Michael Soper, a former PBS senior executive who guided development of public television’s early revenue strategies, died Oct. 9 in Sarasota, Fla.
Soper’s family declined to disclose the cause of death.
Soper joined PBS in 1978, when stations were developing on-air pledge drives and membership as a reliable source of income. He traveled the country to provide in-person training to stations during pledge drives, said Oregon Public Broadcasting President Steve Bass, who worked with Soper at PBS and remained a friend throughout their careers.
“He was an advocate for research on donors and viewers,” Bass said. “What a lot of people will remember him for is just his absolute passion for the work that people did and his willingness to support and create things.”
“He was an innovative thinker,” he added.
At PBS, Soper rose to senior VP of development. In that role, he worked with a panel of advisors on “Funding the Vision,” a 1991 study that recommended strategies for increasing public TV revenues in all categories.
After leaving PBS in 1992, Soper worked at WETA in Washington, D.C., as SVP of development for two years.
Soper launched his consulting firm, TeamSoper, in 1995 and advised public stations and other nonprofits. His clients included WQED in Pittsburgh and Southern Oregon PBS, according to Bass and former PBS COO Neil Mahrer, who worked with Soper at both PBS and WETA.
“He had a wonderful perspective on stations across the country and their different kinds of needs, so he could walk into one market and help give them some ideas and some challenges, and then walk into a completely different situation and do the same for that station,” Mahrer said.
As an independent consultant, Soper spoke out about the transactional pledge practices that public TV stations adopted in the late 1990s. He advised stations to rein in their use of high-dollar premiums and find ways to raise funds around signature PBS programs.
Soper, who had graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in electrical engineering, drew on his training to design and build his home in Midway, Utah. The house included a heating and cooling system that Soper engineered himself, Mahrer said. The property also featured an astronomy observatory that Soper built and transported from land he previously owned in Maryland.
Soper had recently moved to Sarasota, Fla., to be closer to his sister, according to Mahrer.
His survivors include his sister, Vicki Marsh, and a grandson, according to Mahrer. He was preceded in death by his son, Ryan.
Bass and Mahrer have set up a scholarship fund in Soper’s memory at Greater Public, a professional development organization for public media fundraisers. The scholarship will provide financial assistance for station professionals to attend Greater Public’s Public Media Development and Marketing Conference, Bass said.
Memorial contributions can be set to Greater Public at P.O. Box 855349, Minneapolis, MN 55485-5349.
Mike was a mentor to many of us. He provided invaluable counsel at a difficult time in my career, leading me to move to New England to lead WGBY in Springfield. Without his intervention, I might have left public broadcasting. Through his example, I tried to provide the same sounding board to others in the field. Everyone who knew him is in his debt and will miss him.
Michael was an energizing muse to many of us in the system. A strong advocate of recognizing complex and innovative Development achievements from all stations. That desire led to the expansion of the annual PBS Development Awards which Michael – in his unique style – wrapped around memorable events like the Development Olympics, Country Fair, the Red Carpet Oscars and more. Remember him sharing one goal – not enough people get a Pat on the back for a job well done which the annual awards will do – and they’ll serve as inspiration for the rest of us. Michael made a huge difference to many of us and our industry.
Mike was the consummate cheerleader for development professionals. He worked tirelessly to advance best practices and to shine a light on the hardworking people who brought in the money that kept public television in the forefront of quality tv. His enthusiasm was infectious and It was an honor to work with and learn from him.
Mike was a role model to us in the 1980s on the PBS Public Information Advisory Committee — key partners to the DAC. As much as the meetings were about exchanging ideas, they were also about learning from Mike, Dan Agan, Nancy Neubauer, and some of the other marketing giants, who put a lot of thought into what worked and what could work, and saw PBS as a true partner to stations like ours in Detroit. I’m grateful that Mike continued to make himself available for consults even after he left PBS, and for what he taught me. I am so sorry to hear of his passing.
Mike was great — I learned a lot from him and he helped our stations tremendously.
Loved Michael. Always will…
Hello, This has been one of the only articles that I have been able to find regarding my grandfather’s death, I loved the man tremendously, I would like like to learn more about his time at PBS and some of the things he was able to accomplish, if you have any stories or memories please Email me, I would love to hear it.
-Micahel J Soper
Michael, we need your email address to reply.