A retired physician friend said the other day, “Maine public broadcasting provides all the news and entertainment I need.”
That’s hard to take for someone like me who is really print oriented.
But his observation is pretty much on track for a lot of Maine folks.
The success and overall superiority of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network are recognized throughout the country as outstanding public television and radio stations.
These accolades are primarily due to two dedicated presidents: Rob Gardiner and Jim Dowe. Gardiner retired in 2003 and Dowe will be retiring at the end of this year.
Gardiner and Ed Winchester had the good judgement to combine WCBB (Colby, Bates and Bowdoin) and the University of Maine’s Public Broadcasting entities into a statewide network in 1992. Before that there were two Maine public broadcasting networks, with duplicate programming, duplicate fundraising, duplicate staff, duplicate management, volunteers and trustees.
Since the merger there is now one Maine Public Broadcasting Network embracing seven radio stations and five television stations. And programming is available on the Web, Facebook, Twitter and various apps.
Maine was ahead of the pack in converting to digital transmission. Voters passed a $26 million bond issue by almost a 2 to 1 ratio in 1999 to pay for the expansion. In an unprecedented move, more than $17 million was returned to the state when some federal funding became available. This significant development was largely due to Gardiner driving up and down the state explaining to every civic organization the importance of moving public broadcasting forward in Maine.
As public broadcasting expanded in Maine, so did the selection of programs from National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service. Gardiner focused on buying the best of the lot, but kept his eye on making certain that programming reflected interests and values of Maine.
Candidates for public office and public issues are aired, championship high school basketball is televised, arts groups and public speeches have found a wider forum, in-depth news is carried on both radio and television.
A retired banker who had served as a MPBN trustee for many years, Jim Dowe became president in 2005. Dowe enhanced the procedures started by Gardiner. He too focused on local programming, beefing up the news operation, expanding regional programming, setting in place consistent business practices, working toward expanding and better coverage.
Because of Maine’s mountains and valleys, MPBN has five television and seven radio transmission sites, all at hard-to-reach locations, Boston’s WGBH has three.
Dowe has thinned the personnel and expenses, promoted exceptionally able senior management officers and staff, set in writing an embracing mission and continued the astonishing record of never having a deficit. In the past few years this has been unusual in nonprofits and especially public broadcasting. Many, many stations throughout the country have gone black, failed or been sold.
Maine has been fortunate to have two great leaders in public broadcasting. We’re counting on the incoming president, Mark Vogelzang, to continue the tradition.
Helen Sloane Dudman, of Ellsworth and Islesford, is an MPBN emeritus trustee and served on the presidential search committee.