Stewart Vanderwilt, an executive at KUT in Austin, will take over as president of Colorado Public Radio this summer.

(Courtesy KUT)

Colorado Public Radio has chosen its next president -- the first leadership change in 40 years. Stewart Vanderwilt will lead CPR News, Classical, and Open Air, taking over from Max Wycisk, who retires at the end of June. Vanderwilt is currently the general manager of KUT and KUTX, two public radio stations in Austin, Texas. 

Vanderwilt 0n the future for CPR when it comes to local news:

"The strength of public media really is its local ownership and commitment, and public media takes a long view on the delivery of its mission, and so I feel CPR is well-positioned to be a long-term partner with the community in providing important news and journalism, not only for Denver but across the state.  We had a researcher who appeared on our show here – Texas Standard – the other day, who noted a correlation between effective disease research and the presence of local media in communities across Africa, and I think there’s a point there to be made that – and the point that I heard about The Denver Post: the local media provides more than civic and cultural engagement, but it really is, in many cases, a bellwether of the health of the community, and so I think CPR will definitely continue to do what it’s doing, but I think there’s even more urgency to expand its role."

How much CPR’s future relies on terrestrial radio, as well as the internet:

"I love radio and radio, in many ways, I would say, is the most democratic of medium platforms because it’s universally available, it’s easy to access, it’s inexpensive to operate, it’s ultimately private.  What you’re listening to on the radio today isn’t being tracked and you’re then fed something that’s similar to what you’re listening to today.  So I think terrestrial radio has a long future, but not to the exclusion, obviously, of other platforms and so public media that is both on a broadcast, free, over-the-air, universally accessible platform and connecting with people on the – all of the platforms in which they choose to consume media is an important combination."

Read The Transcript:

Ryan Warner:  This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.  I’m Ryan Warner.  There are major shifts happening in the news business in Colorado.  The state’s largest paper, The Denver Post, is begging for its life.  In a series of editorials over the weekend, the newspaper took its hedge fund owner to task for cuts that are turning the newsroom into a shell of its former self.  Quote: “If Alden Global Capital isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell the Post to owners who will.”  Newspaper watcher Ken Doctor, author of the book Newsonomics, says 
these types of op-eds are unprecedented.

Ken Doctor: I don’t think we’ve seen anything quite like this.  The protests have been mainly coming from organized labor, the guild.  We have seen, in fact, less and less reporting of cuts at newspapers by the newspapers themselves.  So this really stands out as a major “direct to the reader” proclamation of the state of emergency at The Denver Post.

RW: Post editorial writers argued the paper, “plays a critically important role in its city and state.”  Not long ago, it had 300 people in its newsroom to do that.  The latest round of cuts brings that down to around seventy.  Doctor says, “The Post’s plea is a combination of bravery and desperation.”

KD: The editors rightly saw that – as they said, “The Denver Post as an institution is rotting and that at the rate it was going, it could well turn out the lights by 2021 or 2022.”  So this wasn’t about thirty more jobs in the newsroom or the more than hundreds of jobs that have been lost; it’s about what the community is no longer getting and how the Post is not able to serve the community needs.

RW: That is Ken Doctor, news industry analyst with the Nieman Journalism Lab.  We’ll continue to cover this standoff between the Post and its owners, and what it means for Colorado.  There’s another significant development on the local journalism scene.  On Friday, Colorado Public Radio announced that it has chosen its next president, the first leadership change here in forty years.  Stewart Vanderwilt will lead CPR News, Classical and OpenAir. He is currently general manager and director of two public radio stations in Austin, Texas. Vanderwilt will succeed Max Wycisk, who retires at the end of June, and Vanderwilt joins us from Austin.  Welcome to the program, Stewart.

Stewart Vanderwilt: Well good morning, Ryan.  It’s a pleasure to meet you on the radio. Looking for to connecting in person soon.

RW: I look forward to that as well.  How does what’s happening with the Post and I suppose other newspapers affect what role you see for CPR when it comes to local news? 

SV: The strength of public media really is its local ownership and commitment, and public media takes a long view on the delivery of its mission, and so I feel CPR is well-positioned to be a long-term partner with the community in providing important news and journalism, not only for Denver but across the state.  We had a researcher who appeared on our show here – Texas Standard – the other day, who noted a correlation between effective disease research and the presence of local media in communities across Africa, and I think there’s a point there to be made that – and the point that I heard about The Denver Post: the local media provides more than civic and cultural engagement, but it really is, in many cases, a bellwether of the health of the community, and so I think CPR will definitely continue to do what it’s doing, but I think there’s even more urgency to expand its role. 

RW: How much does CPR’s future rely on terrestrial radio?

SV: I love radio and radio, in many ways, I would say, is the most democratic of medium platforms because it’s universally available, it’s easy to access, it’s inexpensive to operate, it’s ultimately private.  What you’re listening to on the radio today isn’t being tracked and you’re then fed something that’s similar to what you’re listening to today.  So I think terrestrial radio has a long future, but not to the exclusion, obviously, of other platforms and so public media that is both on a broadcast, free, over-the-air, universally accessible platform and connecting with people on the – all of the platforms in which they choose to consume media is an important combination.

