Colorado Public Radio Boss Max Wycisk Running for NPR Board

The folks at the Colorado Public Radio Blog, a site that was launched following attorney Frances Koncilja's resignation from CPR's board last year (see this June 14, 2007 Message column for details), recently made an interesting discovery. CPR general manager Max Wycisk (pictured), who, despite his mild-mannered persona, remains one of the more controversial media figures in these parts, is looking to become a member of another board -- the board of directors for National Public Radio.

Wycisk has been down this road before, having served in a similar position eighteen years ago. This time around, however, his pitch for the gig was posted on the Western States Public Radio website.

Here's the text from that document:

Candidate: Max Wycisk – KCFR-AM (Denver, CO)

Please detail your qualifications for the NPR Board.

35 years of public radio experience: as a volunteer announcer; as a Program Director; and as a General Manager.

Extensive non-profit governance experience: I have served on several non-profit boards, including the NPR Board (1984-1990), and have worked under a non-profit board for the past 25 years.

Prior to working in a community licensee structure, I worked in a university licensee structure for 10 years and understand the strengths and weaknesses of both structures.

If elected to the NPR Board, on what Board Committee – or in connection with what issue – do you believe you have the most to offer NPR?

The primary issues I see for the NPR Board will need to be dealt with by the Board as a whole. These issues center on the need for clearer and more productive working relationships with NPR member stations. Examples:

Improving the NPR governance and management process, with the goal of creating greater internal accountability at NPR and greater external accountability to NPR member stations.

Marshaling the public radio system's capacity to support common activities such as news-gathering.

Working to develop more effective ways of using new media to maximize the strengths of public radio's local/national structure.

What is your overall assessment of the NPR board? Is it responsive to stations? Is it sufficiently high profile?

Over the past several years the agendas of NPR and stations have slowly drifted apart. I see real potential at the present time to bring station and NPR agendas into alignment, and feel that the NPR Board is poised to take on this task in an active, meaningful, and productive way. The NPR Board has an opportunity to empower station managers by planning the Annual Meeting on behalf of the membership. The Annual Meeting should be a business meeting with real outcomes, a meeting at which directions are determined and decisions are made. At the Annual Meeting NPR management should report to member stations about its implementation of decisions affirmed at the previous year's meeting, and field questions from the membership.

NPR does not currently have a conflict of interest policy and procedure for Board members. What sort of policy should be established in order to handle conflict of interest situations when a board member has a primary duty as an employee or officer of a competing station, network or distributor?

I have not seen conflict of interest surface as a problem over the years. Working as we do in a co-op model, station managers' individual organizational interests often dovetail directly with the interests of NPR. The NPR Board's job will be to make sure that the interests of NPR are aligned with the needs and interests of member stations. (Note: Article 5.4 of the NPR by-laws does address conflict of interest in a general way.)

Since the institution of the A-Reps meeting format, NPR has not achieved a quorum for its Annual Meeting. Do you view this as a problem? Do you have any recommendations for engaging more stations in the citizenship of the annual meeting?

The Annual Meeting problem has to do with the fact that it has devolved into a one-way presentation rather than being a forum for discussion and debate. The Annual Meeting conversation should be a genuine two-way process, initiated as much by stations as by NPR management. Here are two specific thoughts to help remedy this situation:

Planning for the Annual Meeting should be led by the Board, in partnership with management.

Lowering the quorum from one-half of the membership to one-third of the membership would make it easier for the membership to endorse specific actions at the Annual Meeting. In the present situation the lack of a quorum results in paralysis and frustration.

If we can institute both of these approaches, I have every confidence that member stations will want to attend the Annual Meeting, knowing that each of us will have the opportunity to play a meaningful role in determining our collective future.

What suggestions might you have to add diverse experience and opinions to the board and management deliberative process? Would the reimplementation of working advisory committees with station staff members and others for specific topics and issues serve as a way to expand knowledge and increase awareness of station’s needs, feelings and reactions?

As I see it, the NPR Board does not lack for diverse experience, expertise, and opinion; nor does it lack knowledge of station needs. What we have not been able to do effectively these past few years -- particularly as the media environment changes around us -- is develop mechanisms (beyond the production of exemplary news programming) through which NPR can effectively support station needs.

As an NPR Board member, how would you distinguish between the types of business you believe the Board should conduct in Executive Session versus the business that should be conducted in Open Session?

Our guidelines for open sessions and executive sessions are clear. Executive session should be reserved for items of a proprietary nature, and for personnel issues. All other items should be addressed in open session. Having said this, it is difficult to understand why the NPR Board would ever want to treat its member stations as anything other than members of the inner circle -- a circle that should always be privy to information that might not be appropriate for external release.

This last response will likely raise the hackles of Wycisk critics, who regularly accuse him of conducting important business in a secretive manner that contradicts the word "public" in public radio. But it likely won't prevent Wycisk from winning an NPR board seat. He's a powerful fellow, as representatives of other public-radio outlets in the state understand very well, and he's accustomed to getting what he wants. -- Michael Roberts