21 Jul

Phil Meyer

published on July 21, 2015 - 7:32 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Phil Meyer, President & CEO


What we do: ValleyPBS is the Valley’s preschool, classroom, stage for the arts and lens for exploration, pointing citizens of all ages to destinations where their interests will be served, their spirits lifted and their voices and perspectives heard.

Education: B.S. in graphic design and M.B.A from The University of Cincinnati; Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Indiana University.

Age: 52

Family: Married to wife Elaine for 28 years. Children: Andrew (25) teaches music at an elementary school in Columbus, Indiana; Emily (21) is a junior at Marian University in Indianapolis, Indiana, majoring in art therapy; Christopher (23) lives with us. Christopher has autism; he is high functioning and graduated on time with his high school diploma.

Tell us a little about your career path up to your current position, Phil.
I was seven when Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood first came on the air. In high school, my friends and I were huge Monty Python fans. I’ve always been a fan of NOVA and American Experience. Then in college, I worked at WGBH in Boston, who produces Masterpiece, Frontline, Antiques Roadshow and about 30 percent of the PBS primetime schedule. That’s where I realized that public media could be the right career for me. After working at a couple of ad agencies, I was hired to oversee marketing and membership at the PBS station in Cincinnati, where I was named the PBS Communications Professional of the Year. In 2001, I was hired as Station Manager at WTIU, the PBS station licensed to Indiana University. I have won four Regional Emmy Awards and served on several PBS Advisory Groups. I have been chair of the Board of the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations, the Vice President of the Indiana Debate Commission, and President of the Bloomington Rotary Club. I was hired at ValleyPBS last fall and started on January 1st of this year.

Describe your vision for ValleyPBS moving forward, Phil.
Our Board has charged us with doing more local production. Our Valley’s Gold agricultural series is entering its third season. We just had the very successful premiere of Valley of Hope, about Armenian immigrants in the Central Valley. We’ll be premiering a four-part series in September about water, and its importance to our area. But what’s after that? We’re looking at three different potential series. The next one we produce will depend on which secures funding first — a local history series, a local veteran’s series and a local children’s series. Most people don’t realize that we have to raise 80 cents of every dollar of our operating budget from the local community.
One of the many things that attracted me to this position was our service to families and children. We have events with PBS Kids characters every month through our Family Circle program. We do workshops for parents in three different languages, showing them how to prepare their children to be ready to learn once they start school. There is a tremendous need for these programs. Our challenge is to find the funding and then build the capacity to expand on them.
We also are having some exciting discussions about updating our facility and how it fits into the revitalization of downtown Fresno.

What are your first impressions of the Central Valley, Phil?
I keep telling everyone that the Central Valley is the best-kept secret in California, if not the whole country. The people, the weather, the affordable cost of living, and the proximity to so many great things, have made it a great place to live. My wife says Fresno has all the benefits of a big city with the feel of a small town.

You’re only the third CEO in ValleyPBS history. How does that frame your mission at the station, Phil?
It makes it very clear that you are a steward of a public trust. I’ve met so many people who were involved in the launch of “Channel 18,” who are still supporters of the station. CEOs come and go, but the service we provide for all viewers from Merced to Bakersfield will remain long after I’m gone. It allows me to focus on making the institution sustainable of the long-term, rather than any short-term, temporary gains.

Since arriving at Valley PBS, what has been your proudest accomplishment, Phil?

We just found out that our Family Circle program will be recognized for a national award. It’s incredibly rewarding to see such an effort created by the hard work of our staff be supported by families and recognized on a national stage.

Tell us a little about your experience teaching marketing, promotion and telecommunication.
Teaching was a regular refresher on the basics, but also a reminder that our business is constantly changing. We’re in the process of changing from mass media and broadcasting to a world of big data, allowing marketers to customize their messaging. You’re seeing consolidation of ownership and entire distribution models based on a homogenous demographic — a concept called narrowcasting. Technology has put the consumer in complete control. But broadcast television is still where the largest group of citizens gather at the same time and in the same place.

What is the importance of public media, Phil?
We are the only form of media in this country where the viewer (or listener or web user) comes first. In commercial media, the advertiser comes first. Over time, commercial media have stopped providing shows for children, they produce very little arts programming, and their news coverage is increasingly driven by ratings and sensationalism. We produce the best and the most programming in those areas. We also believe in universal service, where our viewers have access to our content for free.

What was the best advice you ever received? My boss at the Cincinnati PBS station, the late Scott Elliott, always told me: “Don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t want to read on the front page of The New York Times or couldn’t defend in front of a Senate Committee hearing.” He also said “Don’t pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the trainload.”

If you could meet any person from history or the present, who would it be and why?
That’s a tough one; to narrow it down to one person. There are the historical figures — Lincoln, Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr. Our family got to meet Fred Rogers from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, who was one of my childhood idols. But I would have to say Jim Henson, for his talent, his humor, and what he did for children all around the world. I have a small Kermit The Frog on my computer bag to remind me that you can still have fun, do good things, and be a nice guy, all at the same time.

What was your very first job and what did you learn from it, Phil?
 My first job was as a cook and dishwasher at a Ponderosa Steakhouse when I was a senior in high school. I learned that foodservice was a tough way to make a living and that my decision to go to college was going to work for me.

What do you like to do in your spare time, Phil?
I love to read — nonfiction, fiction, in all different formats. I like to golf, watch baseball and dance with my wife. I also coach for the Junior Grizzlies, an adapted baseball program run by the AAA Grizzlies.

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