RW: You are coming to Colorado from KUT and KUTX.  So that’s an NPR news station and a music service, respectively.  You were there when KUT started its news department, I think, in 2002 and for the launch of that all-music station, which is not unlike CPR’s OpenAir, and it strikes me that Austin and Denver have a lot in common.  I mean growth, gentrification, affordable housing issues.  Like Colorado, Texas is a state of real political contrasts.  I wonder if you saw those similarities and might even enjoy those similarities as you applied for a job in the – a place that may resemble Austin, in some ways.

SV: Well – and there’s another characteristic, and all of those are absolutely true, Ryan, but there’s sort of this unique combination of – I would call it a laid back, “go for it” attitude that people are very accessible, your neighbor will reach out to give you a hand.  They don’t take themselves that seriously, but we take our work serious. And I feel – I feel at home here, and I’m sure I will absolutely feel at home in Denver. But being a state capitol where the decisions that are made there have impact not only for the city and the community, but across the state, and that the policies that get enacted in a state like Colorado have impact even beyond its borders, and you see that in so many – in so many areas. And so those similarities, I think, will make this a good transition, but there’s also so much that I don't know, that I’ll be counting on you and your colleagues and the listeners and the community to help inform me of. 

RW: If you’re just joining us, my guest is the next president of Colorado Public Radio.  He’s Stewart Vanderwilt, speaking with us from the station that he leads now in Austin, Texas. What are CPR’s shortcomings?  What should, perhaps, this news operations, this operation in general – with Classical and OpenAir in mind – be doing better?

SV: Oh, I couldn’t speak to shortcomings.  As a matter of fact, CPR is a jewel in the public radio system.  It is so well-regarded and respected.

RW:  I know – I know, Stewart, that you are my future boss here, but I’m going to push back against that and say if you see room – perhaps not for improvement but change or change of direction, where might you see it?

SV:  Well the way I’d speak to that is to maybe – to talk about my approach and I bring joy to my work because I love what I do, I love to be connected with the people who are delivering the public service to our community, I love being connected with the community of supporters and listeners, and to create what I – I guess what I’d call a positive urgency about doing more, being more impactful in the community and across the state, and so I say that not to suggest that there’s any shortcoming, but to maybe set an expectation of how we’ll be working together.

RW: And it sounds like you want to be listening to the community, perhaps to help answer that question, “What direction the institution might take?”  

SV: Absolutely.

RW:  I want to put in that Colorado Public Radio receives just a small portion of its budget from the federal government, about 5% and CPR has long remained neutral when it comes to federal funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  We just don’t take a position or align ourselves with groups like Protect My Public Media.  I’ll note that you’ve taken a different approach at KUT, lobbying Congress to continue CPB funding.  Would you hope to make CPR an advocate on that issue?

SV:  I’d have to learn more about the position there, but I will speak for Texas and in Texas, federal funding is essential to maintaining a free and universal service across the state.  There’s an awesome station in Marfa, Texas where 40% of the funding for that station, which is a sole service for a large portion of Texas – and if that funding wasn’t there, that station couldn’t operate, and there’s a cascading effect that happens across the state and across the country without the ongoing federal investment, which has recently been reaffirmed through the omnibus budget.  So there’s great support for public broadcasting funding across the country and across the political spectrum.  So in Texas, we’re committed to demonstrating its value with these communities.

RW:  And as you point out, that percentage of CPB funding differs from station to station, so the reliance on it also differs.  Very briefly before we go, CPR’s next president, what are you listening to these days?  Maybe it’s a podcast, maybe it’s a band you just can’t get enough of.

SV: OK.  So I’m not pandering, but I loved The Taxman.  I binge listened to that podcast in a – actually, in an eight-hour drive from here to Marfa, Texas a few weeks ago.  Awesome, awesome reporting; great storytelling, the production.  I really, really enjoyed that.  Other podcasts: I would encourage people to check out Two Guys on Your Head or This Song.  Of course, those come from KUT and KUTX.  The Science of Happiness from PRI, which is a real antidote to their other podcast called Things That Go Boom.  Those are on my playlist.  Musically, anything by Spoon will always hit my playlist.  Jade Bird; Lukas Nelson is really making a name for himself and I would encourage people to check out Lukas Nelson & the Promise of the Real, and I can’t not say Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats.

RW: Right here in Colorado.

SV: Who – yeah, who just headlined a show for us a couple of weeks ago.  What a great band and a terrific soul.  Just – talk about someone who brings joy to what they do.  You’ll find that with that terrific group.

RW: Thanks so much for being with us.  He’s Stewart Vanderwilt; just been named CPR’s next president.  He talked about The Taxman there; that’s the podcast related to TABOR and the man who dreamed it up and helped make it possible. And I’ll say that Vanderwilt takes over as CPR’s next president when Max Wycisk retires after forty years here.  This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.