Al Jerome, the broadcasting executive who led Los Angeles public television station KCET out of PBS membership and into a partnership with satellite network Link TV, is retiring within the next six months, KCETLink announced today.
Jerome has served as president of KCET for 18 years and is only the third person to lead the organization in its 50-year history. He will stay on through September and assist in the search for his successor, the statement said.
He joined KCET in February 1996 after a 30-year career in commercial broadcasting at NBC, CBC and ABC. During Jerome’s tenure the station won 69 Emmys, seven George Foster Peabody awards, five duPont-Columbia awards and the Edward R. Murrow Award.
But Jerome will most likely be remembered for his three-year public battle with PBS over membership dues and overlap issues, which culminated with the major-market station’s move to drop PBS membership in 2011.
“I’m sure he knew how difficult it would be when KCET left the PBS system from which it, like every other PBS affiliate, received a large percentage of its daily program schedule,” said former KCET President William Kobin in the announcement. “From that day on, KCET faced the extraordinary challenge of having to produce or acquire every program in its 24-hours per day, 365-days per year schedule, and raise the money to do so.”
“It’s been a privilege to lead this organization during its PBS years and into an entrepreneurial era,” Jerome said. “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.”
After the PBS split, Jerome set KCET on a three-year course to achieve sustainability as an independent public TV station that involved selling its historic Sunset Strip headquarters. Halfway through that timeline, the pubcaster continued to struggle with ratings and production financing.
KCET merged with San Francisco-based Link TV in January 2013. Jerome served as CEO of KCETLink, with Link TV President Paul Mason as chief strategy officer. Mason resigned in January 2014 to be closer to his New York home, a KCET spokesperson said.
The merged organization laid off 22 staffers in April 2013, including Bret Marcus, executive producer of its cornerstone investigative news series, SoCal Connected. Last month, the station announced a new $1 million grant to bring the series back into production.
In the announcement, KCETLink Board Chair Dick Cook said Jerome “leaves 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. 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.”