A Leading Radio Personality: President, CEO Delano Lewis Helps to Clear Static at NPR
Salmon, Barrington, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Most times when people start a new job, they hope for a honeymoon period.
But when Delano Lewis became president and chief executive officer of National Public Radio in 1994, he didn't have much time to settle down before falling head-first into a congressional buzz saw of attempts by members to cut all of NPR's funding.
For several months, along with in-house lobbyists and the support of local public radio stations and loyal listeners across the country, he led the fight to preserve funding for what he calls "the best-kept secret in America."
Congress began to consider curtailing funding in 1995 because some members believed the federal government should not be subsidizing public broadcasting. House Speaker Newt Gingrich led the charge, but a public outcry caused him and his allies to reconsider.
That didn't stop Congress from reducing public broadcasting's funding from $312 million in fiscal 1995 to $260 million in fiscal 1997. The fiscal 1998 budget proposes a deeper cut, but the Office of Management and Budget has recommended maintaining funding at the 1997 level.
To placate Congress, NPR and other public broadcasting entities have developed a plan that in the next two years would end their need for federal appropriations.
Jousting with Congress and sidestepping zero funding justified in Mr. Lewis' mind his decision to leave C&P Telephone, now known as Bell Atlantic, after 21 years - many of them as president - to seek new challenges.
"I was approaching 55 and decided I might take on another challenge rather than retire," Mr. Lewis says. "The threat to `zero-out' public radio had a tremendous impact on the public radio system. It was somewhat disconcerting at the time, but it led to our industry taking a look at the future and our place in it."
In retrospect, Mr. Lewis says, being picked to lead NPR was fortuitous. He has been called on to use the experience and expertise he gained as a congressional aide to former D.C. Delegate Walter Fauntroy, as a lawyer in Attorney General Robert Kennedy's Justice Department and as a Peace Corps director in Uganda.
His goal, he says, is to prepare NPR to compete with other media and multimedia organizations in the 21st century. His credentials include government and business experience, telecommunications, philanthropy, arts, politics and fund raising.
Mr. Lewis, 58, is using this experience, plus lessons at NPR, to design a plan that would gradually lead the organization to financial self-sufficiency. His plans include introducing NPR to new audio technologies, expanding audiences and revenues, finding other distribution mechanisms for programming and putting NPR programs on CD-ROM, cassette tapes and the Internet.
"The battle on the Hill helped," Mr. Lewis says. "Out of that struggle came a coming together of the system. I talked about increasing revenues and making profits that would benefit the system. I had experienced Capitol Hill and had knowledge of the system. I gained people's trust."
Mr. Lewis inherited a problem he says he's working hard to correct.
NPR has been beset with a series of sex- and racial-discrimination lawsuits.
Several female reporters have filed suit, charging that they are consistently underpaid and not shifted to permanent jobs as quickly as men are.
Other employees have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"Since I joined NPR in 1994," Mr. Lewis says, "I have made it a personal objective to ensure that our employees are respected as individuals and treated with dignity."
He defends NPR's employment record, saying that of NPR's total staff of 459, 30 percent are minorities and 48 percent are women.
But NPR has taken several steps to address complaints, including hiring a new vice president of human resources; creating a task force of NPR employees to recommend new career-development and administrative policies; and putting a senior manager in the News Department to oversee hiring decisions and scheduling, training and development activities. …