports, but on PBS, I’d be remiss in not saying Frontline. I love Sherlock. My kids, they’re teenagers, love Sherlock. It’s exceptional because the technology they use and the way they weave the storytelling together, it’s a mini film every time they produce a new episode. You’re always saying, “When is the next season?” We’re lucky to have Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead in the series cause he’s so highly desired for feature films. I’m always champing at the bit waiting for Sherlock to start.