Kling's successor comes from within MPR's ranks

McTaggart chosen
Jon McTaggart, (left) chief operating officer of American Public Media Group, shakes hands with Randall Hogan, (right) chairman of the APMG board, after being named the company's new CEO. McTaggart will succeed Bill Kling (center) in that position on July 1.
MPR Photo/John Nicholson

The parent company of Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media on Wednesday appointed its chief operating officer to succeed chief executive officer Bill Kling, who will step down this summer from the organization he started 44 years ago.

Jon McTaggart, a longtime MPR executive, was named by American Public Media Group's board to oversee MPR's 42-station public radio network, and a diverse portfolio of national programs that includes the business program Marketplace and Performance Today, a daily hour of classical music.

Starting July 1, he will guide the company into what many see as the next era for public radio, one that's rife with political controversy, financial uncertainty and technological tumult.

In an interview with MPR News, McTaggart said he's looking forward to it.

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"I'm honored to have a chance to lead this exceptional organization," he said. "Our audiences are changing. They're more diverse. Their media habits are changing, and we want to be more than responsive on that, and we will be."

Inside the company McTaggart is seen as an affable, yet intense, leader who has loyally carried out the founder's vision while carefully keeping the complex, ambitious operation focused.

American Public Media Group announced the search for Kling's replacement last year, and McTaggart was picked from a list of finalists made up entirely of media executives, said Ian Friendly, U.S. retail chief operating officer at General Mills and the board member who led the succession committee.

Bill Kling
Bill Kling announced last fall that he will step down as head of American Public Media Group on June 30, 2011. Kling founded MPR and led the company for the past 44 years.
MPR file photo/Annie Baxter

"Jon was always part of the equation for us, and we knew we had a very talented executive here. But we also wanted to make sure he measured up against the best of the best anywhere in the country," Friendly said.

The board's decision was unanimous. The company did not disclose the terms of McTaggart's contract.

McTaggart, 50, was first hired in 1983 to help MPR expand its reach in northern Minnesota. He has worked for the company for most of the years since then and has been chief operating officer since 2003. He left the company for two separate three-year stints, one at a hospital foundation and the other at a university.

During the time McTaggart was chief operating officer, the company launched the Public Insight Network -- a nationwide system that connects audiences to news organizations -- and started two new music stations: The Current in the Twin Cities and Classical South Florida in Miami.

Now, he must take on the difficult job filling the founder's shoes. The organization grew from a single classical music station that Kling started in Collegeville, Minn., in 1967. Over the years it has flourished and been held up as a model nationwide.

The fact that the board hired from within probably means the board is happy with how things are going, said Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

"The sense one gets from internal candidates is that we're certainly not throwing out the old model and the old approaches," Cappelli said.

Torey Malatia, president and CEO of WBEZ in Chicago, said the challenge for McTaggart is to take things to the next level.

"To keep an organization that's that highly regarded alive and creative and moving forward is sometimes harder than bringing one that's kind of scrappy up to national recognition," said Malatia, who met McTaggart years ago at a Station Resources Group meeting. "But Jon can do it. I think he has the ability and individuality to build on [what Kling established], and leave something that is distinctive that's his as well."

McTaggart said he's looking forward to continuing Kling's path.

"It's always focused on what we can create for the audience, and creating more value tomorrow than we did today," he said. "We have had the confidence for more than 44 years that if we do that, if we create real value for our local communities, that our communities will respond with support. And they have, and they've been generous. And that's going to continue as far as I can make it happen."

Besides MPR and American Public Media, APMG also controls Southern California Public Radio, Classical South Florida, the Fitzgerald Theater and Greenspring Company, which publishes Minnesota Monthly. APMG has 609 full and part-time employees, including 475 at MPR, American Public Media and the Fitzgerald Theater.

American Public Media Group reported revenue of $97.2 million as of June 2010, up slightly from $96.3 million a year earlier, according to company officials. AMPG's operating budget for this year is $103 million. The value of the APMG earned endowment is $124.3 million. Three other smaller endowments bring the total value of endowments to $147.2 million.

About 900,000 listeners tune in to MPR stations each week, and the organization claims 110,000 members, people who have contributed money. American Public Media programs reach about 16 million listeners on nearly 800 stations nationwide. It is the second-largest distributor of national programs behind NPR, and is the largest producer and distributor of classical music programming.

But APMG's radio stations and programs face the challenge of reaching new, younger audiences at a time when a growing segment of the population gets most of its news and music from the Internet. For instance, the median age of its news audience is 49 and the median age of its classical music service is 55.

Like many media organizations, APMG is still developing its digital products and defining the role online content will play in its efforts to grow its audiences.

"The audience has really been ahead of most media," said Ken Doctor, a media analyst who has followed the news media's transition to digital. "Readers are saying, I don't really care what business you're in, I want my stuff now and I want it on the device of my choice. Radio and public radio face that same issue."

Certain technological advancements in the distribution of audio content could also threaten the organization's business model. Audio feeds available on mobile devices could make regional radio stations less necessary. And subscriber-based radio alternatives like Pandora are popping up in more places, including in people's cars, where many current public radio listeners tune in.

"One of the challenges from a distribution standpoint is going to be to colonize these new in-car platforms," said Aram Sinnreich, a media professor at Rutgers University. "We're about to see over the next five years the distribution of all kinds of on-demand platforms in the cars that are going to render traditional AM-FM radio obsolete."

McTaggart said radio is still a major player, noting that more than 90 percent of Americans still listen to the radio at least once a week. But he said APMG has and will continue to embrace new devices to reach audiences.

"Our challenge is to be extremely responsive and so well-connected to our audience that the technologies on the devices that they're adopting are the ones that we're going to be able to provide service on," he said. "We have demonstrated already that the technologies that our audiences are using are opportunities for us to reach more people."

(MPR reporters Annie Baxter and Madeleine Baran contributed to this report.)