Striving to be the trusted media partner and the best public broadcaster

I recently spoke to the Rochester Rotary Club about what’s happening “behind the scenes” at WXXI – and what the future holds.  I thought you might be interested in some of the highlights: 

One of the most frequent questions I get, whether at the station or just shopping at the grocery store, is “how are you doing?” Given the recession, the soft economy, the state financial crisis, and all the competition, I understand that people are concerned.

We face a lot of challenges – every not-for-profit in the community, whether WXXI, the RPO or a library or museum, knows what we’re up against. But despite the challenges, WXXI is doing pretty darn well. We have more services than ever, especially online; we’re producing more programs, not just for Rochester, but for the entire state and nation; we have more listeners than ever to our radio stations, and we’re collaborating with colleges and universities to strengthen public radio throughout Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes region. 

Despite all the competition on television, WXXI’s children’s line-up is among the most viewed of all the kids’ shows available, and it’s still noncommercial, with an educational lesson in every show. In spite of all the channels you can get, especially with satellite or digital cable, WXXI occupies a unique position – we’re locally owned and operated, we have a mission of public service, and we are committed to this community.

This is our new Vision Statement: WXXI will be the trusted media partner and best public broadcaster in the nation in the ways it strengthens its community.

This doesn’t take anything away from the great programming you might find on Discovery or the History Channel, although PBS still enjoys, for the most part, better prime-time ratings than any of the cable-only channels. Our colleagues at the commercial television and radio stations in town are also committed to the community and do a fine job, especially in local news coverage.  But WXXI is different – we have one foot in the not-for-profit world and another in the media world.

So how do we work to fulfill that Vision Statement, especially the part about being the best public broadcaster in the nation in the ways it strengthens its community.

We’re proud of the many programs we produce, especially our partnerships that make it possible.  Perhaps you were among the more than 800 people at the Eastman Theatre on Tuesday, April 13th for the premiere of Restoring a Masterpiece: The Renovation of the Eastman Theatre. This program was a collaboration with the Eastman School of Music, and it wouldn’t have been successful if we didn’t have the cooperation of the RPO, the Rochester Regional Community Design Center, the George Eastman House, and so many others. 

Our programs from the Rochester International Jazz Festival, which include overview programs featuring downtown Rochester, have been seen by millions of people throughout the country, helping to promote Rochester as a center for Arts and Culture. 

We’re planning season seven of Second Opinion, a national health series that we co-produce with the University of Rochester Medical Center. This series is broadcast on hundreds of public television stations throughout the country, with each episode viewed by about three million people, when you include rebroadcasts. 

Homework Hotline, produced live four nights a week at WXXI, is sent by fiber optic cable to every public television station in the state. With cable carriage into Canada, we sometimes get homework help calls from as far away as Montreal.

You’ll want to tune in to the second season of New York Wine and Table, a series that we produce and which just premiered on WXXI-TV.  This co-production, with the New York Wine & Grape Foundation, showcases our many wine regions and the best of New York agriculture. 

When you turn on Classical 91.5 FM, you are more likely to hear a local host, someone familiar with the local music scene, than on most classical stations in the country.  Even if you’re hearing classical music on another station, it might be coming from a syndicated service, such as the one we use overnight, when there aren’t many listeners.

We also send the best of Rochester out to the nation on radio.  Michael Lasser hosts Fascinatin’ Rhythm and our other national radio series, With Heart and Voice, will continue with Peter Dubois as host. 

We broadcast RPO concerts on Classical 91.5, as well as a live performance series from Hochstein, featuring the best local musicians.  And what you don’t see on television or hear on the radio also makes an impact on our community – we hold open houses at our studios that attracts thousands of people downtown – most of them families with children who come to meet the characters they know from TV and to play educational games in our studios.

We provide online teaching resources, free of charge, to schools throughout the region.

We do features about events, cultural attractions and local issues, and we present them nationally in reports on NPR and PBS.

So the next time we have an on-air fundraiser, I hope you won’t flip over to the Toronto classical music station – who cares what the traffic is like on the 405 anyway? And you’ll understand a little more about how your support really does come back to the community, and not be so mad that your favorite show was interrupted!