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KCET chief Al Jerome to retire, search underway for replacement

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SoCal Connected's Judy Muller investigates mandatory flood insurance for LA homeowners. KCET

The chief executive of the nation's largest independent public television station, KCETLink — the parent company of public television station KCET — is retiring.

Al Jerome has served as the station's CEO and president for 18 years and plans to retire within the next six months. KCETLink said it will search for a new chief executive.

News of Jerome's departure follows reports of fundraising losses and doubts about the station's ability to remain viable in the wake of its bitter separation from PBS during Jerome's tenure. Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that an audit showed KCET had a $12.5-million loss for its last fiscal year, on top of $7.4 million the year before that. 

KCETLink, the nonprofit organization that runs the independent public TV outlet based in Burbank, "has suffered recurring losses that raise substantial doubt about its ability" to stay in business, according to recently released financial documents.

None of that was addressed in KCET's official announcement Tuesday.

“As we begin preparations for KCET’s 50th Anniversary, and continue to chart a new course for the organization, I feel that this is the appropriate time to bring in a new CEO," Jerome said in a press release. "I would hope that my successor builds upon our recent accomplishments and works with the talented senior team we have in place to create a new and different roadmap for success in 21st century public media.” 

Jerome oversaw KCET's separation from PBS, causing the station to become the nation's largest independent public TV station, KCETLink said.

In an interview with KPCC last year, Jerome acknowledged KCET's fundraising revenue losses after it decided to end its relationship with PBS, but he added that the situation was improving in the current fiscal year. 

"We're in the process of building back our business model. It's an entrepreneurial situation that we've been facing," Jerome told KPCC in January. "We're seeing some very good things and we're looking forward to a good year in this current fiscal year."

Jerome also led KCET during its merger with nonprofit media company Link Media, becoming KCETLink.

Jerome is the third person to serve as chief executive of the station. During his tenure, the station has won more than 380 awards, including 69 Emmys. Prior to joining KCETLink, he worked for major broadcasting networks like NBC, CBS and ABC.

Dick Cook, chairman of KCETLink, said Jerome has an "exceptional legacy of leadership in commercial and public media." 

"He has steadily guided KCETLink through a period of significant change with bold decision-making and risk-taking," Cook said. "The board is committed to identifying a new leader who can leverage the positive momentum that Al has created to establish a sustainable model for public media that engages a new generation."

Below, you can read full memo Jerome sent to staff on Tuesday:

Subject: A Letter from Al Jerome

Dear KCETLink Employees:

I wanted you all to know that, after 18 rewarding years, I have decided to retire as your Chief Executive Officer. Almost a year ago, I first discussed my feelings with our Board of Directors. I have agreed to assist the search committee in finding our next CEO, and I will work with him/her to provide a seamless transition, which I expect will be completed by September 2014.

As we celebrate our 50-year anniversary, I believe this is the perfect time for a new CEO to take over the reigns of the company.  We've put in place a solid strategic framework outside of PBS, and we've created a new, entrepreneurial attitude at the company that's decidedly unique in public media today. What a great opportunity for a new leader to shape the future of an organization that has such amazing potential!

We've worked very hard to get this far, and the road has been full of difficult challenges, but our efforts are beginning to succeed.

We left PBS and had to create a new schedule from scratch in three months;

We built a new, award-winning, state-of-the-art production and broadcast facility, financing it from the proceeds of the sale of our studio lot.  We completed the construction on time and on budget, and we moved out of the lot before the hard deadline that was set in the transaction with the buyer;

We merged with Link Media to create a dynamic new public media organizational model for the 21st Century;

We have continued to invest in digital media content creation and have realized remarkable growth in our web traffic and engagement. Since 2011, kcet.org pageviews have increased 234% and unique visitors have grown by 353%;

In the last 18 years, we have won more than 380 awards, including 69 Emmys, seven George Foster Peabody awards, five duPont-Columbia awards and the Edward R. Murrow Award.

Our next CEO will inherit a terrific senior management team and a dedicated group of employees, who have been battle-tested over the last four years. I want to thank each of you for your part in making my time at KCETLink so gratifying. I have been inspired by your competitive spirit, your tireless efforts, your personal sacrifice, your sense of humor and your need to win.  Keep it up!  It's working.

Sincerely,

Al Jerome

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